The first Assassin's Creed left me a bit cold. It was a visually stunning game with silky-smooth controls and lots of interesting ideas, but it also had enough flaws to be solidly average at best and tedious at worst. I was understandably hesitant when I went to see Assassin's Creed 2 during E3. Fortunately, Assassin's Creed 2 appears to have been designed entirely to counter every almost every criticism leveled against the original game. From the moment the demo began, I found that every one of my issues and complaints had been resolved with stunning quickness, and Assassin's Creed 2 quickly proved itself to be a potentially impressive sequel, even to someone who wasn't too impressed with the original.
The first Assassin's Creed followed the story of Desmond Miles, an unfortunate former assassin in a futuristic world who had been captured by an evil corporation that sought to discover information that his ancestors knew. They did this by using an Animus device, which forced Desmond to relive the life of one of his ancestors, Altair, through some pseudo-magical scientific technobabble involving genetic memories. The game ended on a cliffhanger, with Altair defeating his evil mentor and Desmond narrowly avoiding being disposed of. Surprisingly, while the second game still involves Desmond and his genetic memories, it doesn't feature the return of Altair. Instead, players take on the role of Ezio Auditore di Firenze, a nobleman in Venice, Italy, in the year 1486. Ezio is out for revenge for the death of his family, and he has the determination, skills and money to make his revenge fantasy a reality. Like Altair, Ezio is one of Desmond's ancestors, although he isn't a trained assassin; he's a natural assassin who's turning to his genetically coded abilities to avenge those he loved.
The city in Assassin's Creed 2 is a living, breathing place. One of the more interesting elements that we heard about (but didn't see) is the concept of factions. Assassin's Creed 2 is going to have a monetary system that lets you earn money by being a pickpocket or completing missions, and you can spend that money to earn advantages for Ezio during his assassinations. There are apparently various factions of thieves, mercenaries and courtesans who you can hire to provide bonuses. On the flip side, however, there will also be a notoriety system in which your actions affect people's opinions of you. The more obvious or cruel actions you take, the more likely it is that Ezio will be recognized by guards or that townspeople will rat him out. In the demo, we saw Ezio slip onto a bench, a usually safe hiding place, only for a guard to walk by, peer at him and quickly realize who he is. Those who played the original Assassin's Creed will also be glad to hear that while information missions are returning, they will be given much greater variety, with at least 18 different mission types available to players.
Ezio is a bit different from Altair. He seems a bit less combat-capable and a little more fast and agile, as one would expect from an assassin who is naturally good at his job, instead of one who's been trained by a secret society. From the demo, he seems to move a little faster than Altair, and he's certainly capable of performing all of Altair's acrobatics, as well as a few that the previous assassin couldn't dream of, such as killing enemies while hanging from a wall. He can also swim, which is a pretty useful skill to have in Venice. In addition to his own skills, Ezio is also friends with Leonardo da Vinci, and it looks like the famed inventor will be giving him some gifts. In the demo, we saw that Ezio had been given access to a special hang glider that could soar across the city and be used to swoop down on unfortunate foes. It can't glide for long without the assistance of hot air drifting up from fires scattered throughout the city, which seems to be the result of favors called in from one of the aforementioned factions. We used the glider to reach an inaccessible stronghold where Ezio's target awaited, and we also saw him use smoke bombs to distract foes while he made a quick escape into the water.
Being an assassin, you're not really supposed to get into fights; you can fight, but it sort of defeats the point of assassinations. In the original Assassin's Creed, you were reasonably limited in how you could handle assassinations. Most of your kills involved walking up to a foe and stabbing him. It's subtle enough when you're offing guards, but it lacked a certain sense of style. Ezio, unlike Altair, seems a lot more ruthless in his assassinations. In our short preview, we saw him assassinating foes in a number of ways: sitting on a bench, leaping from a rooftop, and even hiding in a hay cart. If the foe was caught unaware, he or she was as good as dead. Ezio also has two small spring-loaded assassin blades, as opposed to Altair's one, and he can make use of both to kill two enemies at once if they're standing together. The blades also seem to be faster to deploy, so you can assassinate enemies much quicker than Altair could. Ezio can also hide bodies of the enemies that he's killed to avoid causing a ruckus. Kill an enemy in a haystack, for example, and he'll quickly drag the foe in and leave him hidden there. The trailer also implies that Ezio's blades may contain a secret miniature handgun, although we didn't see this in any of the gameplay footage.
Sometimes, however, combat is unavoidable. One of the most frustrating things about the original Assassin's Creed is how little subtlety you needed to handle most situations. Unless you were trying to get Achievements, just about every battle in the game could be won by going up to enemies and abusing the counter system. Fortunately, Assassin's Creed 2 does an interesting job in fixing this. There are now seven different types of weapons in the game that various enemies will carry, and each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses. Axes, for example, are slow, but you can't block them, while pikes prevent you from getting close to foes. Some enemies may wear heavy armor, which makes it difficult to damage them. It appears that each bit of combat is going to require a little more strategy, rather than the "pound counter, receive win" strategy that worked in the original title. However, the counters seem to have some potentially interesting usages. We saw Ezio disarm foes and use their own weapons against them, which allowed him to gain more attack power in exchange for agility. The weapons don't seem permanent in any way, and Ezio is quick to discard them when his foes are dead.During our brief E3 demo, we saw that Assassin's Creed 2 seems to take all of the complaints about the original title to heart. The assassinations are faster and smoother, the combat more intense and action-packed, and the city has more life and style. It's almost as if the developers took a checklist of everything that needed to be improved in the original game and made sure to address every issue. While the demo was brief, what we saw left us excited and interested for more. Assassin's Creed 2 is shaping up to be an excellent game.
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