Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Nov 16, 2010

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is Ubisoft's latest installment in its critically acclaimed sci-fi action series. Not much has changed in terms of the core gameplay mechanics that fans of the series have come to know; however, there have been some tweaks, and quite a few new additions, that make Brotherhood the most refined and satisfying iteration to date.

The Pros
  • Rome is massive and gorgeous
  • Combat and overall gameplay is more polished than ever
  • Managing assassins brings "Brotherhood" idea home
  • Incredible amount of variety and tasks
  • Multiplayer is a fun, if fleeting, experience
The Cons
  • Does little to push overall narrative forward
  • Feels like it could have been part two of AC2
  • Enemy AI still underdeveloped

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Review:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Ubisoft’s latest installment in its critically acclaimed sci-fi action series, continues the story of Assassin’s Creed II’s Renaissance-era protagonist, Ezio Auditore de Firenze, and his modern day ancestor Desmond Miles. Not much has changed in terms of the core gameplay mechanics that fans of the series have come to know; however, there have been some tweaks, and quite a few new additions that make Brotherhood the most refined and satisfying iteration to date. With the addition of multiplayer, players can expect a more robust and substantial experience than ever before. Just don’t go in expecting a lot of answers to the overall mysteries of the Assassin’s Creed universe.

Previously On Assassin’s Creed…

AC: Brotherhood picks up directly after the events of the previous game. Ezio has secured the elusive and unnaturally powerful Piece of Eden, and things finally seem to be going the assassin’s way, when, of course, things go horribly wrong, setting into motion a (at times, needlessly) complex and epic journey in which Ezio must track down the lost P.O.E., restore Rome, and overthrow the evil Borgia family. You know, nothing big.

On the modern-day side, Desmond and his sharp-tongued gang of former Abstergo Industries agents have set up shop in the inner sanctum of Ezio’s villa in present day Monteriggioni. Unlike previous AC games, you can now freely jump out of the Animus – the machine that allows people to relive the lives of their ancestors by accessing their memoires – at any time, and run around Monteriggioni for periods of 10 minutes at a time. Any longer, and you risk being seen and jeopardizing the whole operation. There’s nothing to do besides freerun and collect five hidden objects scattered around the town, but it adds a lot to the superhero origin story feel established in AC2, as you more freely get to put Desmond through his paces.

Still, I was really hoping/expecting that at some point, you’d be able to truly put Desmond’s abilities to the test (e.g. hunting down modern Templar agents in a mission or two, etc.), but Desmond only gets one chance to shine, and that’s in the final mission of the game, and even though he does end up killing someone (twist alert!), it’s out of your control. Hopefully, the next game will feature more Desmond badassery, because he’s clearly capable at this point, and the modern story has become the far more compelling aspect of the AC narrative, and it deserves to be a bigger focus going forward.

The other issue I had with the story is that it feels artificially bloated at times, especially when you come to the end of the story, and you realize that not much has really happened, or rather, what has happened doesn’t justify 12 hours worth of playing. For instance, there’s this highly elaborate mission wherein Ezio must track a target through the city, take out guards to secure their outfits so that his assassin’s can use those outfits to sneak into a play at the Colosseum in order to confront an actor who is sleeping with the Pope’s daughter in order to get a key that unlocks a door located in the Castel Sant'Angelo. So, Leonardo Da Vinci can build a flying machine, but he can’t assemble a simple lock pick or fake key? Ultimately, it feels like Brotherhood was originally meant to be the second half of AC2, but Ubisoft decided to split the games in two, and fill them with a bunch of different side tasks to make up for how thin the narrative had become as a result of the split.

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Rome Is Where the Heart Is

Brotherhood takes place (with the exception of a few flashback sequences and a couple side missions involving Leonardo Da Vinci’s war machines – yes, you’ll get to pilot his flying machine again and use a wooden tank) in Rome. The city is simply massive, and there’s tons of variety in the architecture and geography that differentiates each of Rome’s various districts. In a word, it’s spectacular.

When you aren’t progressing through the story, you’ll partake in a wide variety of activities like taking up the random assassination contracts, participating in a fight club, positioning guilds around town (thieves, courtesans, and mercenaries), and tackling pickpockets. There’s even a virtual training simulator that Desmond can jump into to hone his skills, Metal Gear Solid style, if you’re looking for a little sci-fi-y diversion. There are also 24 Borgia towers that you must destroy in order to be able to purchase nearby businesses, banks, landmarks, tailors, etc.. Buying property works just like it did in AC2, the only difference is that unlike AC2, where you were limited to building up Villa Auditore, you’ll be rebuilding all of Rome.

In place of the hidden catacombs found throughout AC2, Brotherhood features a number of hideouts belonging to a mysterious band of wolf skin-wearing followers of Romulus, Rome’s wolf-raised co-founder. These challenges follow the same general design as the catacombs in the previous game, and gives Ezio a chance to flex his acrobatic skills to the max as he explores the massive environmental puzzles, which offers a decidedly different experience and tone compared to the rest of the game.

Bigger, Better, Stronger…Creedier?

In terms of gameplay, AC: Brotherhood is an AC lover’s dream come true. The free running and combat are as smooth and refined as they have ever been. You’ll still run into occasional ledge or clipping issue every now and then, or you’ll run up a surface accidentally, but this frustration can be alleviated if you focus and take the time to see each upcoming running line.

The combat has received some much appreciated tweaks that brings the kind of flow seen in the Prince of Persia series to Brotherhood’s brutal and bloody fights. The biggest new addition is that counter kills now let you string together one-hit takedowns on all nearby enemies, allowing you to wipe out every baddy in area in one single death flurry. The takedowns, which have always been one of my favorite parts of the AC games, are unbelievably vicious (blade to the neck + gunshot to the head = joy) this time around. You also now have access to a crossbow, which lets you silently snipe enemies. You can also fire poison darts to create diversions from afar. Ezio’s trusty gun and throwing knives return, as do his dual blades, which Leonardo Da Vinci provides for you later on in the game, along with some other goodies as well.

One area that still has some problems is the enemy AI. While their awareness has been improved in some respects, there are times guards can spot you acting weird from two buildings over, but then they don’t notice you standing 20 yards away from them in an open courtyard. I sometimes like to think the Roman guards are the ancestors of all the guards in Splinter Cell games. Potential franchise crossover? You have the option of hiding bodies, Sam Fisher style, as well, but there isn’t really any incentive to, other than to complete a guild challenge.

In keeping with the overarching theme of “brotherhood,” Ezio now has the ability to recruit and cultivate assassins. You can have up to 12 assassins total, but you can only call in up to three groups at a time. When you have all three slots full, you can call in an arrow strike that unleashes a rainstorm of bolts that kills every guard in the area, which comes in handy when you’re trying to work your way through a guard-heavy area.

You level up your recruits by sending them on contracts throughout Europe. These contracts range in difficulty from one to five stars and provide varying amounts of money and experience for completing them. Before you send out your assassin, the game shows you what your chance of success is. This helps you to determine how many assassins you’d like to send on a particular mission. Even though they split the XP, it’s always better to have them survive, so the more the better. As they rank up, you assign skill points to upgrade their weapon and armor, and once they reach level 10, there’s a ceremony in which the recruits are inducted into the assassins’ brotherhood, which adds a great sense of closure to the whole process.

Sharing the Love/Assassinating

When it was first revealed that AC: Brotherhood would include multiplayer, fans were understandably dubious. But I’m pleased to say it does the most with what it has, and ends up being quite an enjoyable distraction to the main game. It actually feels quite a bit like the equally controversial multiplayer mode found in BioShock 2, thanks in large part to the way it ties itself into the game via narrative. Instead of just being a way for people to assassinate other human players online, the multiplayer actually has a story. You don’t play as Ezio and his assassins. You actually play as Templars being trained in the arts of the assassins via Abstergo’s animus program. Neat, huh? The only thing that would have made it cooler would have been if there had been some single-player payoff to the multiplayer story; I guess that’s being saved for AC3.

Each of the four modes does about as much as you would expect given the nature of the gameplay, and there is definitely some fun to be had here, especially since the tension created by the hunter/hunted dynamic is so fantastic. As long as people are playing the game the way they should. If everyone is just running around trying to dispatch their next target as quickly and recklessly as possible then it breaks the experience, but if people try to blend in with the crowds, stalk their prey smartly, and silently strike (all of which give you points multipliers that end up mattering more than the number of kills you get, which is a nice change of pace from other online multiplayer games).  For diehard fans of the series, you’ll likely spend quite a bit more time in multiplayer than you probably thought you would, but for everyone else, it should provide an unique, entertaining, yet fleeting, experience.

Enjoyment Creed

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood certainly looks like AC2 at first glance, but make no mistake: this is a full Assassin’s Creed title in every sense. There’s more than enough content here to last you well over 20 hours, and that’s if you stay focused. There are times when that length feels somewhat artificial, and the game doesn’t do much to advance the overall AC narrative, which is a real shame, but the gameplay improvements, assassin management system, and overall variety of activities certainly justify a purchase. Assassin’s Creed fans, say hello to your new obsession.