Assassin's Creed II Hands-On PreviewBy Morgan Webb - Posted Oct 21, 2009
We’ve Been Here Before
If you completed the first Assassin's Creed, the beginning of Assassin's Creed II will seem quite familiar. Modern-day Desmond Miles is still imprisoned in an office building decorated with all the appeal of a concrete bunker, waiting, it is presumed, for another go-round with the Animus: a La-Z-Boy that allows the recumbent subject to re-live his “genetic memory.” Desmond’s genetic memory was laid down by ancestors with exciting lives of international intrigue and duplicity. My genetic memory was probably made up of uneducated serfs and poor farmers, which is why Desmond is such a valuable property.
Get Up, Desmond! All You Do is Lay Around…
Our poor imprisoned Desmond hasn’t gotten to do much more than traipse between the Animus and his bed, having all his fun while mentally plugged into one of his ancestors. This time Desmond actually breaks free, and has an opportunity to see what is behind those concrete walls that kept him penned in so long…
It’s more concrete. But Desmond does manage to escape the facility, and agrees to help an old friend by once again hopping into the Animus. The theory goes that real-life Desmond will be able to gain the abilities of his ancestors if he uses his genetic memory to learn the skills along with them. So with the looming promise of being a real-life bad-ass, a free Desmond chooses to enter the Animus again. You can’t help but wonder if we will get to have some fun with modern day Desmond pulling off the tricks of his ancestors.
Desmond (And Civilization) is Reborn!
While the first game took place during the time of the Crusades, this time it’s the Renaissance, and while there’s still no penicillin, life has certainly improved. Ezio is the son of a rich nobleman, and most of his attention is wasted on the exploits of young men with too much money and too little responsibility: booze, boobs and brawls. Everything changes one day when his family is double crossed, and he dons the assassin’s hood to get his revenge. While Altair from the first Assassin's Creed always seemed a bit of a cipher, Ezio feels like a living breathing human you relate to immediately. He doesn’t start out as an assassin, he becomes one because of the hand that life has dealt him, and you are happy to follow him on this 30-year journey.
I Left My Heart in Firenze
While the Crusade cities were amazing to experience in Assassin's Creed, the maps in ACII seem nearly perfect. Florence’s narrow streets and hidden courtyards are perfect for aerial assassinations. The hodgepodge of brick and stone buildings just cry out to be climbed, and the free running is smooth and exceptionally satisfying. The dome of the Duomo and its accompanying clock tower are perfect vantage points for a little sightseeing. Venice’s canals are a welcome reprieve when the only way to escape involves getting your feet wet. I just hope my sword doesn’t get too rusty.
Speaking of Swords (heh)…
You get a little help from some lusty ladies of the evening, as you are able to use them as a bit of mobile cover. No one is looking at the hooded man with the rusty sword when he’s surrounded by a bunch of unmarriageable young women. The lusty ladies also teach you a little something about pick-pocketing, which is easier in ACII than it was in the first game. It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s tempting to pick every pocket you see, until you realize that people notice the transgression rather quickly -- hasty retreats are advisable.
Pick a Professional Pick-Pocket
Courtesans aren’t the only place to get a little help in ACII. You can hire thieves to pick guard’s pockets and lead them away from their posts on a futile chase, or you can hire mercenaries to fight some of your battles for you. Assassin's Creed is an open world game where you can approach an assassination from a number of different vantage points, and the ability to hire a variety of help allows for even more strategy.
You pick up missions more organically than you did in the first game, as they are scattered around the world MMO-style -- you even locate them by looking for the exclamation points on your mini-map. There are a number of hidden items around the world, some secret areas to find and explore, and glyphs to locate and decipher. Finding some items will give you more background on the story, while others have currently unknown rewards. There are, however, no flags (try not to be too disappointed). You also have a base of operations, a family Tuscan Villa that is waiting for your love and attention. You can decorate it with famous paintings of the era, stock it with weapons and armor, and even use it to create a local economy that provides you with income. Investing in your home is an investment in yourself, as you can use your extra income to purchase skills, weapons, and armor. You aren’t stuck with one path either, different purchases, such as investing in light instead of heavy weaponry, can create a very different type of assassin.
The Final Tally
Assassin's Creed was known for the free running, and ACII does not disappoint. Hundreds of no doubt tiny tweaks to the climbing mechanic make controlling Ezio a breeze, and you feel his motions are natural and possible, even when he is scaling the dome of a church. The developers set out to make combat feel as organic as the free running and they have made many noticeable improvements, such as dual-blade aerial assassinations and assassinations from cover. All in all, if you loved Assassin's Creed, then you must keep it locked here for more information and our full review.