Assassin's Creed II 4-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* -
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Assassin's Creed II picks up immediately where its predecessor left off, with Desmond Miles in Abstergo's Animus room. Soon as the action starts up, and if you do not know how the last game ended, you may not understand what is going on at first as you briefly re-enter the Animus to get some information. While in the Animus you actually observe the birth of your ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. It is not as creepy as that may sound, though it is an interesting tutorial mechanic. (You have to press the correct buttons to make the infant move and start crying.)
After this, you leave the Animus and escape Abstergo, ultimately joining a team of modern-day Assassins. As Desmond lacks any training, and there are questions to answer concerning the previous subject Abstergo put in the Animus, you enter the Animus 2.0. This is actually the literary mechanic to explain the numerous changes to the gameplay experience, such as subtitles; you are in a more advance Animus. As it turns out, Subject 16 had left clues in the memories of Ezio, which he and Desmond share, so by loading the data from Abstergo's Animus, Desmond is able to find them.
While the hidden clues are an interesting and important aspect of the game, the primary reason you are in the Animus is to suffer the bleeding effect. As Desmond spends time in the Animus and relives his ancestor's lives, he learns skills from them. While they learned their skills over years, Desmond learns them over hours or days. Of course the bleeding effect can lead to hallucinations… I will leave it at that, to avoid spoilers.
When we return to Ezio, he has already grown up into a troublemaking playboy, with a strong sense of family. Unfortunately for him, his family is betrayed, and his brothers and father are killed in front of him. This starts him on his quest for revenge, and this is an important point. His first assassination is vicious and brutal, as he repeatedly stabs the target's body. He has not yet acquired the inner peace of an Assassin, but that changes after he meets his uncle, who is a trained Assassin. Still, he is somewhat rebellious, as he sees his goal as being revenge, instead of bringing the peace and freedom Assassins strive for, until much closer to the end of the game.
Another man he meets and learns from is a young Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo serves as the intelligent sidekick, who solves mysteries and builds new gadgets for you to use. Though he is never inducted into the Assassin Order during the game, he is entrusted with some of their secrets.
I wish I could give more specifics, but doing so would risk spoiling it. Instead I can only speak of how I greatly enjoy the depth and design of the story. This is not a simple story, like those you find in many action games. It spans more than 22 years of Ezio's life, so you see many twists and turns, and many people enter and affect his life. It makes it more like a book than a game, with the conclusion further away than you first thought, but that just makes the end more interesting, once you reach it.
What specifics I will mention, though, are that there are parallels between Desmond's and Ezio's stories. Both are learning how to fight from the people around them, and joining a team, after thinking they were alone.
Finally, there are many story elements (and gameplay mechanics) introduced in this game that feed into its sequels. That is not to say you must play Assassin's Creed II to understand what is happening in the later games, but that this is the game where some of it starts.