Assassin's Creed II 4-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* -
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A lot has been changed in Assassin's Creed II compared to its predecessor, making it hard to decide where to start. Stealth is still an important mechanic, but it has had some major changes, including a redesign to the blend mechanic, notoriety mechanic, and alterations to how you can escape enemies chasing after you. Instead of having to find a spot to hide in, where enemies will not see you, Ezio can just run far enough to lose them, which can be a much faster option.
The blend mechanic is no longer dependent on the people in the crowd; you can blend with any group of citizens just by walking into the group. This makes it a lot more interesting to get from one place to another, unseen, as you may have to enter and leave different groups to do so. Of course you do not always have to blend, thanks to how notoriety works. Sometimes every guard knows Ezio is around and what he looks like, so the moment they spot you, they are a threat, but not always. Actions that would get the guards' attention, such as killing someone, can gain you notoriety, and it will build up to the point of making you notorious. To counter this, you can tear down wanted posters, bribe town criers, or kill those that bear false-witness against you, for notoriety reductions of 25%, 50%, and 75% respectively.
Another welcome change is the mini-map. The first game really did not have one; instead it had a compass that pointed you to the next objective, but provided no information about the environment. This map does just that though, and provides some very important information as well. Though not always the case, in many places you can actually see on the mini-map a change in brightness for buildings, as well as a line, indicating that the streets pass through the building. This is very valuable when you are running around on the ground, instead of on the rooftops, as you can see if a turn leads to a dead end or if you just have to go under an arch to continue. You still use Viewpoints to reveal the map.
Easily the biggest mechanic to the game, outside of the combat, is the economy. You are now rewarded with money for completing missions, and you can spend this money on weapons, armor, supplies, and upgrading the villa you and your family lives at. Different weapons offer different stats, including improved damage, speed, and deflection, while armor affects health and damage resistance. An important mechanic of the armor is that it can become damaged over time. When this happens, you lose health blocks and must repair it to get them back. As the armor takes damage, you can see blotches on it before it breaks, so you can repair it before losing those health blocks.
Money can also be used to purchase treasure maps of the cities you visit. Every chest appears on the map and mini-map once you have these, so if you need some quick money, you can see where you need to go.
Combat is complex in Assassin's Creed II. You now have four different weapon types to choose from: primary weapon, secondary weapon, hidden blades, and fists. Each of these have their own advantages and disadvantages. For the most part I found myself using the primary weapon, typically a sword, and my fists. The choice of fists is not because I wanted to be some badass, though I guess I would be, but because of a mechanic unique to them. You can counter attack with the other weapon types, but you are only able to disarm your opponents using your fists. If successful you take your opponent's weapon, which leaves them stunned long enough for you to attack and kill them. This does not always work against your enemies, as some will kick you away, but the heavy enemies can always be disarmed, so long as your timing is right. These opponents have the highest damage output and have the highest health, outside of assassination targets, so this strategy works very well for quickly disposing of them. Plus they will walk around with large swords, axes, and poleaxes, which you pick up when you disarm them.
That is enough positive stuff, don't you think? Time for some negative. Free-running, which is an important aspect of the game, is not always that good. Quite often I found Ezio leaping off ledges and climbing walls I simply did not want him to. I would even be pushing for him to go in the opposite direction, but he would just do what he wants. In one case he actually climbed down a ladder, while I held the button to go up. At other times it felt like the free-running was responding to the direction Ezio was facing, instead of the camera, so he would do what he wanted, instead of what I wanted.
Another negative is that the economy can quickly break itself, in a good way. An architect at the villa allows you to invest in nearby shops and other buildings, which will bring in money for you. This income never stops though, even though the number of purchasable items is limited. Amusingly, purchasing items actually increases your income. Technically this is a broken economy, as you have effectively unlimited funds and limited costs, but at least it is better than the reverse; limited funds and greater costs.
It took me about 18 hours to complete the campaign, and while I did complete some side missions, most I left alone. These side missions include races, assassination contracts, and beat-up events, and most are not required to finish the game. If you are a perfectionist though, they will easily add more hours to your experience.
With the many refinements and new mechanics, the experience of playing Assassin's Creed II has been very fun and enjoyable. No, it is not perfect, but does enough right to make up for that.