Assassin's Creed Brotherhood 3-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: October 31, 2013
When we left Desmond and the modern-day Assassin's, they were evacuating a warehouse that had just been attacked by the Templars. Desmond's ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, however, had successfully defeated the Templar Master and received a message from the First Civilization. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood picks up where both stories left off, with Desmond and company going to a new safe house, so he can enter the Animus to find what happened to Ezio's Piece of Eden, and Ezio returning home for some well-earned rest. As you can guess, Ezio's respite does not last long.
Though just a year separates Brotherhood from its predecessor, there have been a number of changes to it. Graphics, interface, controls, economy, and missions have all seen revisions, in one form or another, and some new features have also been added. One thing that has not changed, though, is the Mature rating, for blood, violence, strong language, and sexual themes.
Should we return to the Renaissance to fight today's war, or leave the past in the past? Time to find out.
As you would expect and hope, the year between the release of Brotherhood and its predecessor allowed the developers to improve its graphics in some significant and obvious ways. However, there are also some areas where the graphics have actually appeared to degrade. This is not necessarily surprising though, as both games were developed for the same hardware platform of the consoles. You can only optimize to a point, so improving graphics further requires sacrifices. The question is, did the developers strike a good balance? Largely yes, but some of these sacrifices are very evident.
The first thing someone launching Brotherhood will probably notice is that where the enhancements are does not make much sense. Give it a few minutes and then things are easier to understand and you can really see the effort put into some character models. Fabrics not only appear to have wrinkles, but, when appropriate, are shaded to show how the nap has been disturbed or worn down. A nice touch that is not always apparent.
Hair has also seen some changes, both on the face and on the head. Before facial hair would actually look like chocolate or another brown substance was smeared on the cheeks and around the mouth, but now it has been more carefully applied for a more natural look. The change to head hair though, beyond the occasional increase in complexity, seems less natural to me. Hair has been made partially transparent, so when a hand, for example, is placed behind a woman's neck, you can actually see the hand through the hair. What makes this less than natural though, is the lack of variance to the transparency. In reality, the hair would be thicker in some areas than others, obscuring the hand more. Of course the change is more or less inconsequential, but it is what I thought when I first noticed it in the game.
Textures have probably seen the most obvious changes, as their detail has increased greatly. Not only do we see the wrinkles more clearly than before, but finer details as well, such as embroidered patterns. Environmental textures have also seen improvements in many places, but you can still find some that are stretched and blurred. It is very situational.
Shadows have seen a great improvement. Now they look much more real and are no longer pixelated at the edges. Something has been done to smooth the edges, making them far less jarring to look at.
Animations, especially combat animations, are still well made, though I must admit, I would not be surprised if many of them have simply not changed since the previous game. Of course, as you are playing as the same Assassin, it makes sense that his moves would not have changed much. There are some new combat animations though, as there are new weapons to wield, including heavy weapons you need a special pouch to carry.
Remember how I mentioned balancing graphics earlier? Well, fluids would seem to be one of the elements that have had some sacrifice. Falling water (which I do not believe was in the previous game) is a simplistic animated texture, which looks completely un-alive. Brotherhood features two kinds of fire: one that is for flames and another that is for explosions. The explosions looks to be little more than a bright volume combined with some particles, and a smoke texture behind it all. It works for explosions, but this is similar to what we saw in the original Assassin's Creed game, which was released three years prior. The flames look to be animated textures, though with some nice blurring that make them look more three dimensional. It is not horrible looking, but considering how slow they move and their transparency, they look very unrealistic. Fire in the previous game, though not great, I would say was better.
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
At the highest settings I did notice the original stuttering, but it was somewhat inconsistent, which makes me think it was caused by less-than-great optimization. At one point I noticed the framerate smoothed out immediately after fast traveling, but eventually the stutter returned, so I suspect memory management is an issue. Not a great issue though. The performance was never so bad as to lessen the experience. Indeed I would say the framerate never dropped below fifty five, if it dropped that low at all. Still, the stuttering was present and apparent to me.
There is some pop-in of the more detailed models, but it is not too bad. There is also some fade-in, which is a little weird, but it does make sense, as details, such as vines on walls, would not just appear to you. As you approach, you would gradually be able to resolve them. Occasionally I did notice characters popping in, including enemies, but I never stayed around to watch how they behaved. The only times I can remember this happening was when I was running from other enemies.
Like the previous game, at times my mouse started acting up. Movements would become very jerky, and while increasing the DPI setting helped, there was still some jerkiness. This came and went during play sessions though, so I am not sure what was causing it. Unlike the previous game, Brotherhood had no issue with my GPU overclock. In both earlier games, the driver would crash eventually if there was an overclock.
Three years after release, Brotherhood still looks good, but does show some age. Ironically this age, I believe, is the age of the console hardware it was developed for, and not the game itself.
Brotherhood features a somewhat simple story, and in a sense dispenses even with the traditional Assassin's Creed story of Assassin versus Templar. Your goal is purely to defeat and kill the Borgias, the family of Templar leaders who are responsible for Ezio's home being attacked, uncle being murdered, and one love-interest being kidnapped. Though they are Templars, this fact does not seem to be brought up very often, as the story mostly revolves around Cesare Borgia. He seeks to rule all of Italy, probably as a step towards conquering the world, and will not suffer any allegiance that does not help him achieve that personal goal.
He is an evil, sociopathic, and psychopathic man, so killing him is probably a good idea, even without seeking revenge. You accomplish this by going after his various 'supporters.' Their loyalties are not really to him though, but to their own ambitions, and they think that serving him will help them reach those goals. Well, you kill them before they find out if that is true or not.
Helping Ezio are the Assassins you met in the previous game, who provide information acquired by thieves and prostitutes, as well as military strength from mercenaries. Eventually, Ezio's skill and wisdom earns their respect to the point that they make him Mentor, the guardian of the Assassin Order and its secrets.
Also returning, in a smaller role, is Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance man who built so many gadgets for Ezio before. Now you must ask him to rebuild them, though only at specific spots. You see, da Vinci has been forcibly hired by the Borgia to create weapons and war machines for them. This involvement limits how Ezio and he meet to marked benches, where two men can naturally, and inconspicuously, sit together.
Outside of the Animus, when Desmond is not reliving the memories of Ezio, he is able to explore the ruined villa they are using as a safe house, and learn more about what is going on in the modern Assassin Order. Reports of teams having some success, going dark, and schedules for the week can be found in your email. You can also talk to the other members of your team, to learn more about them and the situation. Or to get a laugh, depending on the conversation cued for that time.
Also occurring outside of the Animus is a change in Desmond's role. Before he was mostly just the guy in the Animus, but in Brotherhood he does take on more of a leadership role on the team. This is partially because he is the one with the physical skills to lead the others, thanks to the bleeding effect of the Animus, but also because he is the one with the memories of Ezio, a former Assassin leader. Oh, and he is having hallucinations of Ezio outside of the Animus, revealing what Desmond needs to do to advance. Still, there is some parity here between the stories, which I always like to see.
With a simpler story than the previous games, Brotherhood is able to stand out from the series. Perhaps this was intentional, as it is not a numbered sequel. However, some of what happens in it is so important to the series, you have to know it to understand what is going on in the later games. Major events at the end.
Brotherhood stays very true to the formula of its predecessor, though with multiple, noticeable changes. Among these are the changes to the economy, the map, and the missions. The revisions to the missions are the easiest to describe, so we will start there.
Missions now have bonus objectives, such as completing them within a certain time limit, not killing anyone, and not being detected. In some cases, these are not too difficult to achieve, but in others you will be very glad that you can replay specific missions. That is assuming you want to have 100% completion. Personally, I am glad I am not quite that obsessive over games as some of those objectives will require extensive replays to optimize your actions.
One issue I do have with this system, outside of how difficult some of the objectives are, is that missions you do not complete the bonus objective for are labeled as only being 50% Synced with Ezio's actual memory. It just seems extreme to only be given half when all you did was take a wrong turn, causing you to take more time than the limit.
The map has seen several changes, but to be clear, I am speaking of both the mini-map and the world itself. The mini-map is no more simplistic than it was before, and removes the information of archways, so you cannot rely on it to know if you are turning into a dead end or not. I really liked that feature of the previous game.
The world has changed as now, except for special memories, you are only in Rome. If you visit another city it is purely to complete a mission, and then you return to Rome, which has a rather extensive sewer system underground. This system allows you to fast travel around the city, though you do have to first find and unlock the entrances.
Another change, which is definitely welcome, is how the collectibles work. Instead of requiring the purchase of a treasure map to appear on your map, you can just view the collectible in Eagle Vision. Feathers, flags, and treasure chests are all recorded on your map this way, so you can return to them later. Now, it is not exactly a viable alternative to the treasure maps, but it is definitely a useful revision.
One aspect of the map I do take some issue with is that icons, such as for treasures, will appear for areas you cannot access yet. Why unreachable points are allowed to appear on your map is beyond me, but it is something you may run into as you run around.
Like the previous games, revealing the map requires climbing up Viewpoints. Some of these, though, are Borgia towers. Now, you can climb to the top of them, avoiding the soldiers, but you can do something else as well. Something more awesome. Each tower has a captain nearby, who is responsible for guarding the tower. Kill the captain and when you climb the tower you will have the option to ignite it! This leads to a spectacular explosion that signals to the area that the repressive Borgia are no longer in control. Also it automatically reveals the map when you do this, which is useful.
Removing Borgia control allows you to upgrade shops in the area, which is the biggest change to the economy. By upgrading, and thereby opening the shops, you receive income from them, which is collected every twenty minutes. Once you open enough shops, the money really starts pouring in. You are also able to invest in landmarks and even repair some, such as the aqueducts. Those sewer entrances, by the way, have to be upgraded this way to become accessible. The Borgia towers also come under your control, and you can place within them one of three supporting factions: mercenaries, thieves, or prostitutes.
Eventually you will end up having more money than you know what to do with, but there has been a tweak to the system, so the money is not the only thing needed for upgrades. The shops nearest to your hideout offer Shop Quests, which are quests to collect certain items. Upon completion you will be able to unlock things, such as fast poison, armor, and weapons. These items can be find in chests, looted from bodies, and can be rewards for a type of mission I have not gotten to yet (but will soon). You also have the ability to invest directly in the different shops, which can reward you with even more money. By the way, your profit can be collected from any bank.
Another effect of destroying Borgia towers is unlocking missions to save citizens from Borgia soldiers. Once saved, these people offer you their allegiance, which means you can call on them in battle or send them to assassinate specific targets. You can also send them on missions in other cities and countries. If successful you will be rewarded with money, and occasionally the items you need for shop quests. The people you send are always rewarded with experience. As they level up, you are able to assign them better armor and weapons, making them more likely to succeed. Eventually they become so experienced that they achieve the rank of Assassin, and don the white robes. At this rank, they are the most lethal allies you have.
Oh, also when you have enough of these people, you are able to call for an arrow strike that kills every enemy on the screen. Very useful, but has a long cooldown, so use it wisely.
Ezio also has the ability to wield some new weapons in Brotherhood, including heavy weapons such as the bearded axe, and you can even purchase a crossbow. The latter is for ranged, silent kills. It is actually quite useful when you are trying to remain undetected, as you can pick off enemy archers positioned on roof tops. One issue with it though, is that it can only be aimed at locked-on targets. You cannot snipe with it and sometimes it is somewhat stupid, as walls you were not aware were blocking the shot will block the shot; happens when you are in a third-person view. Really though it is frustrating because locking onto the correct target is not a trivial task. You have to be in range, and hope that no other enemy is closer for this to work.
Two more negatives to discuss. Free-running is definitely better, but is still not perfect. Though I did not experience going in the completely wrong direction, like I did in the previous game, at times Ezio would still jump when I did not want him to. Really though, the most frustrating issue was the camera at times. It would zoom out and pan to certain points, which are supposed to help you see the area. The problem is that as it pans, the frame for your controls moves as well, so you may turn in the wrong direction, due to the uncontrolled camera movement. Also, the points the camera would move to would sometimes put the frame at an angle to the action. For a controller with a joystick, this may not be a problem, but on a keyboard with WASD, making sure you are lined up for a jump can be tricky when the frame alignment is off center. To put it simply, I am confident the camera killed me more times than any Borgia or Templar soldier. At least most of the time the camera is under your control.
Complex but not overwhelming, the gameplay experience of Brotherhood is very enjoyable. You still have the fun combat and assassinations of the series, but now you can exercise more control over the world, and in well-designed and implemented ways. It took me 16 hours and 28 minutes to complete the campaign missions, and some side missions, which total up to 48% completion, according to the game. Some of that completion is going to come from collectible gathering, but based on the number of missions I skipped, and the ability to replay missions, I would say that this could be a twenty hour game to do everything meaningful.
Additional Game play Images:
Should most of the Borgia die for their crimes against the Assassins and Rome, or can history-making be left to others? If you want an assassination done right, you have to do it yourself. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is a very enjoyable and well-made game, offering a solid gameplay experience. It also introduces many mechanics we see in the later games, and some important story information.
That being said though, I will say it is not as good as Assassin's Creed II (yes, I finally mention it by name. I did not want too many 'Assassin's Creeds' in the text to possibly confuse people). The older game offers an outstanding story while Brotherhood stands out primarily for its new mechanics, in my opinion. The story is not bad, but not of the same caliber. It would not reduce the game by calling it supplemental material though; it deserves better than that. Just recognize where its strength truly lies: the gameplay experience and not the story.
Easily a recommended game for anyone interested in the entire franchise, and interested in what happens after the credits of Assassin's Creed II. The only people I would not recommend it to would be those looking to purchase a single game in the franchise. It is a good game, but not the best representative. Honestly though, I am not sure who would only buy one game in the franchise, so that qualification is likely inconsequential.