Assassin's Creed Revelations 2-Years Later Review

Guest_Jim_* - 2013-10-22 13:28:07 in Gaming
Category: Gaming
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*   
Reviewed on: November 6, 2013
Price: $19.99

Introduction:

The end of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood left gamers with a cliffhanger they undoubtedly wanted to see resolved, and one year later, it was. Assassin's Creed Revelations continues the story of Desmond Miles after his collapse from exposure to the Apple of Eden. He is now trapped within the Animus, a tool to experience the memories of one's ancestors, because his time in the Animus and the Apple has caused his mind to start losing its grasp on time. Is he Desmond, of the present day, Ezio Auditore who lived five hundred years ago, or Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad who lived still longer ago? The only way for his mind to heal now is to learn what is left of his ancestors' wisdom.

Like the previous titles, this game has a Mature rating, for blood, violence, strong language, and sexual themes. If you should not be exposed to any of that, you should not be reading this review.

Should we uncover the past to gain what knowledge remains, or allow Desmond's mind to shatter as it crumbles beneath the weight of multiple histories? Read on to decide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphics:

In other reviews for this franchise, I have mentioned some challenges of improving the games' graphics, because each game has had the same hardware limitations of the consoles. Only by optimizing the graphics engine to make better use of the available resources can the graphics be improved, but at the same time, optimization cannot achieve miracles. A balance of graphics must be achieved, where some graphics are improved and others are not, or even degraded to, hopefully, achieve an overall better looking game.

One area that has definitely seen improvement is the character models. Ezio has never looked so good, even if he is getting long in the tooth. His robes and armor have beautiful and obvious patterns on them, as do other characters. Exactly how the developers achieved this, I am not certain. I can easily see some of the detail is contained just in the textures, but some of it appears to be more than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly one aspect of character models that does look worse than in the previous game is hair. Though no longer transparent, it often looks pixelated, with harsh edges that you would believe are cutting through the person, as the hair sometimes clip through the models. Oh yes, there is plenty of clipping as weapons pass through clothing, and hair moves through necks and shoulders. To be fair, even though some of these incidents occur in quicktime events or cinematics, the open-world nature of the game makes perfect behavior next to impossible to expect. There are just too many variables to consider in the world, but fortunately the clipping is never too bad. I mean, you never vanish through a wall or something substantial like that.

Animations are still very pretty to watch, and counter maneuvers are as satisfying as ever. At times though, things did not… mesh properly, shall we say. I would initiate a counter kill, which starts into motion an animation for my character and for my opponent. On occasion though, another enemy would strike me, cutting off my animations, but my opponent's complimentary animation would continue, causing him to move in response to an invisible sword piercing his body. It is obvious when this happens, and unfortunate, but at least that opponent still ends up dead.

 

 

Some new animations have also been added, such as petals and straw falling off our Ezio after jumping out of the appropriate hiding spots. It is a minor effect, and the falling objects are not necessarily that good looking, but it is a nice touch.

Occasionally you will notice artifacts in the graphics (which I am not sure I caught in any screenshots) that are present because of the state of the Animus. These look like small areas where the frame is blurred, as though the Animus is not rendering it correctly. Their presence is intentional.

The environment has its good and bad spots. In some places, you do see low polygon counts hurting the realism, but high quality textures make it, overall, look very good. Shadows are also good looking, but have softer edges than I would like. Still though, they are better than the shadows seen in some of the earlier games. There is more to discuss about the environment, but it belongs in the performance section, which is coming up.

 

 

Fluids, such as water and fire, are challenging graphical elements to render accurately, which is why we see many techniques used to create them. Generally the worst looking are just animated textures displayed on a flat plane, and fortunately that is not the case in Revelations. When appropriate, water will appear to be churning into waves, but the edge of the water is hard to see. It actually appears to have been blurred (perhaps the developers were going for a mist effect?), which is not very appealing, as it makes the water or object in the water standout, as though it should not be there. This churning also has a texture on it to give it foam, which is a nice touch. Probably the best touch, though, is that boats will actually leave a misty wake behind them. Calmer water on the other hand will reflect the boats on it, though with distortion from ripples. This is very welcome.

Fire, sadly, appears to be one of the graphical elements that has been degraded to free up resources. Though it is not as bad as an animation on a plane, it is still a pre-rendered animation. Actually it appears to be a kind of pre-rendered, animated volume, which is passable for its appearance, but does not have any obvious relation to what it is burning. Still, it has a certain level of depth to it that keeps it from ruining the immersion of a scene. Looking to the previous games though, we can see that sacrifices have been made, as some of those titles have superior flames.

 

 

Specs so we can talk about performance:

For the most part, the performance was great at the highest settings. I did notice some stuttering at times, especially on Animus island, where it may be intentional, but it was never too severe. The framerate stayed above the mid-fifties, always, but I cannot say it was very consistent at 60 FPS. So, not bad performance from a pretty good job of optimizing this port, but it is not a great job of optimizing for the PC.

I mentioned that there was something to do with the environment's graphics to discuss in the performance, so here it is. Being an open-world game, there is a lot to be rendered around you in Revelations. Naturally a console and computer cannot render everything around you at the highest detail, so there is a distance at which the level of detail changes, so what is near you looks better than what is far away. If done well, this is a very effective way to conserve resources and is barely noticeable to the player. When done badly, details and entire elements will seem to pop in, which is very noticeable. Fortunately, Revelations represents the former scenario as the shift from lower to higher quality is barely noticeable. Truly, you have to stop and look for it in most cases, or else you will never spot the differences in detail.

One good example of a difference between elements in the distance and directly in front of you are the rooftops, which are often shingled. Close up you can clearly see that the shingles vary, causing the roofs to have a more complicated appearance to them. Far enough away, you can catch that the roofs are actually flat, with the shingles only existing in the texture. Even at distance though, the shingle-texture still has a good amount of detail so you may not have ever noticed the difference, if I did not point it out to you.

Shadows will, however, change in detail quite obviously. In at least one instance, it is evident that some shadows are only present when you are close enough.

Over all, the graphics and performance are very good. The detail of models and textures represents a definite and distinguished step forward for the franchise, though some elements, including fire, are a step back. Performance was also very good for me, even if I could spot some stuttering.

Story:

With a name like Revelations, you can expect to have a lot of information about the franchise's lore and characters presented to you. Naturally this is achieved largely through the Animus, as Desmond lives Ezio's life, but as it turns out, part of Ezio's life also involved living segments of Altaïr's, the Assassin from the original game.

After the events of the first Assassin's Creed game, Altaïr became the mentor of the Assassin Order and was the holder of an Apple of Eden. For years he studied the Apple to learn whatever it would share with him, including new technologies. Among those technologies was apparently a device capable of storing a specific memory for someone to later live, much like what the Animus enables. Altaïr not only put his memories on these devices, but also fashioned them to be keys to his library, hidden beneath Masayaf Castle, a former Assassin stronghold. Ezio's father had once sought to uncover the wisdom of Altaïr, and now Ezio desires to complete his father's mission, and must uncover the keys and memories to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ezio himself has become an old man, with grey beard and aged voice. On many occasions as he free runs around the city of Constantinople, citizens can be heard to comment on how someone as old as he could move like that. His age is actually something that troubles Ezio greatly, as he feels like he has lost out on his life, because he has dedicated so much time and energy to being an Assassin. As it turns out, Altaïr had similar feelings, so those memories are particularly poignant to the Renaissance Era Assassin.

 

 

Back in the present day, Desmond is also going through his own crisis. Due to his extended time in the Animus, his mind has become unable to distinguish present from past, and the only reason his brain has not been destroyed is because he has been placed in the Animus. However, as the monitoring systems have been disabled, to free up as much memory as possible, Desmond is alone... almost. Subject 16, the person Abstergo placed in the Animus previously, managed to load his personality into the Animus' memory. This has allowed him to manifest now, and help Desmond understand what is going on.

 

 

Something intriguing about the story of this Assassin's Creed game is actually how few assassinations there are. Ezio's mission does lead him to fighting the Templars, but his primary goal is just to collect the keys, which do not always require any conflict. When the need to kill arises, he will efficiently dispatch his enemies, but that need is not always there. Indeed much of the game seems to have Ezio exercising his responsibilities as Mentor, with him working to rebuild the local Assassin's Guild by retaking dens and recruiting new Assassins. These recruits, by the way, can also be sent on missions to other cities to remove Templar control and grow Assassin influence.

 

Another important aspect of the story are the missions concerning the woman, Sofia Sartor. To put it simply, Ezio turns his charm on her, and she turns hers on him as well. In fact, one mission actually has you collect flowers for her. I have to agree with Ezio on that mission that it is a nice change of pace.

 

 

I find the story of Revelations to be very satisfying and well crafted. It ties together all of the playable characters, Altaïr, Ezio, and Desmond, while also tying up the two ancestors' stories. The action is interesting to follow with how it ebbs and flows, and you really do get a sense of what being the Mentor of the Assassins means. At times it means you must learn and at other times you must lead, protecting and even punishing those under you.

 

 

The ending, I believe, is possibly one of the best endings I have experienced for a video game, as it should be. It is not just an ending for a game after all, but for some of the characters we have invested hours playing as. Invested hours in getting to know.

 

Gameplay:

Revelations follows greatly in the footsteps of its two predecessors. It has an economy to build, equipment to purchase, Assassins to train, notoriety to lose, and more, and largely these mechanics are unchanged from when they were introduced, but there have been some changes. The economy and Assassins have gotten a new kind of integration, as Assassins can be sent to free cities from Templar rule. Such cities will contribute to your coffers, and the amount of the contribution can be increased by having your Assassins complete more missions.

As your Assassins complete missions, they receive experience to level up, to a point. To get them past that point requires putting them in charge of an Assassin's Den. This sets them on the path to becoming a Master Assassin, and gives you the added comfort that the assigned Assassin will protect the den from Templar attacks, which are an issue now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though completely avoidable for the rest of the game, at one point in the campaign you are forced to play a tower-defense-like mini-game, where you must defend a den from waves of Templars. You do this by putting down barricades and placing Assassins with ranged weapons. While this is not a bad experience, it is nice to know you can keep it from happening just by keeping your notoriety from getting too high.

Unfortunately, the notoriety system has seen two changes that, personally, I do not like. One is that there are only two means to reduce notoriety now: bribing heralds and assassinating witnesses. In previous games you could tear down wanted posters, which is a safer and cheaper alternative, but now you must either pay the hundred coins or hunt the witness, assuming you can find him. The availability of these reduction methods is also a problem, as they are simply not that common, though heralds can be repeatedly bribed somewhat quickly by leaving for long enough and returning to them.

 

The other change to the notoriety system I truly dislike is that upgrading and opening a store front results in a 25% increase in notoriety. That adds one hundred coins to the cost, as you have to now bribe a herald to reduce your notoriety, and costs you time as you have to find a herald. This puts an overall chilling effect on purchasing the stores because of the extra labor involved. I would have been much happier with the stores just being more expensive to purchase.

 

A new tool has been added to the Assassins' arsenal in Revelations, the hookblade, which is more or less what it sounds like. Instead of just having two hidden blades to attack with, one of the blades now has a hook that can be used to grab ledges, slide along ziplines, and trip or vault over enemies. The increase in reach is definitely appreciated, as it can greatly accelerate climbing up building.

 

Bombs are another new addition, as you can craft three different kinds for very different effects. Some kinds can be used offensively to kill your enemies, while others can be used defensively to hide yourself. The third class of bomb creates distractions, such as loud noises or a shower of coins, to pull guards away from their posts. Each type of bomb can also be built in different shells, which have different purposes. The impact shell explodes on contact; the fuse shell explodes after a moment; the trip mine is, well, a trip mine; and finally the sticky pouch attaches to your target. There are more than enough crafting stations to build these bombs, and the Animus allows you to test bombs before crafting them.

 

One final thing to discuss is the change to Eagle Vision, which is a mechanic that has been present since the first game. It has been overhauled into Eagle Sense and is now able to track where enemies and targets walk. This added capability is used somewhat often, as you have to identify targets by following where they had walked. Another new capability is that if there are multiple potential targets, focusing on them one at a time reveals if they are the actual target or not.

 

Along with this mechanic change has come a change in key mapping. By default, Eagle Sense is bound to the V key, instead of the E key. The V key has no other use, which I guess is why it was changed. I was happy with it on the E key though, and at times found myself still pressing that key trying to activate it.

It took me 13 hours and 18 minutes to complete the campaign, and a majority of Ezio's side missions, giving me a total completion of 72%. There are still many things to collect, and many missions for my Assassins to complete, but, I have to admit, much of that would be just busy work. I feel little if any compulsion to keep playing to achieve a higher completion percentage. It is worth noting, though, that replaying missions for optional objectives is more interesting to me and that could add more to the play clock. Also there are missions outside of the main campaign, and even outside of the traditional Animus gameplay, to further extend play time.

 

 

Altogether, Revelations offers a very strong and solid gameplay experience. Truly the only negative I can throw at it is the notoriety increases when purchasing stores. I simply do not understand the purpose behind this rebalancing. Other than that though, this is a game that has learned from its predecessors and is better because of it. This includes the free-running, which I find to be the most accurate yet of the series.

Additional Game play Images:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

Are the lessons from the Assassins of old worth learning, or are some things best left unrevealed? In my opinion, the former. Assassin's Creed Revelations is a very well made game with many outstanding qualities, including a great story and solid gameplay. It definitely succeeds its predecessors in all of the important ways, making it an easy game to recommend to anyone interested in the franchise. Though it would be nice if the main campaign were longer.

The only possible qualification I can think of is that so much of the story references the previous games that playing it without knowing what happened before could be confusing. At the same time though, it presents multiple story points that are important for understanding what is happening in the other games, before and after Revelations. Basically, if you want to experience the story of the Assassin's Creed franchise, this is a must play.