I think I’ve eaten my own words before I even started this bloody retrospective…
So, I went back to play Assassin’s Creed II… And… I thought it was fucking irritating and was unable to complete the damn thing a second time round.
It just got to the point where I was experiencing nothing but boredom, repetition, and just plain nothingness without much sign of enjoyment. The game starts off well, sure enough, but it quickly descends into a meaningless progression of missions which have little, to no substance, and the little engagement the narrative tries to inflict on me is lost to all the different characters that come and go, and the fact that there’s so many fucking dialogue cut-scenes to even remember, resulting in me quickly forgetting what the fuck is going on.
Whereas Assassin’s Creed is repetitive for more obvious reasons, Assassin’s Creed II defines itself as repetitive in the most annoying way possible through being a watered-down Grand Theft Auto knock-off. It has the same basic structure of having an open world that you can explore, giving you a map with the locations to important icons (such as missions), to which you can go to and interact with. You end-up doing different missions for different people in different locations, and these missions become completely tedious incredibly fast.
To begin with the narrative has clear substance. We see Lucy Stillman reveal that she’s working with the Assassin’s and busts Desmond Miles out of imprisonment, taking him to a secret location where he can (once again) enter the Animus, this time checking out the next ancestor down the line, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. It’s interesting how Assassin’s Creed II tackles dealing with the life of Ezio compared to Altair, this time showcasing the ancestor’s journey into becoming an Assassin, thus granting him more development and clear audience engagement. We get to experience his progression and struggles (and they are actually pretty bleak).
We see Ezio’s life before everything turns to shit and it’s actually a care-free existence as he swaggers around Florence, coming across as an Italian stud who woos the ladies and has a good relationship with his family. Things are quite normal for him but after a short amount of mundane missions that establish his usual activities (and lifestyle) his world is flipped as his father and brothers are framed for treason and hanged, beginning Ezio’s journey into slowly becoming an Assassin, starting with his thirst for justice through vengeance.
But, things start to die on their arse rather quickly when we get a lot of missions revolving around Ezio going after and killing a bunch of Templars. At first it makes sense, and his targets have meaning, i.e. involved within the conspiracy surrounding his family’s death, but unfortunately their importance quickly loses meaning because there isn’t much time to establish things, and cut-scenes are far too quick and frequent, meaning a lot of information goes over my head or I quickly forget because of all the shit going on onscreen. Basically, it’s not structured very well. Assassin’s Creed II is trying way too fucking hard.
Like with Assassin’s Creed I never felt like I was a stealthy assassin that was efficient, mostly winging my missions and hoping for the best. Although for the most part is was simply the design of the levels that made it near impossible to assassinate your target without being spotted. And when the game did try to shake things up and be a little different I became even more frustrated because of how fucked the game would become.
Certain missions would involve tracking an enemy (which, I’ll be honest, weren’t too bad but weren’t by any means overly interesting) but then other missions would involve escorting characters, rescuing characters, or assassinating multiple targets in one mission, which is where things began to get annoying. And then you had a section in the middle of the bloody game where you had to endure a series of challenges in order to claim a “golden mask” to enter a party undetected so that you could assassinate your next target.
This section really brings the game to a grinding halt as it makes you perform some really annoying tasks that tests your patience with the controls and platforming of the game (which could become very fiddly when it wanted to). The worst part of this section was “it didn’t fucking matter!” because your target fixes the competition so that you don’t win anyway (making the annoying task of completing the frustrating challenges completely fucking redundant just to make my life that bit more depressing!)
And please don’t get me started on the fucking irritating extended section of the game, which ultimately drags the narrative like a dull filler episode that you just want to skip over so that you can return to the good stuff (or in my case get to the end of this fucking game so I can get started on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood). My patience certainly wore out by this point as I had to endure two fucking filler sequences, which were both pissing annoying. You claim the Apple of Eden (which Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad claimed in the conclusion of Assassin’s Creed) only to lose it through the most abysmal and annoyingly structured circumstance imaginable.
After this you had to travel back to Florence and kill yet another fucking target, but not before killing all his lackeys first, one of which you have to assassinate without being caught by the guards (to which he resides on the middle of a fucking boat!) I remember this part the first time I played Assassin’s Creed II and I fucking despised it then. This time round I just couldn’t complete the mission no matter how many times I tried it, each time getting more annoyed and impatient than the last attempt. And it doesn’t fucking help that the platforming controls just don’t cooperate with you and make the entire section completely tedious, as if the game is working against you and doesn’t want you to win.
Not to mention this is where I finally came to the conclusion that the guards/soldiers in Assassin’s Creed II are completely unfair. They are far more aggressive than the ones in Assassin’s Creed through how fast they can detect you, how relentless they are when they do find you (even more pissing annoying when you’re trying to climb to safety and they throw multiple rocks at you which is impossible to bounce back from, thus resulting in you falling back to the ground so that the guards can shove multiple blades up your arse).
A lot of this is thanks to new notoriety system which increases upon you committing crimes (such as your primary occupation of assassinating) and this indicates how quickly you are spotted by the guards (though you can blend more easily within the crowds this time round, as well as using hookers, thieves and rebels to distract guards). You can lower your notoriety level by taking down wanted posters or bribing people in authority, but this becomes an annoying chore rather quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, the combat and health system is much more pleasing in this sequel but there are some complaints that need to mentioned. You don’t gradually increase your health like in the original and instead you have to play the “RPG game” of upgrading your armour and weapons at a black-smiths, as well as find a doctor to buy medicine to replenish your health. This incorporates a silly system were money is important, with each mission granting you the reward of more currency to spend on side-missions (which makes money completely pointless if you’re just speed-running the game like I was [thus money is only needed for buying the needed essentials, which you’ll have an abundance of because of endless money]).
Combat is easier to control and the added equipment (such as double hidden blades and a pistol), along with new moves (such as multiple assassination methods and disarm) makes the fighting sequences that bit more fun compared to the original. Until Assassin’s Creed II starts being a massive prick by incorporating armoured guards and guards with near-instant-kill weaponry which you can’t deflect. Not to mention the lock mechanic sucks because you can only concentrate on one enemy at a time, resulting in the larger enemies coming in behind you and taking a large swing at you without any means of escape. In hindsight, the combat needed to be more like Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The repetitive nature of this sequel is enough to drive anyone mad, especially when the setting and characters are just very stereotypical (or, might I dare say, too Italian [I do apologise to any Italian readers, I don’t mean any offence]). Although the textures and detail to the surroundings is vastly improved, making it much easier to get around the larger environments, it ultimately fails in other aspects, such as the character models (which look incredibly cheap, making a game from the PlayStation era look more detailed [heck, even the SEGA Mega Drive put more effort into its character designs]).
Platforming is both a blessing and a cure within Assassin’s Creed II as although it is improved greatly since Assassin’s Creed it has become more tedious at the same time, particularly when you’re running and the lock-on system forces Ezio to try and climb a wall when you didn’t even intend to (usually resulting in a guard catching up with you and getting a good swing in, taking off half your health). Also, it makes timed platforming sections incredibly difficult because you’re constantly paranoid that Ezio is going to leap the wrong way, or climb at the wrong time, thus screwing up your perfect run and ultimately causing you to fuck-up and fail the challenge at hand.
And the return of pestering civilians comes back with a vengeance too. Though, I will admit that the annoying pricks from Assassin’s Creed are still far worse in terms of their aggression and interfering nature (and the fact there is only one type of pests within Assassin’s Creed II), it still doesn’t alter the fact that when these bastards do get in your way (singing and strumming their musical instruments right in your face [making it look even more obvious to the guards that something is up]) they are a massive chore to get around, specifically when there’s three of them blocking your path and won’t let you fucking move in order to complete the task at hand.
I don’t know what more there is to say about this game. There was such promise with everything that was improved but then Assassin’s Creed II just completely fails with all the shit that simply interferers with your enjoyment, making the entire game feel like a repetitive chore that you just want to end. Sure, upon my first play-through I recall a certain amount of enjoyment factor, but clearly the game hasn’t got much replay value as it quickly lost its charm and excitement because I became really, really fed-up with all the bullshit going on onscreen (ultimately making Assassin’s Creed the superior game).
Even the narrative begins to lose its way by the end as it becomes rather strange, building-up to this grand definitive conclusion, only to receive the cheapest, and laziest, final boss battle, followed by the revelation that aliens are involved within the war between the Assassins and the Templars (who apparently created humanity as a workforce race before they rebelled). The search for the mysterious Vault ultimately makes this entire journey feel fucking bizarre as the pay-off is the worst kind of plot-twist (making a fucking Shyamalan film have more context). It just doesn’t make much sense and only adds to the confusion as to why I’m even bothering continuing this fucking retrospective.
But, hey-ho, maybe things might get better when I finally start Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. With a bit of luck the next sequel will build upon this strange turn of events and make it actually work (as well as make fucking sense), turning the narrative into an interesting race-against-time to save the world. Time will tell I guess…
At the very least, Desmond was given more to do in Assassin’s Creed II as his concept of reality warps between the present and the past (even experiencing glimpses at how Altaïr’s bloodline got started) as his time in the Animus begins to alter his perception on everything, including his abilities as an assassin. Also, I will admit (as mental as the whole alien reveal is) it was kind of clever that Ezio’s experiences within the past directly affected the future through the alien, Minerva, using Desmond’s ancestor to speak to him through the Animus, warning him of his greater purpose within the present.
And (of course) Ezio finally came to terms with the fact that his hands were stained with too much blood and that his relentless killing has not brought him peace as his family will still remain dead and buried no matter what he does. Strong bit of character development right there (it’s just a massive shame it came 10+ years too fucking late to have any real meaning).