After the painful replay (and giving-up) of Assassin’s Creed II I was extremely hesitate about continuing the series (especially since I’d spent quite a bit of my Birthday money buying the majority of the series for this fucking retrospective [so if they did all turn out to be massive PILES OF SHIT I’d have wasted a lot of people’s money]). But, surprisingly, the next instalment was very entertaining, and I had a fun time playing it.
This is rather strange when you consider that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is merely an extension piece for Assassin’s Creed II. It’s a direct continuation of Ezio Auditore de Firenze’s story, rather than a brand-new narrative following the next ancestor within history. It was very obvious from its initial release that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood would merely serve as extra content instead of being its own definitive instalment, and upon playing it this really shows.
I get the impression the game could’ve easily become DLC for Assassin’ Creed II but (similar to the upcoming Uncharted: The Lost Legacy) it quickly became too big of a story to tell in just a small bundled package, and thus needed a psychical release. But, it was still too small of a narrative to be FULLY considered a stand-alone narrative, thus it is considered the second chapter within the now-known Ezio Trilogy.
But this makes things more laughable, considering I essentially enjoyed an extension plot-line over a fully fledged narrative. Then again, I think I just answered my own statement. The problem I mostly had with Assassin’s Creed II was the amount of shit onscreen. It was certainly trying way too hard with its content and in the process lost itself through all the convoluted plot-lines, characters, locations, and side-missions.
There was FAR too much going on, and my attention-span just couldn’t keep up half the time as I easily forgot who the characters were, and what their motivations were because their stories were being told in fleeting cut-scenes between repetitive mission structures and near identical locations.
What Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood does much better at is focus. It knows what kind of story it wants to tell, and it does it really well. Sure, it follows a similar structure to Assassin’s Creed II (which I liked) but it was stripped back to allow for better CONCENTRATION on what was more important. Instead of having multiple enemies scattered across different cities the entirety of the narrative takes place in Rome, thus condensing the annoying travelling and allowing for more development. It didn’t bother me that I was stuck in just one location because Rome was well crafted, and due to its massive scope it never felt repetitive because it held different areas filled with different identity, making no area feel the same.
Plus, it was exciting travelling around iconic landmarks such as the Coliseum (which I’ve never personally been to, so (for now) I consider this the closest I’ll get to having a guided tour [similar to Watch Dogs 2 being the closest I’ll get to San Fransico]). The focus was the key to this game’s success in my eyes. All the great elements, and side-missions from Assassin’s Creed II were incorporated perfectly here and because of the clear attention to detail (due to less clutter) everything meshed together coherently.
What I especially liked was your civil duty to rebuild Rome after being run-down by the tyranny of your enemy (The Borgia family). Assassin’s Creed II had a similar concept (to which you helped your Uncle Mario rebuilt his home and town) but here it was applied on a much larger scale and made it a more engaging side-mission (because you actually gave a shit). Everything you did was for the benefit of the environment around you. You create countless jobs by opening various types of shops, give people back their freedom, and ultimately drive out The Borgia family’s influence.
It’s made better by the fact that you have to take control of the specific areas around Rome, thus destroying the hold The Borgia family has. You do this by taking out The Captain of that specific area, thus causing the guards to retreat. You then make a public statement by burning down The Borgia Towers, thereby destroying their symbol of control, granting you clear passage across the area, along with the ability to renovate Rome back to its former glory. There’s even the ability to repair the aqueducts (returning fresh water to the people) and you can even buy all of the iconic landmarks, thereby giving the city back to its people.
I like how this entire narrative feels like a revolution, and all of your actions help to define this movement. Every mission, or side-mission, you complete moves you one step closer to restoring Rome and liberating the people. It’s a massive step forward for Ezio’s character, moving away from his petty vengeance storyline and turning him into a true symbol of hope and freedom, to which gives us a better relationship with the Assassins and their way of life.
Of course the narrative begins with Ezio preparing to hang up his hidden blade in return for a more peaceful existence (following on from discovering The Vault [and its strange secrets of aliens, humanities twisted origins, and a future apocalypse] and letting his enemy [Rodrigo Borgia] live). But of course we should know by now that Ezio doesn’t get to live a happy existence as he’s forced to be surrounded by blood, violence, and betrayal. Rodrigo’s son, Cesare Borgia, ends-up storming Mario’s home and runs it to the ground, eventually claiming both The Apple of Eden and Mario’s life.
However, Ezio has grown as a character and prepares a carefully constructed strategy in order to attack his enemy, thus enters the cleverly structured liberation mission structure, which not only attacks the heart of The Borgia’s organisation, but also takes away their influence over the people of Rome.
The added bonus of this extension piece is the brilliant usage of The Brotherhood. It is now rendered down to a few surviving members and it’s up to Ezio to bring the Order back together. This is done by completing specific missions for the remaining members and convincing them to join your course. The second (and my favourite) aspect is discovering rebel civilians and recruiting them to The Brotherhood. Once you take control of the different areas around Rome you can find more members to recruit, and upon them joining your course you can begin training them.
This is done in a rather interesting way as you don’t personally train them (which is what I expected [and thus was mentally preparing myself to have to undertake several hours of tutorial lessons in order to build my recruits ranks]) but rather send them on missions via a contract. These contracts are scattered across Europe and each city holds a certain number of missions, each based around a ranking of difficulty. This is accompanied with a percentage rating in order to declare the chances of your recruits success, which is really cool, and helped greatly in deciding the best way to build-up their ranks in an organised manner.
I found that sending multiple recruits out at the same time was the quickest way for success, sharing in the XP that they earned, whilst allowing me to spend points on them in order to grant them better weapons and armour. It’s really straightforward and doesn’t require much attention. The missions last a certain amount of time (ranging from 8 to 20 minutes) and you can spend this time doing your own thing, even attend your own missions, and then the results of the mission will automatically appear in the corner on your screen.
It’s then a simple task of returning to a Pigeon Coup, or one of The Assassin’s Towers (which were previously Borgia Towers), and attend to your recruits, whether it be upgrading their states, or sending them on another mission (which each levelling up allowing them for more difficult tasks that earn them greater XP), or even attend their ascension ceremony. That’s right, once they reach the highest ranking, i.e. Assassin, then they are rewarded with the induction ceremony to which Ezio received in Assassin’s Creed II. A simple branding of the finger followed by the Leap of Faith off The Assassin’s Tower.
You might be starting to think that these side-missions that I’ve mentioned are a complete distraction, or waste of time. Distraction maybe, but certainly not a waste of time. The game itself isn’t very long. Although it has 9 Memory Sequences to go through (similar to Assassin’s Creed II), there aren’t a lot of main missions per Sequence, thus completing the side-missions ultimately gives you a greater gaming experience. But it’s relevant in rebuilding Rome and stopping The Borgia family. And each side-mission grants you with certain perks. By creating more shops you increase how much the city earns (thus more money in your arse-pocket to spend on things) and of course have plenty of stop-off points for items, armour, weaponry, and ammunition (which is VITAL!)
And with the Assassin recruits you have yourself an arsenal of trained fighters ready to pounce on an un-expected guard. Honestly, you’d be surprise how often I used the Assassin’s. They came in handy on multiple occasions, especially on a certain mission where I had to enter the Coliseum undetected. Plus, when you have enough Assassin’s you can clear out an entire area of guards with one simple command (which ultimately completed a mission within seconds). You can even have them assassinate your very own targets during missions, thus you don’t even have to lift a finger.
Another great addition to this game was the further inclusion of Desmond Miles. I know this element started within Assassin’s Creed II (to which moved his inclusion past being a simple tool for information dumping between completing the sequences within the Animus) but I found his involvement within Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was more thought-out and allowed for some clear character development. He was more hands-on within his extended role, performing some really engaging platforming sections which demonstrated what he’d been learning from breathing in the life of Ezio.
As for the villain of this extended piece, I wouldn’t say he was bad (per se) but certainly laughable. It’s rather amusing to see the villain fall from being a massive instigator who holds a seat of power over The Templars to a small boy who acts as he pleases in the name of power, showing off all the clear characteristics of a tantrum baby. Rodrigo is completely pushed to the side-lines, having had his wings clipped after his humiliating defeat at the hands of Ezio. But then again I suppose he too was a bit of a pathetic villain, despite the power he held (particularly after becoming The Pope and thus feeling untouchable).
His son, Cesare, is extremely reckless with his scheming and doesn’t display the necessary traits for being a true leader of the villainous order. So, in that respect, the villains feel quite weak compared to previous instalments and don’t hold as much power. But, their hold over Rome makes them despicable enough to make your cause feel just, and thus feels more personal, particularly with the narrative centred around a clear revolution theme. I guess it’s hilarious to see the slow downfall of Cesare as his supposed empire falls apart around him, clearly indicating that he was always out of his depth, to which madness inevitably takes hold.
In the end he believes he could’ve been something more, a being that could’ve led humanity towards the future with his misguided ideals. But by that point I had completely stopped taking him seriously and was ready to ram my hidden blade through his throat. I think the true danger of this villain was his delusions, which ultimately sparked massive releases of aggression as he tried seizing control of power that he clearly had no idea how to use. This resulted in him calling off his incest relationship with his sister and even killing Rodrigo after his father tried to silence him via poison, growing concerned by his lust for further power would condemn The Templars.
I suppose I will say that by the game’s conclusion it feels rather short, and in some cases rushed. You manage to overthrow Cesare by reclaiming The Apple of Eden, thus turning it on his forces and driving them out of Rome, along with destroying any alliances that he had left, resulting in Cesare being pushed into a corner he couldn’t escape from. It was a really triumphant victory, but then things become rather confusing when the narrative jumps to a massive battle (after a random time-skip [which bored the fuck out of me when Ubisoft constantly did it during Assassin’s Creed II as it made it so damn hard to keep a track on what was going on]) which Cesare is somehow instigating (despite having been arrested by the new Pope).
It isn’t made very clear what the Hell is going on but I went along with it anyway. I can’t deny that it was a satisfying conclusion (if slightly disappointing that Cesare’s boss battle felt too easy, not to mention generic once he became surrounded by a group of guards [thus feeling no different to previous conflicts within the game]). Of course the game doesn’t end there and shows us Desmond’s journey into finally tracking down The Apple of Eden within present-day, and…
This section became rather tedious in the end because Ubisoft hadn’t fully finalised the fucking platforming controls, to which it was STILL far too easy for your jumps to be executed wrong, thus having to repeat an entire platforming section again just to have another try at the bit that screwed you over in the first place.
But it terms of the series’ iconic cliff-hangers, this one takes the biscuit. It literally left me thinking, “What the FUCK just happened?” And thus I actually couldn’t wait to start Assassin’s Creed: Revelation, not only to continue the adventure and see where this complicated narrative can possibly go next, but to also see how Ezio’s journey comes to a conclusion.
Also, the Leonardo da Vinci’s side-missions started out as a fun task (taking out war-machines around the country) but they quickly turned into the most painful experience of the entire game (to the point I wanted to RAGE quit). Particularly when it came to the mission where you were forced to use da Vinci’s fucking glider from Assassin’s Creed II, to which the controls were just as WANK! The turning was completely stiff, and when you’re on a timer to assassinate your enemy that’s when things became fucking inexcusable (not to mention the ridiculous mechanic of using air vacuums from explosions to stay afloat).
Plus, the reward of the Parachute was completely pointless and unrewarding. I didn’t find a single usage for it (except for getting the trophy for gliding off the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo).
That, and well, I absolutely despised the fact that you had to remain anonymous throughout most of the missions. Sure, I asked Ubisoft to make the missions more challenging and stealthy in my last review but if you’re going to incorporate this structure at least make it fucking work. It’s very difficult to stay unnoticed when the guard’s patterns are too erratic to avoid, not to mention they become suspicious far too quickly (to which you only have to sneeze and they’ll be on to you), making it even harder to avoid detection. Most of my mission failings was down to being detected by fucking guards.
Although, I did like that every mission throughout the game had a second objective, a sort of challenge, in which made you concentrate harder to complete the mission in a certain way, adding in more engagement from the player (although part way through I stopped giving a shit for the most part due some of the requirements being too tedious).
And finally I have to say that I was completely mesmerised by Jesper Kyd‘s score. His music within the first two instalments was good, but here it just felt like he was going all-out. Every scene had a mood and it made the journey through the game all the more appealing because the composing attracted my attention and sucked me into the narrative even further. It had so many layers of emotion, from being uplifting, to getting you pumped for the action, to making you tense when the guards are chasing after you, to even making you depressed and isolated upon searching the tombs.
And (I felt) it was just another of the many positive elements that sold me with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It clearly knew what it was doing and I really, really, hope that the rest of the series can keep up this level of quality.