Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review #124: Assassin's Creed - Brotherhood

 Another year, another Assassin's Creed. Or maybe another week?
 After Assassin's Creed 2 Ubisoft realized that they had a hit on their hands, so there was only one choice left for them... Milk it as hard as they can. Released about a year after Assassin's Creed 2, does Brotherhood manages to top it or is it just a shameful cash in?

 Both for Desmond and Ezio, the game continues their stories right where we left them off, Desmond and his pals on the run in a van, and Ezio escaping from the vault he had just discovered. Remember the Villa the first game had you funding? Well, as a consequence for letting the Pope live, he retaliates by having his son, Cesare, destroy the villa and murder Ezio's uncle in the process, yes, this is another revenge story for Ezio. For the first time in the series, what little of Desmond's story we get is actually more interesting than Ezio's story, AC 2 did a good job at fleshing out the present-day cast, but AC:B does it even better, by allowing you to exit the Animus at any time, you get new little scenes with Lucy, Rebecca and Shaun every new chapter, plus, you can read their e-mails for further insight into their shenanigans. As for Ezio, many familiar faces return, but Ezio himself doesn't evolve too much and his story relies on many cliched tropes, you'll see the twists coming from a mile away, and the second to last chapter feels very rushed, which takes away some of the punch from outcome.
 Gameplay remains mostly the same, but with some new additions. Firstly, the game now takes place almost entirely in Rome, with a few excursions for some sidequests. It's a bit disappointing seeing how AC 2 had at least three big cities, but Rome does have a lot of variety and is pretty extensive. While it is technically a sidequest, you'll make it your first priority to rid the land of Borgia influence, which is done by assassinating a commanding officer and then climbing the nearby tower adorned by Borgia flags. You must do this in order to open up brotherhood slots and allow for you to renovate neighboring buildings. Remember how you used to spend your money to renovate the villa? This mechanic returns, albeit in a less convenient way. You must now renovate each building individually and you actually have to physically move to its location, rather than talking to an architect. In this way the game can grow a bit tedious, there's a lot of Borgia Towers to burn, and while the location of the officer changes, they all play out the same.

 As for the biggest new mechanic, and the best one, is recruiting assassins for the Brotherhood. By saving citizens from Borgia soldiers, you can then recruit them into your brotherhood, and then serve two purposes: Sending them away on missions or calling them out for help. While sending them away on missions is helpful to your purse, having them help you against a enemy squad is incredibly useful and satisfying, and after you get about 8 Assassins you can use the massively overpowered Arrow Storm that kills every enemy on the vicinity. After this game, abandoning this mechanic would be extremely disappointing. Not only is it an useful and fun mechanic, seeing Assassins fighting alongside Ezio is really cool, and having Ezio work as a sort of... mentor to these Assassins helps further his character.
 Fighting has received a couple of tweaks, now enemies can grab you, just like in AC 1, but you mostly get tools to make your job even easier. After assassinating an enemy, tapping square and moving the analog stick against an enemy will make Ezio instantly assassinate that target, this is called "Kill Streak" and unless an enemy hits you and you don't press counter(While in the murdering animation), it won't break. Killing huge groups of enemies has never been this easy. Another fun tweak is "special attacks", holding the attack button will usually result in Ezio aiming the wrist-gun, although it depends on your weapon, allowing you to use your projectile attacks in conjunction with your melee weapons, without having to switch weapons. Then there's also the kick which allows you to break an enemy's guard. Basically, you got a ton of tools to massacre your enemies with little effort.

 Sadly, a lot of the game is just getting back the stuff that you lost from the second game. There's a couple of new tools, like the incredibly useful parachute and the crossbow(Which is a glorified wrist-gun), and the introduction of heavy-type weapons, but 80% of your tools(Don't quote me on that number) return from AC2. I was also not particularly fond of the pacing, the rate at which new weapons, armors or items are available isn't very consistent or rewarding, the same goes for the rate at which the map opens up and the sidequests pop up, on some chapters you'll be swimming on sidequests and new areas to explore, while others will have nothing, there's a chapter in particular(Memory Sequence 2) that actually blocks off areas you've already been to. It's especially noticeable coming directly from AC2, which had a fairly consistent pace.
 The main story is noticeably shorter than AC2's, but the game offers sidequests in spades. There's 10 feathers to collect, 101 flags(Like AC1!), Glyphs and chests to uncover, coupled with the Assassination, Courtesan and Thief's sidequests. Speaking of sidequests, there's a wide variety of objectives, from Leonardo's War Machines(They managed to include a Tank and a Turret sequence on Assassin's Creed, I'm not even joking) to some interesting ones, like robbing a letter from a courier, fabricating a forgery and placing the forgery on him without him noticing. Then there are the "Virtual Training" challenges that consist on races, finding objects or killstreaks with varying conditions and handicaps. New to this game are "Synchronization Bonuses", by finishing missions(This applies to some side missions as well) while fulfilling certain conditions you will earn a synchronization bonus, maxing the synchronization on each level might unlock some rather funny extras. New to this game as well are the Store Quests, there are about 6 of them which makes them feel like a really annoying afterthought, you simply must collect a certain amount of items(Found on chests or Bandits) and go to a specific store and turn them in for a reward, it would've been nice of the game to tell you sooner about these, as I sold a rather rare one, thinking that these were just to sell at different prices through the different stores, which meant I couldn't get the last purchasable armor pieces(And finishing all the Thieve's Guild missions will stop all Bandit attacks, so no more chances for a random drop).

 Brotherhood is the first game in the series to introduce Multiplayer Mode, which is probably why the main story felt so short, and while it offers three variations... this mode will probably be either hit or miss among the players. I, for instance, didn't find much fun in it, as you must try to assassinate a target while another player hunts you, it has a bit of a slow pace, which is why I didn't like it a whole lot.

 As for the presentation, the character models look noticeably better and Rome is bursting with color and details.... but the amount of screen tearing has increased noticeably, alongside pop in, you'll notice details popping out of nowhere while moving, which is why as a whole, I'd say it's a step back. The music, most of it returns from AC2, and what few tracks are new, are rather forgettable, luckily AC2 had some great music. Voice Acting remains strong for all major characters, but some of the secondary characters are laughable at worst.

 Assassin's Creed 2 was a huge leap from Assassin's Creed 1. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is but a sidestep from AC2, as far as the gameplay is concerned, all the additions are great and fun to use... but make the game even easier than before. It also happens to have a rather wonky pace, a more structured flow to how activities and items became available would've worked wonders.
 7.5 out of 10.

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