Assassin’s Creed was a good game marred by many overt flaws that hindered players enjoyment. It’s sequel Assassin’s Creed II took all the criticisms to heart and delivered what in my mind was the single best game to be released in 2009. Gone were the tedious “investigations” and extremely long travel times from city to city and in its place was an action title that made you feel like more of a bad ass than Kratos in the God of War series and it was all wrapped around an engrossing narrative that in my option stands as one of the best ever in a game.
Needless to say, after I finished Assassin’s Creed II, I wanted more. Expecting a two year wait for Assassin’s Creed III, you can imagine my surprise when Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood would be releasing this fall and it would be a direct continuation of the Assassin’s Creed II storyline. That excitement was dimmed a slight bit though by the announcement that not only would there be a single player campaign but that the game would also feature a full multiplayer suite.
Assassin’s Creed, since it’s inception, has always been a single player experience with a strong focus on narrative. If development time, which was already shortened, was going to be spent on multiplayer then the single player campaign would surely suffer right? Wrong. Not only does Brotherhood have an extremely unique and robust multiplayer mode but it features a full length Assassin’s Creed campaign that does nearly everything its predecessor did but better.
Brotherhood picks up immediately after Assassin’s Creed II ends, with Ezio making an escape from the Vatican. If you have yet to play Assassin’s Creed II and you were looking to jump into the series with Brotherhood, I strongly advise you to go back and at least play AC II because the story and events in Brotherhood will make very little sense, especially early on, without the knowledge of the ongoing narrative. Once he has escaped Rome, Ezio heads home to plan the Assassin’s next move in their age old war against the Templars but before anything can be arranged the villa of Monteriggioni comes under attack and is over run forcing Ezio to retreat as the villa is destroyed around him.
All of this of course is taking place in the Animus, the virtual memory simulator that allows people to go back in time through inherited memories from their ancestors, and it does not take long before players are back in the real world controlling Desmond Miles, the descendent of some of history’s greatest assassin’s. In past games Desmond has not been much more than a story piece that helps to glue the overarching narrative together, however Brotherhood changes that by making him more of a focus. This is evident almost immediately as players will control Desmond as he back tracks Ezio’s escape route from Monteriggioni, using his newly developed assassin skills to traverse the ruins of the old villa.
If you have played any of the Uncharted games, the early Desmond portion of the game may leave you feeling a bit of deja vu. The banter between Desmond and his handler Lucy is very reminiscent of banter between Nathan Drake and Chloe Fisher in the Uncharted games. I suppose this can be chalked up to voice actor extraordinaire Nolan North voicing both Desmond and Drake and the setting, an ancient ruined building, being very similar in scope. Regardless of its intentional similarities, the level does a lot to endear Desmond as a character to the player, which comes into play much later in the game.
As much fun as Desmond is to play, Brotherhood still belongs to Ezio. Much like the theme behind Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood is about revenge. Unlike AC II though, Brotherhood focuses on revenge against just one person, Cesare Borgia, the Templar Grandmaster, in just one place, Rome. As such Brotherhood does not share the same scope as AC II but do not let the narrower focus fool you though because the campaign will run you just as long as AC II’s storyline did, if not longer and focus on just one major mark works to make the narrative even more focused than it already was.
While Brotherhood does kick off right where the last game left off, with Ezio being the end all be all of assassins, the game pulls a bit of a Metroid taking away all of Ezio’s cool toys that Leonardo da Vinci had made for him though a piece of narrative. It will not take long though before Ezio is back up to snuff and killing guards with immeasurable style and the combat engine has received a few tweaks that make it much easier to feel like the unstoppable killing machine that Ezio can be.
Countering was the big mechanic in the last game and it still is to an extent in Brotherhood but only in regards to kicking off execution chains. When faced with a platoon of enemies Ezio can now block and counter an attack setting him off on a string of one hit kills that are majestic to watch. It may seem like the combat has been watered down to appease to newcomers but this is simply not the case. To counterbalance Ezio’s combat mastery, Brotherhood throws more enemies and stronger ones than players have ever faced in an Assassin’s Creed game to date. The swordplay can get fast and furious and potentially overwhelming for people who have never played an Assassin’s Creed title before.
As fantastic a swordsman as Ezio is, there are times when situations call for a different approach. Sometimes silence is just as important as being able to take down 25 soldiers without getting hit and so climbing, jumping, and generally performing acrobatic feats of inhuman abilities are the name of the game and Ezio is as slick and nimble as he ever was.. The platforming in the Assassin’s Creed series has always been a point of great debate and while Brotherhood does throw in trickier sections to navigate, there still is that sense of being on auto-pilot at times. Personally I love it but I can see where someone might want more control.
Being an acrobat and a walking killing machine will only get you so far in Brotherhood though. To get at Cesare Borgia, Ezio must first undermine the Borgia influence in Rome. To do this Ezio will enlist the help of what most would perceive as the scum and villainy of the city but in this world where assassins are the good guys, I suppose anything goes. Before he can enlist the help of the thieves, mercenaries, courtesans and even the common people of Rome though he must free them.
Each district of Rome has a series of sub-district that house Borgia towers headed by a captain. Killing the captain frees the people in that area allowing them to get involved in the resistance movement. It also opens up what is quite possibly the most addictive aspect of Brotherhood, the rebuilding of Rome. In Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio could rebuild his villa and while it was beneficial to do so, it was also kind of a pain in the neck as one had to leave the story based area and return to the villa to do anything. Rebuilding Rome is much, much easier.
With every Borgia Tower that is taken over, new shops and landmarks (like the Pantheon or the Colosseum) open up that Ezio can purchase, which in turn generates income that benefits the Assassin’s guild and not the Borgia. The more towers Ezio destroys, the more power the guild has within Rome and while the majority of the towers are side quests, I found myself needing to destroy them all so I could open more shops and get more money.
Taking down the Borgia Towers also has the effect of benefiting Ezio in a couple other ways outside of income. Freeing the areas gets the common people involved in the cause and getting everyone involved will make things much easier on Ezio’s mission, from moving around to having the common folk help out in battle. Freeing the areas also plays into possibly the biggest addition in the game, the ability to call in assassins to help you eliminate guards or join you in battle.
Eliminating Borgia influence gets people to join your cause and these people join the Assassins Guild as lowly trainees. Each of these recruits has the ability to rise in the ranks of the guild by earning experience when Ezio calls them into battle or by going on assassination missions throughout Europe via a robust contracting system. The stakes are high though and these assassins can die in battle. It can be quite gut wrenching realizing you made the wrong decision to call in your hit squad only to realize far too late they have no hope for survival. The managing of the assassin’s is a game unto itself and will surely see many people putting a ton of time into it.
All of this is done in and around the iconic buildings of Rome. The scenery is breathtaking at times and climbing to the top of the Colosseum is something that just needs to be experienced to understand the size and scope of the city. Still as amazing as it looks, I couldn’t help but feel a bit cramped by the setting. Past Assassin’s Creed titles have had you gallivanting from city to city and Rome, despite being larger than all of Assassin’s Creed II’s cities put together, Brotherhood’s setting felt a bit blasé. But wouldn’t you know it, the developers even thought of a way around that one.
Leonardo da Vinci was a major player in Assassin’s Creed II but in Brotherhood, he is not much more than a bit character. However he plays a major role in allowing players to cleanse their palettes of Rome. Leonardo has been tasked by the Borgia to create a series of weapons and he asks Ezio to destroy the blueprints and devices. All of these Leonardo missions take place outside of Rome in distinctly different looking settings. Leonardo’s missions are not the only side quests to partake in though. Like Assassin’s Creed II there is a series of shrines to locate and traverse and while I did not find any of them to be quite as inspired as what was in AC II, they were almost always fun and inventive.
All in all the single player campaign is stunning and somewhat shocking considering the amount of time between Assassin’s Creed II and this game. From a narrative perspective, Brotherhood continues the excellent story of Ezio set forth previously and it starts to bring the happenings of Desmond’s world into focus. Brotherhood answers a lot of questions that were left over from AC II but in doing so it also opens up a whole plethora of new ones, especially the shocking ending. Finishing Brotherhood left me with the same feeling as AC II did and I am now even more impatient for the official third game in the franchise.
For those looking to continue their assassinating ways after the credits roll, Brotherhood features a unique and fully realized multiplayer suite making Brotherhood one of the most polished games to come out this year. The multiplayer mode even goes so far as to work itself into the fiction and give it a reason for existing.
The core premise of the multiplayer is that you work for the Templars and are using the Animus to train. Players will select an in game persona, ranging from a common doctor to a stylish Hellequin. Each player will be given a mark and you will never be stalking the person that has you as a mark. Players will try to blend in with their surroundings so that they don’t give themselves away to either their mark or their stalker and when played correctly the game has is a battle of wills, a stealth game tuned to perfection. As silly as the concept sounded to me initially I have to admit that when the mode works, it works very well.
Sadly though, roughly half the matches I have been involved in featured players ignoring the premise and running on rooftops attempting to get as many kills as quickly as possible. Being as the game actually awards players for playing the game properly, with more points for quiet, unseen kills, it makes little sense as to why people are in essence ruining the experience. And leveling up grants you a variety of useful perks that make the game even that much more fun.
There is a strong contingent of fans that want to play the game properly though and once the mass appeal of running on rooftops and killing your buddy wears thin, those players will dwindle and eventually the multiplayer will balance out. Sadly in an era of what is the next big thing, I more than likely won’t be there to partake.
I’m sitting here at the end of this review realizing that I have not spoken at all about the technological aspects of the game and I think their exclusion from this review is more than enough of an indication that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a fantastic game where it counts and spending time talking about textures, animations or the musical score is a waste of space. Suffice it to say though. all those things are fantastic in Brotherhood just like the rest of the game.
In a time and age where quick cash-in sequels are ever prevalent, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has no business being as good as it is or doing as much as it does. It is nice to see a developer step up and respect their fans and if you are even a cursory fan of the Assassin’s Creed series you owe it to yourself to continue the adventure.
5 out of 5.