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Assassin’s Creed II, like its predecessor, is an ambitious third-person action adventure game with a clever conceit: You’re a modern-day bartender reliving your assassin ancestors’ adventures. But where the first game fell short—in repetitive, sometimes-monotonous gameplay—the sequel soars. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s one hell of a fun ride.
This time around, you primarily play as goofy-charmer-turned-hooded-murder-machine Ezio Auditore. He’s got personality in spades, but that has its drawbacks—the first few hours of the game devoted to Ezio’s character development come at the expense of any truly exciting or pulse-pounding moments. Folks who want to leap straight into the face-stabbing will have to stow their bloodlust for a bit.
Once you make it past the slow start, though, the game really hits its stride. As with the first game, Assassin’s Creed II takes place across multiple meticulously constructed cities (although this game is set in Renaissance Italy). In the first game, the problem was that the cities were nice to look at, but they essentially lacked substance. Assassin’s Creed II, meanwhile, fills its locales with so many side missions, collectables, and other nooks and crannies for you to sniff out that it’s nearly overwhelming. Hell, some of these “optional” portions of the game are its most enjoyable.
But what about the main story missions—which were, without a doubt, the original game’s biggest failing? Well, unless you actually liked grinding your teeth while collecting flags for the 20th time, you’ll be happy to hear that Assassin’s Creed II’s missions are both fun and relevant to, you know, assassination. Indeed, this time around, a larger portion of your missions actually involve killing people. Which is not to say the game lacks variety. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with silently offing key figures, while other assassinations turn into colossal multi-man melees, with you and your quarry duking it out mano-a-mano on a rooftop while the battle rages below. Other missions might task you with tailing people and eavesdropping on their conversations, while hiring prostitutes and thieves to distract guards for you. And you’ll run into a number of historical figures, chief among them Leonardo Da Vinci.
We suppose you could criticize the game for featuring essentially the same combat system as the first game, but even that’s been tweaked and polished—especially with the addition of upgradeable weapons and armor.
As a game, Assassin’s Creed II is absolutely fantastic. As a piece of software, however, Assassin’s Creed II’s worth is debatable. Why? Three letters: DRM. Assassin’s Creed II requires an Internet connection at all times during gameplay as part of its copy protection. Fortunately, if you lose your connection mid-game, it resumes right where you left off once you reconnect. And even on a pretty shaky wireless connection, we were only interrupted a couple of times. Still, if you’re a fan of gaming on-the-go, this could be a deal-breaker. On top of that, recent downtime-laden “server attacks” have called into question the stability of Ubisoft’s setup.
But even DRM woes were not enough to keep us from having an absolute blast playing Assassin’s Creed II. It’s an excellent game, and it’s a damn shame Ubisoft is forcing PC gamers to jump through so many hoops in order to experience it.
Tons of things to collect; gigantic, lovingly crafted cities to explore.
Ubisoft's infamous DRM--while not quite as awful as feared--is still a pain in the neck.