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Setting the Scene
The first assassins creed explains what is going on in much more detail than the second, so in case you missed the first one: Desmond Miles is being held prisoner by Abstergo Industries, he is forced into a machine called the animus, which simulates memories from the subjects ancestors through DNA. The story of Assassins creed 2 takes off right where the first one leaves off.
That being said, the animus is a very creative idea, and the entertwining stories between past and present can be very interesting. This time around, instead of Desmond reliving the life of Altair, he follows the story of Ezio Firenze Auditore, a violent Italian noble.
The story was spoiled for me, so in order to save you I am going to keep things brief on the storyline. Essentially Ezio is a happy nobleman until life events force him into being an assassin like his father, and his father before him.
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The Good: Action Implementation
For those of you not painfully aware of the redundant nature that the first Assassins Creed's mission structure let me paraphrase it:
Recieve Target after long unskippable lecture from the Assassins guild master.
Eavesdrop to get info, beat some one up for intel, pickpocket enemies for confidential info, etc. in order to find intel on target.
Listen to target's confession/astonishment that you found and killed them.
Another very long lecture.
Now compare this to the gameplay in Assassins Creed. There is still the satisfying violence, but the missions are much more unique and seem to fit with what Ezio needs, and there is a much less formulaic feel to the story driven missions. In a sense you actually play parts of the story, instead of listening, or seeing it all unfold in front of you. Desmond also is given some new abilities, like freerunning, and not to spoil any secrets, but also the hidden blade.
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I will admit, I did not listen to 85% of the dialog in the first game. There was so much filler that didn't interest me after the 28th time I sat on a bench to listen to two old robed men talk about their master, or after hearing Altair talking with his guildmaster for 20 minutes. Between all of the talking was an awesome idea for a game, and it the story was sadly typical after you got used to the animus idea.
I'm happy to say I actually listened to 99% of the dialog in the sequel. That being said I only understood about 75%. There is quite a bit of Italian, and I learned in the middle of my play time that turning on subtiles translated the Italian. You can still understand the story without the Italian, however you get to know the characters a little more, and its just nice not having things go over your head.
Maybe this is just me, but I can connect to an Italian in the renaissance much better than anyone during the Crusades (setting of original game). I'm not Italian, and I'm certainly not noble, but at the same time this period of time just resonates with me much stronger.
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Pakour in Style
Not much has changed in respects to freerunning in Assassin's Creed 2. The architecture that Ezio climbs on is much more appealing astetically however the controls, and feel of the pakour is ultimately the same. I may have jumped to my doom a few more times in the sequel, however I think that may be my own fault, not the games.
Anyhow, the freerunning is still an essential part of the game. There are two noticeable differences from the first. One is that there are now enemies that can freerun quickly to catch you, and they will follow almost wherever you go, making escaping just a little more difficult. The other difference is the water. It is simple to ditch a group of gaurds by losing sight for a second, and then making a building-high dive into the canals of venice. Oh, and Ezio looks amazing when he is diving, so fearless.
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Everyone loves Money.
Gone is the old way of receiving your weapons and upgrades: listening to some old man preach about how everything is permitted and nothing is true, and then having him restablish your rank in the Assassins Guild. Now though, since there was an economic system in this period of history, all of your upgrades will be bought from a blacksmith, including most of your ammo (Throwing knifes, smoke bombs, and bullets). To gain money, one must complete quests, pickpocket (anyone you see will have money), or find these chests that are dying to be looted.
Ultimately this system gives a much more realistic feel to Ezios arsnal. There are other shops too, including a tailor for those wanting to change out of those blood stained-white robes. I chose some ventian amber, until I acquired Altairs armor (which looks nothing like what Altair wore) (whoops! Spoiled)
Also, to add to the historical accuracy, there is a painter shop where all the 'latest' works can be purchased to boost the cities monetary value. To top it all off, there is a certain city where your uncle Mario lives (yes there is an awesome Nintendo reference) that needs renovating. By spending money to help re-build the town, more tourists come to spend money, thus increasing your income (your uncle owns the place it seems) and you also get discounts from local stores that you helped out.
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The Bad: Pop in! Pop out!
It seems that all 'freeroaming/sandbox' style games have this issue. I don't know why but it is something that bothers me very much. I dislike turning a corner, and seeing all of the worlds inhabitants pop in, and then go about their daily lives as if they hadn't just popped into existence. This also bothers me with certain objects, like the ones you need to climb on.
Anyways, this wont plauge your game time experience, but it certainly wont look pretty either.
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To avoid spoilers in this section I will have to be even more vauge. Take this with a grain of salt: The story involving Desmond Miles is incredibly short, making this feel like the Quantum Solace in a trilogy (Read: No plot, all action). You learn very little about what is happening in the modern time; however since you are given a Desmond who can freerun and stab people, it really makes the user yearn to use Desmond in a viseral way. That being said you rarely control Desmond, and his side of the story seems more like a sidenote, rather than a frame from the all encompassing story.
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To Collect as a Hobby
This could be read as a pro or con depending on what type of gamer you are. If you like collecting things to your hearts content, AC2 has tons of hidden items for you to be searching for long after you have murdered the last target. (No spoil that time, I'm getting better) There are 200 feathers (which I did not collect), tons of hidden chests (mostlly money), and 20 hidden 'glyphs' that were left behind in this world by another prisoner of Abstergo Industries. I will not reveal more about the glyphs because anything I saw is a huge spoiler.
So wether you enjoy finding all the secrets, or if you could care less - the game doesn't punish you either way, but it will give you something to do when killing pawns gets old. Which it doesn't, at least for me.
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Assassin's creed 2 is leaps and bounds above the first one. The story is greatly improved, along with the mission structure, but some things feel the same: which isn't bad. My experience with the game was full of excitement as I eagerly raced towards the next mission, and I rarely was stuck on any one task that frustrated me.
Probably my favorite thing about the sequel is the fact that the Assassinations are much more free-form. By this I mean how you choose to get to, and kill your target is ultimately up to you. Before there was a very fine line that you must tread in order to get close to your target, and when you got close there would be more forced dialog before getting close for the final strike. In Assassin's creed 2 however, smoke bombs, the pistol, two hidden blades, unarmed combat, and Leonardo's Flying machine, all lead way to giving you a feeling of freedom. Oh and revenge.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the first games core components. I would also recommend giving the series a second chance, because the development was done so much more elequently.
I played Assassin's Creed 2 on the PS3, for 18 hours before finishing the main story. I attempted a few of all of the side quest type missions but mostly enjoyed the story. AC2 retails for 60 USD for PS3/Xbox360 and 50 for PC. That being said the price may be lower now since black friday/Cyber monday, or because it was released Nov. 17th. Happy killing.