Assassin's Creed II - The Ezio Trilogy

Special Series Playthrough - Assassin’s Creed

So after my less than successful stint in ACI it’s time to take on ACII, regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. Guess that means they’ve fixed the falling off things issue?

Part Two; The Ezio Trilogy

AC II - In ACI, I really didn’t have time for Desmond but after he’s freed by Lucy, a Templar revealed as an Assassin mole, he mans up and becomes an everyman we can relate to. At the Assassin hideout, we meet tomboy-techie-hottie-geek’s dream girl Rebecca, and Shaun, then get shoved in their Animus to locate another Isu artefact.

We’re Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who’s so Italian he should be a plumber - oh, his Uncle just introduced himself with ‘Itsa-me, Mario!’ - Ezio, a playboy gadabout, spends his time fighting and shagging without a care in the world, until he discovers the world isn’t what it seems.

Ezio’s family are accused of being traitors, and Dad and his brothers publicly executed. Ezio escapes with his sister and Mama, who is so traumatised she’s rendered mute – which I’m thankful for, our last conversation was; “Mama I have many outlets” / “I’m not talking about vaginas”. Mama! To bring her around we must collect feathers, as little Bro used to do. 100 Feathers? Yeah, Mama’s gonna have to stay quiet.

At Uncle Mario!’s estate in a ruined Monteriggioni, we learn the family were Assassins and dad was killed to prevent them messing with a Templar plan. Ezio joins the family trade to stop to the Templars, avenge his family and restore their name and fortune.

ACII is a lot more detailed, refined and involved than ACI. The High/Low profile has been reworked thank the father of understanding; Ezio stays in Low profile which is less restrictive, High can be triggered when needed and Ezio has more moves and options. Overall, ACII is a huge leap compared to ACI; problem is Ezio keeps leaping the wrong way.

One minute he’s refusing to jump, then he’s leaping like he’s watched Cliffhanger too many times. He’ll navigate a dangerous route then just walk off a roof or suddenly stick to a fence. Early on I had to assassinate someone protected by guards on top of a tower. I spent an age navigating up the tower, got right behind him then … Ezio would not get off the ledge. He eventually leapt backwards to his death. Next try, he decided to walk around the ledge, tipping off the guards. Third go he leapt forwards knocking everyone flying. Eventually I stood a foot away and threw knifes at the target but half them went into the guards either side. It does feel a little over-engineered, and the game gets stumped when you have more than one option so you wind up fighting it. What’s Italian for ‘get down idiot!’?

Ezio’s not exactly steady on the ground either. It’s my fault, as a baby I’d have to wiggle his feet and kept moving his arms instead. Altair would often get tripped over if you ran into people, but Ezio is forever on his arse. Is he wearing heels? Why do we have to use a shove button, can’t he figure out to say Mi’Scusami on his own?

The Renaissance is beautiful though; busy and realistic, the narrow streets and huge buildings are great to run about in (and fall to your death off), and there’s a lot more interaction in ACII – ACI often felt a little at arm’s reach, a bit shallow but here Ezio gets involved in everything. Interactions can be triggered by the hand or head icon, depending on what kind of mood the game is in, and there’s QTE moments in the cut-scenes which I always miss because I hit the wrong key. He’ll also swag money off people while walking along although the first time he did it I thought he was just tapping men in the crotch to say ciao or pinching women’s bums like a proud Italian.

Now you can blend with people more easily and there’s groups you can hire to act as distractions, and Ezio himself attracts interest. Biggest problem though is the guards, who are moonlighting from Oblivion. Almost every action triggers notoriety which you reduce by taking down wanted posters but they appear in ridiculous places like half-way up a rooftop, which is illegal to get on; I’d pull one down then be wanted again because I was on a roof. Thankfully I don’t stay on roofs long because Ezio.

Of all the places to land ...

The modern sections are dead on arrival though. The opening, where Lucy cuts through Templars, only pausing to tell Des to shut the fuck up before shoving him in a car boot is great, but after that, not much happens. They uncover that Biblical Eve was actually the first Isu-Human hybrid, yet that startling revelation is almost a throwaway line – they discover it, then go back to their standard ‘I’m busy right now Desmond’ auto-brush offs.

Back in the Renaissance, while Ezio’s story – avenge fam, piss off Templars, become an Assassin – is lean, the game is flabby. There’s a lot of distractions and proto-RPG knocking about. We’re doing side missions, looking for feathers for Mama, building up Monteriggioni, help sister rebuild the family’s reputation, going on treasure hunts; it’s all good, but Ezio’s here for vengeance and I’m here for the larger story; let little sis manage the books.

You just want to focus more on Ezio the man; he’s more compelling than hooded Altair, with a solid character-arc as he begins to understand the importance of the Assassins’ Creed and how it’s bigger than just his revenge. He’s still an Italian at heart though; he watches his family get hanged then a minute later raises an eyebrow at a brothel madam. He’s aided by some great characters too, Machiavelli and da Vinci, but we’re here for the Borgia.

Revealed as a high-ranking Templar, Rodrigo Borgia intends to unify Italy under his rule by using a Isu Apple that allows foresight. I was looking forward to getting involved with the Borgias (okay, just Lucrezia), one of the most intriguing families in history, but we don’t really. Their rise is through Templar influence which is meaty, but rather than get caught up in their scheming, all Ezio does is get caught up in the scenery. Idiota!

If I’m honest, I’m not really getting on with ACII. I’m faring better as an Assassin than I did in ACI, but as a story it just unfolds around you. I’m surprised; it’s good but best of all time? Maybe back then it was ahead of its time, but Des’ era is flat and Ezio spends most of his time flat-out. And there’s a let-down in Ezio sparing a main conspirator for vague ‘you live with your failure’ reasons – 15-odd hours' play and you give up? In fact, it’s because the villain didn’t die at this point in history, so the game played itself into a corner. Still, it set the standard for AC ever since - you can’t play AC and not pay your dues to Ezio. And his story is only just beginning.

AC Brotherhood - Picking up where ACII left off, both Desmond and Ezio are pondering what Minerva’s words meant; at the end of ACII, Ezio activated a recording from the Isu, but Minerva’s image spoke directly to Des, hinting that what wiped out her race was about to hit Earth again, leading the modern-day Assassins to begin searching for clues.

Ezio returns to Monteriggioni a hero. Briefly. He had time to seduce both a local flower girl and a passing noble woman before the Borgia kids Cesare and Lucrezia rock up, steal the Apple back and destroy Monteriggioni. Hey, I just rebuilt that. Resolved to dismantle the Borgias once and for all, Ezio falls down some stairs. Literally – my first keystroke and our master assassin is tumbling down some stairs. Not this again.

It was one of the best moments in ACII when an actual Isu appeared and got involved, finally giving this some weight. Now the modern assassins set up camp in the ruins of Ezio’s villa to continue searching while Des deals with the ‘bleeding effect’, taking on Ezio’s abilities – great, two assassins who can’t stay on their feet.

I’m actually enjoying Des’ levels. It’s filler, but he and Lucy have a great little flirt going on and with Minerva’s warning in mind, the modern era is a bit more compelling even though they don’t really do a lot. There’s some nice humour in Des too; as he navigates the old sewers of Ezio’s mansion, he grumbles how he’s swimming in Ezio’s sewage while he sleeps with a hot noblewoman. I wish AC was more of a split between Des and Ezio, they’re both in the same location and both are getting interesting, it would have been nice to tie them in more closely than ‘bleeding effect’.

While the main mission deals with the Borgias head-on, the side missions are about dismantling their influence making it a tighter, more focused experience than ACII. Ezio is also establishing the Assassins in Rome, helping locals who then join the ranks. It triggers a nice little management sub-game where you send them on missions or call them in to support you. Where embarrassingly, they fight better than their boss ... ACB steps up the intensity of the battles, fights and assassinations – it’s much more an action-orientated, close-quarter game but Ezio’s happiest swishing his cape and pinching bottoms.

For example, Ezio has an awesome crossbow now. Lock-on target. Target locked. Click to assassinate. Click. Ezio kills an NPC instead and I get a preachy ‘Ezio didn’t kill innocents’ while he’s being killed by guards. I never managed to complete a mission first go because he did something stupid, while the game occasionally adds problems to an already difficult situation; Synchronisation challenges are moment-breaking and often timed like ‘solve this in less than 8 minutes’ – why? It took me that long to get Ezio down some stairs upright. If I had a swear jar playing ACB, I could have bought Odyssey at its outrageous release price.

In one mission I had to hold Lucrezia hostage, but when threatened Ezio lets her go to fight. You understand what HOSTAGE means, right? Once, after fighting off guards I pressed the butto