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.
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 button to grab Lucrezia again but Ezio grabbed a sledgehammer and hit her with it instead. The hell?! The game sees her as an NPC so in the midst of the scraps I kept punching her. Never gonna get to sleep with her. One time, Ezio pulled off an awesome chain-kill on the guards and ended with a pistol takedown – on Lucrezia. Who’s side are you on?!
There’s other frustrations. Some missions demand Ezio stay hidden but because he can’t sneak, and you can’t be sure what jumps he’ll make, you're in a constant state of panic. Wanted posters are back which is bad enough, but you don’t trigger notoriety until a mission that shows how it works, so I had a good 4 or 5 hours gaily pickpocketing and murdering without anyone batting an eyelid, and now I’ll have literally no idea why guards are chasing me.
Still, there is some grand stuff here if you have the patience. Ezio has some wicked moments and the crossbow is a game-changer. Italy is beautiful with loads of areas to bolt about in, and some missions are 10/10 thrilling. Machiavelli is back as Ezio’s confidant and can’t be trusted which is a nice touch, we sabotage super-weapons the Templars forced da Vinci to build and install our sweet, innocent sister as a new Brothel Madam - where Mama ‘helps out’, worryingly.
While the gameplay often had me raging, this time I witnessed the Borgias twisted world, and Des and Lucy’s story is touching and ominous. In terms of immersion this is way better than ACII, even if we’re dealing with the machinations of the Borgias not the Templars as such. There is a really nice resolution with Ezio using the Apple to finally put dad and his bros to rest too. It might be frustrating at times, but ACB rocks. This is the best so far – this is an AC game.
AC Revelations - Ezio, now an older man worn down by the endless bickering with the Templars, is looking for a purpose. He begins tracking Altair, who supposedly sealed in his library the truth of the Templar war. Arriving in Constantinople, which is overrun by Templars manipulating the Ottoman empire, Ezio finds a way to relive Altair’s last memories to unlock the library. This is getting like Inception; we’re in Desmond in Ezio in Altair.
As it progresses, Altair’s fate becomes Ezio’s obsession; it’s all starting to get nicely twisted. The Apple that Altair recovered is destroying his Assassin’s order, and he must set things right at huge personal cost. Ezio recalls his own sacrifices and realises that if he’s living through Altair, then someone is … weirdly it actually freaked me out when Ezio figured out ‘a Desmond’ is watching him. There was a nice little reference to it at the start of ACB, but here Ezio actually begins leaving clues for Des, accepting it doesn’t end with him and it’s both sad and great. What must that be like, knowing someone is watching you, and to them, you’re long dead. I’m really into AC now. Des has some big, pointy Italian shoes to fill/fall over in.
Throughout the previous games, Des was finding strange markings and clues which revealed the history of the Isu, who created humans from Apes to be slaves and Eve, who led a rebellion against them. Those who are descended from Eve, an Isu-Human hybrid have an Isu ‘sixth sense’, and the creator of those clues, known as Subject 16 left messages only identifiable to Eve descendants. That would be our boy Des. Where is he?
Des is wandering the Animus in safe mode. At the end of ACB he was confronted by Juno, another Isu who took control of Des’ body, and the experience left him in a coma – to save him, the team put him back in the animus. If this were ACI I’d comment on not being able to tell the difference, but I’m Team Des now. Come on, escape, we have stuff to do lad.
The consciousness of S16 is in there with Des, and he explains more about the Templars, Isu and his own tragic backstory which inspires Des to not let the same fate befall him. You can unlock Des' own hidden memories which reveal he was conditioned to be an Assassin since childhood before escaping, and that should be a startlingly moment; Des, just like Ezio and Altair, was forced into this life by virtue of their sixth sense, expected to sacrifice themselves for a war bigger than they can comprehend. And now he’s just met the ghost of his predecessor. Yet all of this, and the Isu / Eve revelations is all rushed. I’ve warmed up to Des enough that I feel cheated. I used to complain he was just filler, now I’m complaining he’s only filler.
Constantinople is as good as the Renaissance to run about in; complex and just the right size for the story, it’s crammed but feels open - and this time Ezio is a bit more careful. Maybe it’s his age but it makes all the difference to have an Assassin that assassinates others instead of himself. Ezio even fixed the falling off things by getting parachutes. We’re rebuilding locations and shops, and taking out ‘Dens’ to assert Assassin control and force out the Templars. Four games in and we’re finally here – heavy-duty Isu plot, modern era worries, Templars on the make and a working Assassin leading the charge. This is what I signed up for.
The Dens are a lot of fun but oddly, if you kill off the Den Captain the soldiers stop attacking and just mosey off. Yet if I get spotted running across a rooftop I’ll get chased for miles. Rather than straight-forward Notoriety, this time you need to keep Ezio off the Templar’s radar; if they realise there’s Assassins knocking about they’ll attack one of the Dens you claimed, which triggers an annoying mini-game like one of those dodgy strategy games off the app store. Templar Awareness is also triggered by building upgrades and kind acts rather than just crime, but once I fell off a roof and desynchronised, and when I respawned my Awareness had gone up. Guess coming back from the dead would draw attention.
There’s some RPG-like random events and a ‘fightclub’ you can join, but I can’t talk about that. Ezio also gets a new toy, a hookblade which lets him miss even larger jumps. There’s random Templar attacks too, which are always spoilt by the music suddenly swelling. One I avoided by absently ducking to loot someone just as he attacked. The assassin’s school is back too - once they’re inducted you can assign them to a den and whistle for support - one upgrade lets you call down a rain of arrows, which is the best thing yet.
ACR is occasionally unfair, but sometimes unfair in your favour; one mission had me obtain a picture without alerting the trader who was selling it. Without meaning to I punched him; then I got full sync because I’d not alerted him. Fairly sure he knew … One memory mission has Altair and his son escaping, but the son is me in ACI, it’s like I’m playing co-op with myself. He just dies constantly, falls off things, runs into clearly out-matched fights. That’s ma boy.
While the Templar v Assassins story is great, and we finally win a battle in the AvT war, this is all about Ezio’s catharsis and Des’ determination - he sees S16 sacrifice himself for the greater good and comes out of it a committed assassin, and while Ezio puts down the Templars, it's about him finding peace, while Altair’s story ends very bittersweetly. It’s a heavy-going story, a great game and a perfect AC experience. This is the AC game the rest of the series has to beat.
I can’t recall a lead character who changes as much as Ezio does; the Ezio I’m playing now has practically no relation to the kid in ACII; he grumbled all this leaping about used to be easy (when exactly, Ezio?). He’s still a sly old dog though, there’s great moment where he gets his head turned by a young woman and recalls his mother chiding him for chasing girls instead of making something of himself. He did become something. Mamma would be proud.
You get the sense the devs are going to miss Ezio, and filled ACR with as much fun and hero worship as possible, on top of all the commentary about duty, regret, and age. It's beautiful to play, a real love poem to AC and Ezio. One mission sees Ezio masquerade as a minstrel and he comments that he’s going to enjoy mugging them to steal their outfits. Later you can make him perform with a lute, singing off-key about his past encounters with the Borgia. It’s just brilliant.
So that’s Ezio. His Trilogy was a mixed bag - those haphazard controls, Ezio’s lack of self-preservation, that ACII was Borgias at arms-length, and it took a while to warm up – plus Desmond’s plot was frustratingly uneven; but Ezio seduced me like a flower girl. His trilogy is a testament to how a great lead makes a game a classic.
The Isu stuff is starting to warm up nicely too. We’ve got opposing factions, the threat of a world calamity and Des is finally getting interesting. I’m still not sure what the modern lot are doing though, other than a lot of talking. Still, I have a lot of games to go.
I think I’ve already found the best game; AC Revelations, and the best Assassin so far. Ezio may have had three games to mature, but even if you ignore ACII and ACB, what he goes through in Revelations surpasses most game leads. Who can top this bottom-pinching, roof-falling, women-loving, always notorious lothario? You’ll be missed. Ciao bella.
Join FBT on his next visit to the animus. But will Last of the Mohicans meets American Independence trump the Renaissance and Ezio’s flamboyance?