Reload – Assassin’s Creed 2
Clambering Around Renaissance Italy in Assassin’s Creed 2
Reload is a series of articles in which I look back at recent games typically from the current or last generation and reappraise them after the dust has settled. Next up is Assassin’s Creed 2…
Ask a group of hardcore Assassin’s Creed fans what their favourite entry in the series is and you’ll probably receive a range of answers. From the swashbuckling adventure of Edward Kenway in Black Flag to the more philosophical leanings of Altair in the first game, there’s a range of different themes and features to cling onto in the series as a whole. However, one character and game that will always be part of the conversation is Ezio in Assassin’s Creed 2. From a charismatic protagonist to a unique setting and a deepening of the series’ lore, there’s a reason Assassin’s Creed 2, eight years after the game’s release is still regarded as a high point for the franchise by many.
Perhaps what Assassin’s Creed 2 best represents though is a sequel done right. By improving on the foundation of the original game, adding a new setting and an enigmatic protagonist plus adding a host of new gameplay features, Ubisoft Montreal managed to craft a game that wowed audiences and critics alike when it launched. The setting and enhancements to the lore made Assassin’s Creed into a series with an optimistic future and would ensure gamers would remember running across the rooftops of Florence and Venice to an excellent soundtrack by Jesper Kyd.
You’d be hard pushed to find a gamer ten years prior to the release of Assassin’s Creed 2 expecting to be playing a game set in Renaissance Italy in the future but that’s exactly what publisher Ubisoft delivered. It’s a setting not typically explored in games and proved to be an awesome backdrop with verticality and scale that lent itself to parkour and climbing. In addition, the time period offered a host of larger-than-life characters for Ezio to interact with from trusty sidekick Leonardo Da Vinci to the serious Niccolo Machiavelli. Add in a dose of betrayal and political assassination during this era of history and you have a perfect recipe for a Templar plot that needs foiling by an Assassin.
Ezio Auditore was charismatic and charming in a way that Ubisoft’s previous protagonist was not and allowed the writers to have some fun with the dialogue while still telling what is essentially a tragedy. After seeing his father and brothers executed thanks to a Templar conspiracy to overthrow the Medici, Ezio is forced to grow from a petulant teen into an Assassin capable of dispatching the most heavily-guarded of Templars.The character would of course be further fleshed out in the two sequels but Assassin’s Creed 2 demonstrated the clearest arc for the character and who he is in terms of personality and world view. In some ways Ezio’s story takes a pretty cynical turn as he wonders at one point in the game what all of this was for with the finale suggesting he’s been somewhat of a conduit for matters more important than himself. Ubisoft also set themselves up to fail according to some, by crafting such a strong charismatic character in Ezio they really had their work cut out creating someone with as much resonance in the future.
It’s not just the story that gained praise in Assassin’s Creed 2 but the improvements and additions to the gameplay experience. Climbing up towers was faster (and needed to be given the increased scale of the cities) while combat was enhanced with different enemy types, weapons and more variety. Items such as smoke bombs and poison offered some much-needed variety to encounters while Ubisoft committed itself to the idea of social stealth with the ability to blend into crowds to avoid the attention of guards. New features such as upgrading your town of Monteriggioni and exploring assassin tombs went on to become staples of the series and added a semblance of levelling up Ezio – a concept Ubisoft hopes to fully flesh out in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Origins. All of these changes enabled a more enjoyable experience for gamers and makes the game much easier to jump back into (although not perfect) in comparison to the original game.
One of the reasons Assassin’s Creed remains a popular series with fans is the extensive lore surrounding the Assassins, Templars and the ‘Ones Who Came Before’. Much of the groundwork for this lore was established in Ezio’s first game. Assassin tombs and statues gave the first indication of the organisation being present throughout history while the Subject 16 riddles and the game’s finale hinted at the direction of future games. The Codex offered a glimpse into Altair’s life post-Assassin’s Creed and continued the musings of what it means to be an Assassin. This lore persisted and became part of the reason for so many comics, books, spin-off games and even an upcoming anime. Essentially it solidified a real money-maker for publisher Ubisoft.
Assassin’s Creed 2 represents the best of what the series has to offer with a charming and likeable protagonist, an incredible world to explore and a sequel that not only improved on its predecessor but pushed the franchise as a whole forward into a bold new future.
What do you think of Assassin’s Creed 2? Is it the best in the series?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.