Assassin's Creed II is - with little hyperbole - an excellent game. There are one or two flaws in gameplay that are just personal gripes otherwise ACII is visually stunning, thematically strong, and many aspects of gameplay are topnotch.
My two gripes are:
- The combat is good but unfortunately the bar was set too high by Batman: Arkham Asylum. Granted the protagonist - Ezio - is no Bruce Wayne but still for an assassin he's pretty weak in the fisticuffs & melee department. That being said, Ezio's "stealth" attacks are hit or miss but then again this isn't a Tenchu game. Minor gripe.
- Once you unlock the villa (aka HQ) it's way too easy to get money. Then again Ubisoft probably figured people want to get the good stuff and not have to play Sim-Villa. Again, minor gripe.
On the plus sides:
- While melee combat may be a pain in the butt the options for avoiding mobs of guards are pretty cool. Throughout the cities are small bands of hirelings: prostitutes, mercenaries, and thieves. Each band has its own skill set to deal with pesky guards. Need to sneak into a guarded area? Hire a crew of coquettes to distract the guards with their "confidence" and walk right in. Thieves are great to hire to deal with rooftop guards and pursuers. I have to admit it makes dealing with the hordes of guards much easier.
- ACII has a lot to do and varies up the gameplay techniques. Assassinations in the story line have changed from the first game. The last hit I played last night involved a footchase across Florence. I have to admit I enjoyed catching up with the bastard and ending the pursuit. I think I might have said, "Why'd you run? I hate having to chase you." There are lots of races, things to explore (a shit ton of things to explore), set pieces, puzzles, platforming sections that take a page from Prince of Persia, and more. Not only that but the missions vary, hell some events aren't even on the map or talked about (i.e. running down enemy couriers). A+ Ubisoft.
- The game is set during the Italian Renaissance and it is awesome. I don't know how Ubisoft did it but in the regions I have unlocked (Florence & Tuscany) I find it very easy to imagine that I am in 15th Century Italy. Florence is stunning and throughout the cities are landmarks (information pops up about the landmark, architectural history, etc). One of my favorites is Giotto's Dome (which I knew about but didn't know was in Florence).
- Thank you to Ubisoft for teaching gamers about Renaissance art and architecture.
- While this may be a minor joy to most of you folks, ACII has the option to change the spoken language in the game and language of the subtitles. For years I have been annoyed by games in English that have subtitles in English. While I understand that the hearing impaired might need the subtitles there are/were many games when languages and subtitles needed improvement (ex. Final Fantasy - why the hell are these games in English without an option to have original Japanese voicework?). I've been listening to ACII in Italian, though my Italian is nil, and I don't know what people on the street are yelling however I am picking up a bit more Italian as I go. Maybe I should switch the game to Spanish.
- (edit) Jesper Kyd did the score! Yay!
Assassin's Creed II is a winner. I don't know how long it's going to last. I'm 14 hours in and I think I just unlocked the meat and potatoes of the game, but I was collecting and exploring everything I could. We shall see. For now, great work Ubisoft.