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    After having played through Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla for review not too long ago, I found myself yearning to play something that wasn’t the embodiment of a checklist of popular elements in video games. Yes, Valhalla is a solid game, and certainly fun, but it suffers from having too much to do; too much to explore, and trying to cater to the market, for better or worse. People enjoy open-world games like Skyrim and Breath of the Wild: better make sure it has one of those. Oh, and Dark Souls is super popular, so the game should have weighty melee combat. And don’t forget, The Witcher 3 is cool, so shove dialogue options in there. Crafting, and lots of it? You bet!

    It’s not just Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, either. Many games that release these days find themselves held up to other games, even if they’re not in the same genre, or compared unfairly by critics or the masses that won’t give something a chance, because it’s simply not what they’re accustomed to. Which is why after playing such behemoths such as Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077, I decided to step back, and play something simpler; a game from a series that used to innovate, rather than play to the current trends.

    I’m talking about Assassin’s Creed II, the eleven-year older ancestor of Valhalla. So, let’s take a trip in the Animus and see how well the second game in the Assassin’s Creed series holds up, after all this time.

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    With the success of the original Assassin’s Creed, the very first sequel entry in the franchise was an inevitability, but it also had a lot of improvement to do. Assassin’s Creed served up some interesting ideas, in the form of stealthy gameplay mixed with parkour, but combat was lacking, and while climbing Middle Eastern towers in the age of the Crusades proved to be an interesting concept and setting, it also felt repetitive.

    Which let Assassin’s Creed II come in, trim all the things that didn’t work out, and refine the core elements that people enjoyed in the first entry. Gameplay on the whole was smoother, and combat, while still not perfect, was a major step up, with tons of new assassination tools and tricks at your disposal. Altair had throwing knives, a sword, and his iconic hidden blade, but this time around, the main character was armed to the teeth with poison, a gauntlet gun, and most remarkable of all, his double hidden blades, which gave you all sorts of techniques for taking out your enemies. II also introduced multiple cities that you could fast-travel to, with varied designs and differences that made each area stand out from one another, all within the exceptionally interesting location and era of Renaissance Italy. And of course, you can’t mention ACII without talking about Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the most iconic character in the series, even to this day. Snarky, sly, funny, and charming, it's hard not to like him, and it's easy to empathize with his mission of getting revenge on the people who killed his father and brothers.

    Ezio’s personality and backstory were so perfect for the franchise, that Ubisoft wound up sticking with Ezio and continuing his story for two more entries, despite the core idea of Assassin’s Creed being about all sorts of varied locations and points in history. While Brotherhood and Revelations would take Ezio to Rome and Constantinople and were still fun adventures, they never matched the intricate detail, lived-in feel, and explorable joy that Italy emanated. Even today, Ubisoft seems more keen on creating wide expanses of open-worlds, rather than the smaller-scale, yet perfectly and tightly-contained map that the developers had perfected by the second game.

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    The modern segments of Assassin’s Creed tend to be the worst and least-liked aspects of the games these days, but when Assassin’s Creed got the ball rolling about the secret society of assassins, the sequel set up all sorts of intriguing story bits, all without getting in the way of the main narrative. Maybe two or three times throughout the entire time are you forced out of the Animus to play as Desmond, Ezio’s descendant, and in those moments, those infrequent scenes are fantastic at teasing what’s to come. The Apple of Eden, the briefest mention of crazy supernatural elements, and Desmond’s unreluctant role in all of it feels like it’s setting up something huge--which we now know does not pay off at all--but when contained to just this game, it works really well.

    One of the biggest strengths ACII has is in its world-building. Late 1400's Italy is a vibrant place, with streets jam-packed with merchants and artists, as well as the bustling crowd of everyday people. Florence, Tuscany, Venice, and every other location in Assassin's Creed II are beautiful places and designed so well from a gameplay perspective. Whether you're running on rooftops to escape guards, sneaking through alleys to shadow your target, or just genuinely exploring the world, it feels like every building has a purpose; it's not just a generic town--these areas are made to be a playground for Ezio to clamber, free-run, and jump all over. Going from place to place never feels like a slog, because the maps are large enough to never get boring, but small enough to not be a pain to get from one side to another. Even climbing the viewpoints, a task that has become mundane in recent entries, feels fresh each time, because every place has different architecture and varied towers with specific ways you need to figure out how to climb, which still feels engaging even after syncing with your 50th viewpoint.

    As gameplay mechanics and map design improved, so too did the production values. The stoic Altair of Assassin's Creed I was a little too bland in his line delivery; at times, it felt like his actor was detached from what was happening on screen, resulting in a character that had a solid concept, but a boring execution. Assassin's Creed II ups the cinematic quality across the board, with Roger Craig Smith's memorable performance taking Ezio to the next level, Italian accent and all. Cutscenes are also much better, with nicer and more cinematic design, although the character animations look pretty dated now. I'd also be remiss in not mentioning Jesper Kyd's standout musical score, whose acoustic tracks help add so much drama, tension, and emotion to scenes and gameplay alike.

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    Assassin’s Creed II also does a great job at hiding extra story behind collectibles. For being an action game, it actually has a lot of what almost feels like 90’s platformer collectathon elements; there’s the feathers, Subject 16's encrypted puzzles, Codex pages, and assassin tomb seals, the latter two of which you’ll absolutely want to make sure you get all of them. The Codex pages are scattered all over Italy, usually located in heavily-guarded buildings, giving you a reason to traipse around town in order to discover their locations on the map. They’re also a fun but not heavily distracting secondary objective to have so you can take a break from the ongoing story to just have fun messing around in the game’s world, which strikes a good balance.

    Meanwhile, the tombs consist of challenges that will put your parkour skills to the test, in free-running, climbing, or other similar trials. They’re usually not too difficult--the game is quite easy, overall--but they’re tough enough that you’ll probably need to restart some of them once or twice. Not only are they enjoyable to finally master and complete, it's straight up cool to discover these tombs hidden in historically famous locations. Packed in the menus are write-ups of the places and people you meet, and it's an awesome detail that gets you invested in the world and that moment in time. That’s not even everything Assassin’s Creed II has to offer; you’re also tasked with rebuilding the Monteriggioni villa, which sees you take what can only be described a ghost town, and improve upon it until it’s a bustling trade and tourist attraction. Since you’ll always be coming back to the Monteriggioni after each chapter to buy new weapons and armor, it’s great to see the town slowly improve, and it’s super satisfying to complete all the objectives, especially because they give you a ton of passive income to spend on all the murdery items you’ll need.

    Honestly, I still think that while a little clunky at times, Assassin's Creed II has held up amazingly, and even after all these years, sequels, and spinoffs, it's still the best Assassin's Creed game out of the bunch. Newer entries may be bigger and bolder, but they've yet to capture the heart, charm, and pure fun that II did.




    I hope you enjoyed this edition of GBAtemp Recommends. If you'd like to see more, leave your feedback in the thread below or check out our previous articles.

     

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    Discussion (14 replies)

  2. Silent_Gunner

    Silent_Gunner Crazy Cool Cyclops Member

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    First paragraph sums up my thoughts and feelings about a lot of these more modern games: they look at the top of the trending, most popular games list and just rip gameplay from there. Most egregious is Dark Souls combat; I like my fighting in games to be more frantic, crazy, and all over the place...think Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Yakuza, etc..

    Dark Souls should be allowed to do its own thing and other companies should make their own content from their own inspirations. Ocarina of Time's combat used a certain form of fighting that way on display in a play that the devs of the game attended to draw inspiration from, as opposed to just looking at Elder Scrolls 1 or 2 and just copying that. Not exactly a 1:1 comparison, I'm aware, but still.
     
  3. ov3rkill

    ov3rkill GBAtemp Advanced Maniac Member

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    I really wish The Ezio Collection would be ported to the Switch.
     
  4. Ishzark

    Ishzark GBAtemp Regular Member

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    I enjoyed all games with Ezio, badass character and story

    the new games can't even compete with these
     
  5. Reploid

    Reploid GBAtemp Advanced Maniac Member

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    First and last really good AC game
     
  6. Hielkenator2

    Hielkenator2 GBAtemp Regular Member

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    I Fully Agree !
    I was late to the AC party , bought my xbox 360 only 4 years ago.
    First Ac was not that great, AC 2 got me hoked in the series, Brotherhood was great, Revelation I still have to finish.
    Great game perect pace in terms of progression in the game, I actually completed it 100%.
    Later AC games are far to big in terms of map size, I cannot comprehend everything there is to do and get.

    — Posts automatically merged - Please don't double post! —

    YES YES YES!!!!
     
  7. Scott_pilgrim

    Scott_pilgrim Unfunny Member

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    Holy shit, did he just say he liked a game?
     
  8. Retroboy

    Retroboy GBAtemp Addict Member

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    Why pay £30+ for a £5 game.

    We dont buy new consoles to play old games they missed out on first time roung due to been cheap and wanting to use old hardware to print money.

    Id rather have the option to play todays games on current console, not wait for a new console to play old games.

    And yes, while these got hd "remasters" for ps4/xbx1, i didnt buy them as i already own them, or if i didnt i can buy them cheaper on ps3/360.

    But yea, lacking the option for nintendo is always the same problem.

    And bet we will hear again the false promise of better 3rd party support.

    We need new current fresh titles, not old ports.... even nintendo cant be arsed as theyre porting all their old titles than they are making new.
     
  9. the_randomizer

    the_randomizer The Temp's official fox whisperer Member

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    Black Flag/ The Rebel Collection is a solid port, so I can see it being done
     
  10. BlazeMasterBM

    BlazeMasterBM Shy Shadow Creature Member

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    recommend Donkey Kong Country Returns
     
    Scott_pilgrim likes this.
  11. Jayro

    Jayro MediCat Dev and Gameboy Modder Developer

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    I really feel like AC peaked at the second game, it was just SO GOOD!
     
    Scott_pilgrim and Chary like this.
  12. tfocosta

    tfocosta GBAtemp Z-Warrior Member

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    Everything is based on trends nowadays. And games have also been affected by that trend (pun intended) since the late 2000's. I like to try new stuff every once in a while, but I always find myself playing old stuff over and over again in the end. One can say originality in gaming is long gone! It's sad but true, my dear friends. :mellow:
     
  13. alexander1970

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    Thank you for the "Recommendation".:D

    It seems the right Time now.
    I have played it mostly "backwards"...started with "Odyssey" and Valhalla" then Black Flag...
    And last Weekend I got Part 1 and 2 on Steam so,time to play it now.:)
     
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  14. MetallicKaiser

    MetallicKaiser Member Newcomer

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    This and the games related to it really did feel like peak AC to me. I sort of dropped off the series after the 4th game, but I also absolutely recommend playing this.
     
    Scott_pilgrim and Chary like this.
  15. KnightsMetal

    KnightsMetal Member Newcomer

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    This games need some mods, theres a mod out there that increases the Draw/LOD, finally but it aint perfect. Theres an effort to use the the Ezio Collection textures on PC but the Ubisoft DRM is making it extremely difficult.
     
    Scott_pilgrim likes this.
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