Assassins Creed Brotherhood is the latest in the Assassins Creed series by Ubisoft. The series is based on free-roaming combat/stealth/movement gameplay, based off Desmond, a modern day Assassin, reliving genetic memories of his ancestors through a machine called an Animus.
The game starts back with Desmond, a modern day Assassin, on the run from a corporation lead by Templars that are trying to take over the world using supernatural artifacts. The Assassins are currently set on acquiring on of the said supernatural artifacts, which involve Desmond going back to the life of Ezio, the protagonist Assassins Creed 2 (AC2). This time you visit renaissance Rome, which has fallen into poverty and decay due to Templar rule. You set out to restore Rome and kill Cesare Borgia, the captain of the Vatican military forces, whom is intent on conquering all of Italy.
The real world gets a little more use than previous AC games, with more time spent doing stuff in outside the Animus, as well as the option to leave the Animus and talk to your fellow Assassins, as well as run around outside. It’s a nice feature, considering there’s so little real world in the previous games it makes the small bits of character development and interaction all the sweeter.
Unfortunately the story itself isn’t quite on par with it’s predecessor AC2. Cesare as the antagonist is an amazing idea, having someone who actually looks like he could prove a challenge is a nice change for the series, where half the bad guys are overweight and can’t defend themselves. Truth be told the only thing that was keeping them alive was plot armor, and the only difficulty in fighting them is they have an unreasonably large damage resistance.
But whilst the character is fairly interesting, the executing is disappointing. Just as the ball gets rolling in Rome he leaves the city, and only arrives back near the end of the game, and then appears very little before the end, so doesn’t get enough screentime to really flesh out his character, and ultimately the plot suffers a little for it.
The main missions follow the same formula as twice before in AC2. Befriend the thieves, courtesans and mercenaries. Then do missions for them. Then more story missions. Then end boss. It’s not a bad formula but it’s getting a little stale since we’ve done it twice before, the only difference is most of the missions are a part of the sandbox, not the storyline, so you can breeze right past them by accident and not really consider doing them. Which I did.
However, while it’s not the best, the story is still above average game writing, and is in no way a deal breaker. Especially when considering the upgrades to gameplay, which is much the same as AC2, with some noticeable improvements to, well, pretty much everything everything.
Combat has been altered to include chain kills, where you can instantly kill an enemy by attacking him as you’re performing a counter kill, and you can start a counter kill whilst you’re performing an action, meaning combat is now quicker and more fluid, as opposed to previous titles where combat was pretty much waiting for people to attack and then counter killing them. While this would normally mean combat is incredibly easy if it was used against enemies in AC2, Brotherhood has a higher concentration of enemies to dispatch and requires you to use different moves in order to defeat the different guard archetypes, which means it keeps the same challenge combat had in AC2. In addition to this the existing weapon system has been updated so that some of the ranged weapons, i.e. the hidden gun and throwing knives, are ‘attached’ to the primary and secondary weapons respectively, so in combat you can hold attack to use a quick ranged attack which is immensely helpful with the inclusion of more difficult enemies and a horse riding guards, and adds to the combat system so it flows even better. Also included is 2 new weapons, the crossbow and poison darts, which make stealth gameplay much much more practical, which was somewhat of a problem in the first two games. You can also now carry heavy weapons, if you purchase the appropriate equipment for carrying them. Oh, you can also throw heavy weapons. Into people. Very hard.
Movement on foot is the same, however horses have been improved dramatically, with the ability to ride horses around the city, jump off them onto poles, jump from horse to horse and assassinate someone, a whole bunch of horsing around really. It adds a lot and makes moving around Rome a lot easier, huge as it is.
After a while you can also train rebels to become Assassins which you can send on missions to gain them experience, or use them in combat during the game, it’s a cool little system, and definitely can help during a tough mission, but feels like it should have been expanded on more, maybe specifying Assassins to combat roles or something.
The missions themselves are sometimes extremely creative and intuitive, and other times “Go to x, perform standard action Y”. Something that helps is the 100% sync, a system that gives you optional rules for the mission, e.g. do not be detected, do not touch the ground, do mission in allotted time. It adds a bit of playability to the game, added with the ability to revisit different parts of the game at will, but it’s sometimes more annoying that interesting.
The city of Rome is extremely impressive as cities in the franchise are, having interesting ruins to explore, amazing buildings to climb, and the standard amazing AC world system of civilians and soldiers mingling in an amazing display, complete with different amounts of poverty as you renovate the city. It’s also HUGE. Huge enough horses are required. Maybe too huge, reminding me of the San Andreas problem of taking forever to get anywhere, but a fast travel system is included and usually easily accessed, as long as you remember to fix up the access points.
The multiplayer component of the game is a very interesting idea. When I heard of AC multiplayer, I assumed it would be terrible due to the out of place combat system. I did not assume they would remove combat entirely. I also did not assume the fun.
It’s a game based on many objectives, though the main experience is assassinating. You lock on, press attack, and it’s an instant kill. However you can stealth around, hide in crowds of look alikes, and outrun people to avoid getting killed, and use many different techniques to kill, getting more points for kills based off stealth rather than high profile moves. It works well, but it contains an unlockable weapons, items and perk system which is apparently mandatory for multiplayer games now, and the unlocks are so very unbalanced it makes my brain hurt. It’s very fun, but it’s often luck based and item based rather than skill based, and it’s pretty likely if not certain the multiplayer community will die fair quickly, but is a good experience nonetheless.
Something I’d like to come back to is the pacing of the game. Assassins Creed 2 has superb pacing. Hell, it might be the best paced game I’ve ever seen. It uses environments, combat skills, characters, money, movement abilities. Something new is regularly happening, whether it be Carnevale in Venice, finding new factions to ally with, or being trained in new combat styles, either something interesting is happening or you have a definite goal. And in addition to that new side missions would appear every so often giving you the option to play them if you wished some quick fun action of your choice, or you could leave them for later and do more story missions.
However in Brotherhood they’ve put more content into the open sandbox mode, letting the player theoretically choose their own pacing of whatever.
However there’s an issue. People suck at pacing.
They’ll often feel obliged to do one thing or the other, and if you don’t break it down into small chunks at semi-frequent intervals they’ll either do too much mindless fun and get bored or not enough and get bored.
And as a result of the moving of content, the story doesn’t have enough raw content, making it feel short, while more content is put into the sandbox, which feels rather inconsequential as a result. Still fun and creative missions, but if they aren’t supplemented with regular story/character/whatever development, they feel like they really don’t matter too much. I mean, of course they don’t matter, they’re side-quests, the idea is to make them feel like the matter.
Overall however, Brotherhood is a very fun game, includes many improvements to the AC formula, including an entertaining multiplayer. Definitely a worthwhile entry in the franchise.