Consistently two years behind the curve, it's time for my annual Assassin's Creed review!
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If you're a frequent reader, you're aware that I'm not the world's biggest fan of the Assassin's Creed series. That being said, the story continues to pull me back - "I gots to know!" So I cracked the cover on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.
Desmond is beginning to more strongly feel the effects of the bleeding as he begins to gain some of the skills his ancestors so often utilize, which led me to realize why everyone really started to love this series. Sequences with Desmond are Nolan North climbing on stuff and creating witty banter with a cute blonde. It's Uncharted! So much explained.
Of course, this is not the girth of the game. We meet up with Ezio Auditore da Firenze once again, who has lost the Apple of Eden to Cesare Borgia, a Templar. The rest of the game consists of building factions, procuring knowledge and getting the Apple back.
This title feels much tighter than the last two - a very good thing. Gameplay finally feels like it's found its footing, letting the entire experience mesh much better. Guiding Ezio through the city feels much less frustrating than it has in the past. This is not to say that there aren't moments where I'm rolling my eyes because jumping backwards is nigh impossible to gauge, but all in all, a much more pleasant experience than past outings.
The story continues to impress, though sometimes dialog and Italian names go flying by, so hopefully you remember faces well. Ezio is often tied up in someone else's problems, not actually making strides towards getting the Apple back, but such is the nature of being one of the most popular men in Rome.
That being said, the main path is not all that long. You'll spend much more time getting lost among the many other tasks available in the city. As before, Ezio will be renovating the storefronts of Rome to gain an income. Flags have taken the place of feathers as the collectible of choice, though there are still ten feathers floating around somewhere. There's some sweet armor to be had by tracking down a religious cult, quests for each faction and Borgia strongholds to usurp.
Unfortunately, all of this side-questing can be cumbersome. The map is littered with things to do, and some waypoints don't even disappear after being addressed. Repaired aqueducts and bought up landmarks stay on the map in the same form after the fact, so it can become confusing keeping track of what's been done already. Additionally, many of these things have no inherent reward. Do all the courtesan missions you want - I'm not sure there's a payoff. Playing through the entirety of Ezio's teenage love story is cute enough, but doesn't give much to the overarching cause.
One sideline of the game that actually performs very well is the "brotherhood" aspect. Ezio begins recruiting rebellious townsfolk to his cause and must train them to fulfill contracts across Europe. When they aren't out of town, assassins can be called to aid in battle. This is an extremely useful mechanic in many cases to keep cover while getting guards out of the way. The death of a comrade can feel like a real loss after training them to a high level, however, so one must weigh the chances of failure before calling them in.
All in all, it's really more Assassin's Creed, so there isn't a lot to say. The team at Ubisoft really colored inside the lines this time so that the game is genuinely fun and not as frustrating at a platforming level like the other games could be. That is, until the last forty-five minutes or so.
It's as if the team realized that release was impending. Most games, you simply delay the release date, but Assassin's Creed is an annual entry - no sir. For the last portion of the game, the player must wield one useless weapon that can't be switched off. The story begins fast-forwarding in time extremely quickly, bouncing months at a time. Suddenly, there's a siege. I'm not sure anyone knows where or why, but it's there. Ezio heads for a nameless castle and starts climbing things, but it takes a while to realize why or what's happening. Not only does the story start unraveling, but things start getting buggy. I got caught both in the corner of a catapult and the middle of a courtyard, enemies would ignore me and the game froze altogether at a couple points.
Fast-forward back to Desmond, who begins climbing about the Roman Coliseum. How he knows where he's going, we're not sure. The apparitions that lead him earlier in the game are altogether missing, but the camera points us in the right direction, so as the player, we roll with it. This portion is heavy on platforming, none of which lends anything to the story other than to be an obstacle to overcome. While playing as Ezio, platforming is part of who Ezio is. It develops his character. We know little-to-nothing about Desmond, and this isn't growing him in any way, shape or form. After an extremely redeeming game for the series, these last portions undermined a great deal of it, so if you're wondering why the score seems low for the praise I've given thus far, you can point to this section of the game.
Ignoring that, there's a lot to be said for Brotherhood bolstering the series. I may not be able to stay away as long as before. Revelations might just have to happen sooner than later. While I'm still not sure it warrants an annual installment, Assassin's Creed has me pretty well roped in now.
Bottom Line: 7.5/10