The sad part of this blog's title is that the people who truly didn't like the first game probably still won't be awed by this one, but it will be more accessible.
The game is too finely polished for me to say it's a bad game, (in fact if I were judging by the gameplay alone, it would be above average) but it certainly won't stick with me as one of my favorites like the first one did. In fact, if I were to pinpoint all my problems with the game down to one cause, it would be that the sequel is overproduced. That goes for everything. From the graphics, to the plot, characters, presentation, atmosphere...everything.
Too be fair, if you're one of those people that got really put off by the Desmond sections of the first game, or didn't like the repeating recon missions, so much so that you didn't care about how much fun it was to climb buildings or to watch the story unfold, you'll probably really like this game. But I can't help feeling that the first game was something that was really special if you were willing to accept it for what it was, whereas this game feels like a bit of fluff that everyone can enjoy once before they forget about it.
For starters, graphically speaking, everything is too shiny and pretty. So much so that nothing ever feels real, despite there not being anything that feels overwhelmingly wrong, either. It looks a moderately realistic city blended with a colorful Disney cartoon, but then faded just enough to try and trick you into thinking it's still attempting to be realistic. Despite the fact that for plot purposes you're always pretty aware of being in a simulation (in both games), the world of the first game looked and felt the way I expected it to. It wasn't afraid to be dirty when it had to be (which was most of the time), and everything felt lived in. The same can't be said for the sequel. At no point did I ever really feel immersed, and that's coming from someone that really enjoys the the Animus aspect of both games. It's not that I'm unwilling to suspend my disbelief, it's that the game is trying so hard to be pretty that it never allows me to forget that it's a fraud, especially since as in so many cases with this sequel, I still have the first game to compare it to.
This cartoony aspect doesn't just effect the graphics, either. It totally dominates the plot and characters as well. In fact it's worse in these cases, because they play a much bigger part of why I can't respect the game.
In the original game, the main character starts out as basically an arrogant jerk, but through the course of the game learns to respect what it means to take a life, and who also respects his enemies and their goals, even if he disagrees with the way they plan to achieve them. In the sequel, the main character starts out as a smarmy ladies man, and ends as a smarmy ladies man. He still has these token scenes with the assassination targets where he goes through the motions of pretending to be a messenger of death or something, but it's never believable because that's just not who he is as a character. He's a happy-go-lucky sort of character, and he's taking part in a happy-go-lucky sort of story. The fact that your enemies want to take over the world never has any weight to it, because they're all cut from the same thin cardboard as the new main character. To drive home this fact, one might point to the fact that they all have pale skin and dark baggy eyes. SERIOUSLY. And as far as I can tell they don't have any real motivation for taking over the world other than that they're descended from people that wanted to take over the world. SERIOUSLY.
And beyond the revenge motivation for the first couple hours, there's never really much motivation for stopping them, either. It's basically "Well kid, you're descended from assassins. Go assassinate bad guys. They're the ones with baggy eyes." If you could actually respect the bad guys long enough to take them seriously as a threat, (if not as people, at least as characters) this wouldn't be an issue. In the first game you didn't at first have much reason to kill beyond the fact that it's your job, but it made sense because the people you were killing actually felt like they were trying to dominate the land, because you could tell they actually wanted to achieve their goals. The villains here just randomly kill their own henchmen for failing them, because, hey, that's what bad guys do. At least that's what they do if you can't write to save your life. And that's basically what you have to look forward to for plot and characters. There's a "big twist" at the end, but if you don't care about the rest of the game, then like me you won't care much about the ending either.
The cutscenes also really detract from the experience for me. In the first game the camera almost never left your control, and when it did it still felt very much tied to the playable character. The camera work here isn't any worse than in most other games, but the fact that they didn't have to do this in the original because the story was dramatic enough on its own just made it feel like one more area where they cut quality for accessibility. Mainly to gain access to an audience that probably won't care any more than they did the first time around.
If I could sum the story up into a single idea, it would be to say that if you ignore all the blood, it's basically a dumbed down, kid friendly coming of age story, except with extra knives where there should be some kind of character arc. In fact the entire story could be told relatively unchanged without it involving any kind of conspiracy or assassin/templar backstory at all. If you REALLY like knives, I won't lie. It might still be really appealing to you. Parrying someone's sword and moving in for your own kill is as entertaining here as it is in any other game with similar mechanics.
The side missions have a lot more variety to them, but that mostly doesn't matter because you no longer need to do them to progress to the story missions. On the upside, some of them are worth playing just because they're fun. Stalking a target and dropping down on them from above, or chasing a thief across rooftops takes a long time to get old. Like I said earlier, if you're here just for the gameplay, it's all pretty solid.
I have some other gripes about the presentation and atmosphere, like the fact that enemies are never a threat because you now carry health packs that'll get you through every fight you could possibly get yourself into. Or that the factions you can hire don't feel like a part of the world they're in at all, and stand out as even worse caricatures in a cartoon world. How about the fact that the player's costume is way too busy and out of this world and doesn't look at all like a badass assassin, except compared to something even more unbelievable, like Optimus Prime or Daffy Duck?
I could go on, but these are just more symptoms to a larger problem I've already described over and over again. This game tried so hard (and might have succeeded) to be a big blockbuster, that it forgot to try to be worth your time. If you can ignore everything I just described, or if these things actually make you like the game more, then you should definitely check this out. The free running is even better in this game than it was in the first, and it was already good then.
For a lot of gamers just being fun to play will be enough. But if you're one of those people that has to respect what you're playing, there's a good chance it won't live up to what you might have expected considering the original isn't that far out of memory.