Assassin’s Creed didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it released back in November of 2007. Admittedly, it took many elements from the successful Prince of Persia games and placed its own spin on them. It focused on stealth and inconspicuous murder instead of direct combat, but didn’t garner its notoriety until 2009 with Assassin’s Creed 2.
AC2 made the franchise into a global powerhouse and greenlit countless sequels, spin-offs, books and comics. Followed soon by annual releases, the AC franchise eventually surpassed in popularity the series which inspired it. Some of these sequels were good; some of them were okay, and others, downright lacklustre and forgettable.
Even a whole decade later, many (my humble self included) consider the second entry in the series as the best. But is it really that good? Let’s go back in time and find out what makes Assassin’s Creed 2 so memorable all these years – and sequels – later.
Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted
For me, the series came to a halt with Black Flag. Keeping up with annual releases was no longer feasible, and frankly, I got burnt out from doing the same thing every year. In my opinion, Black Flag had one of the most impactful endings in modern gaming. But many consider Ezio’s tale of revenge as the peak in the series and I also tend to agree.
First of all, no other hero was featured in three games so prominently and remembered so fondly. Assassin’s Creed 2 initially portrays Ezio as a young, brash and carefree womanizer. But its narrative also does a great job of gradually introducing his family and friends. And it does so through memorable sequences catered to each character.
Whether by allowing the player to fight alongside his brother, Federico, or by conversing with Ezio’s stern but loving father, Giovanni. During the first few hours, the story makes you feel for these characters, and then, it takes them away in an instant. Ezio witnesses the hanging of his family, leading him on a destructive path of vengeance.
And you sense the same rage that boils in Ezio’s heart because you grew to like these characters so much. Many stories often present a tragic event or a character in distress and expect the player to feel for them. But at the same time, they seldom provide enough context and generally lack in terms of emotional depth.
And that’s where AC2’s story succeeded; it gave you something to love and abruptly took it away. It made Ezio’s burning need for revenge coincide with your own feelings.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane… It’s a Suicidal Italian Assassin!
When Assassin’s Creed 2 released in November of 2009, I actually lived in Florence. I never played the first game and knew very little about the series, but decided to get the sequel anyway. Mostly because of the hype surrounding its release. Imagine my surprise when the sales guy proudly proclaimed that the game is set in Florence. Every region is known for something unique, so Italians take great pride in where they live.
As for me, I was simply excited to scale the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore without being sent to jail. And for the record, most of the landmarks in the game were recreated fairly well. Visiting these real-life locations – such as the Ponte Vecchio bridge – and then observing them in-game, or vice versa, was quite the experience.
Being able to climb almost any building and view the artistic city (birthplace of Da Vinci) from above felt breathtaking. And after scoping out your surroundings you could simply jump down like a daredevil: into a pile of leaves or hay. Furthermore, many of these historical landmarks hid the challenging Assassin’s Tombs beneath. Completing all of them unlocked the awesome Armor of Altair, named after the first game’s protagonist.
And you needed these cool pieces of equipment to show off during combat, which was somewhat reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Enemies would attack Ezio one at a time and it was up to you how to react. Whether you blocked, rolled out of the way, tried to disarm the opponent or pierce their face with a hidden knife; every action during combat felt like a dance. I always found it satisfying to take on a huge number of soldiers at once, beat the odds and finish the battle with over a dozen corpses lying around.
Evidently, Assassin’s Creed 2 holds a special place in my game collection. It made me appreciate art and pay more attention to the places that I visited. I also loved its focus on meaningful storytelling and Ezio’s development as a character. And you don’t necessarily have to visit Florence to enjoy everything the game has to offer.
But if you do, take my advice: don’t scale the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
And if you haven’t yet played Assassin’s Creed 2, get yourself a purchase from the Xbox Store.