Assassin's Creed 2 - Continuing my first-time playthrough of Ubisoft's historic action 'em up, with this, the game some say is the best in the series. Is it the best one? Well... It's an ambitious upgrade from the first, but even having only read about but not played the successive games, it's clear this hasn't aged quite so well.
It's got a decent setting. I'm still impressed that Ubisoft had the gall to set a mainstream action game in the Italian Renaissance as much as they did the Holy Crusades. It's still something that you'd think a big games company would knock down as not focus group-friendly with people. But I guess Ubisoft were a little looser back then, who knows? The various cities you visit have a good atmosphere and, like the first game, they try to keep each area distinctive.
Ezio may have been a refreshing change compared to Altair of the first game, but I couldn't quite see him as the great character that people said he was. He's charismatic but rather generic. The start of the story sets him up with an interesting romp around his home city but inevitably descends into a revenge tale against a steady stream of targets. Perhaps in the days of dude bros he stood out, but we're a little past that now (a tiny little bit).
I did think it went on a little too long, though. By the end, it seemed to go off on a tangent that didn't seem to really fit in with the pacing of the story right before it seemed to be reaching a conclusion. Only after did I remember those chapters were extra DLC that had been excluded from the game yet deliberately designed as a missing part of the main story rather than a side story in order to get people to pay for them. Sort of essential and non-essential at the same time and the beginning of Ubisoft's annoying adding on of unnecesary extra bits that you need in order to get the 'full' experience. Thankfully it was added for free in whatever version I got - I think I got the whole game for free at some point, I can't quite remember. The only other extraneous extra bit was that challenge level you got by logging into U-Play. Nice to get some new content but rather a pointless exercise.
I enjoy the overarching wraparound story of Desmond, perversely enough, so I was a bit disappointed to see you only pop out of the Animus one and a bit times to go over modern day things. At this point, like a lot of people were back then, I'm intrigued with the overall conspiracy-laden story. However, now knowing what happens at the end and how they expand on the magic / technology stuff of the first game, I can see why they soon abandonded the whole plot for something more sedate - I mean, how far can you really carry that masive ending revelation over a decade of games without getting silly?
Now collectables, then. I ended up getting them all. First of all, for anyone like me who tried to get all the flags in the first game, getting the feathers is a lot easier this time around. They're almost always at the same height now, making it easy to know where to look and not making it too exasperating. Seeking treasure chests by looking at the map was a bit of a chore by the end, though. It's still tolerable, but here's really the start of the Ubisoft bloat and I can see how the content is being repetitively stretched. Thankfully the quantity to quality ratio isn't too far apart, but what I said about this not quite aging well is represented in the fatigue that this model of in-game activity eventually begets. Actually, what am I saying? Collecting rubbish is still going on today.
I was interested in the feature where you can build up your home base gradually over the course of the game. Sadly, while it was fun for a while, it didn't last that long and exposed it as rather sparse by the end. Only the mad conspiracy puzzles of The Truth side quest ended up keeping up the intrigue until the end of the game.
But at the end of the day the free-running stuff is still fun and it feels great to jump and climb about when it works, which most of the time. Fun but unchallenging combat and unexpected control flips aside, that core feature makes the game work and all that repetitive collecting is ameloriated by the chance to leap from rooftop to rooftop again and again.
Looking forward to the next game in the Ezio trilogy.