Monday, November 12, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Fourth Entry

I finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood last week and have spent the time since thinking about how I wanted to discuss it. On the surface, Brotherhood is better than it deserves to be. It’s a game that epitomes the phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Many look at Brotherhood as the best game in the Assassin’s Creed series. I may not agree with them fully, but the important aspects are worth pointing out.

In that time I’ve spent thinking about Brotherhood, I looked at it from both a narrative and gameplay perspective.

Narratively, it’s a true sequel and probably be titled Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood. It picks up literally seconds after the ending of Assassin’s Creed 2, with Ezio’s uncle Mario showing up to help him escape the Vatican. From there, Ezio determines to take down Rodrigo Borgia, who he left alive at the end of Assassin’s Creed 2, and more importantly Rodrigo’s son, Cesare, who is the main antagonist of Brotherhood and bent on taking over Rome, Italy, and the rest of Europe.

The story of Brotherhood is probably the best thing about it. Through the missions, you learn more about the Borgia family, the things they are willing to do get what they want, and why Cesare is a threat to the assassins. By the time I finished Brotherhood, Ubisoft dropped enough subtlety and intrigue to make me want to learn more about the real-world versions of these characters, and realize just how much of history is messed up.

One of the best missions in Brotherhood, though, are the Cristina memories. Early on, Lucy talks about an Inception-like memory within a memory, or repressed memories you might encounter. These take the form of flashbacks to Assassin’s Creed 2, revealing some of the gaps with Cristina Vespucci, Ezio’s love interest. They weave in details of Ezio taking care of his family’s bodies, his departure from Florence, and the tragedy of Cristina’s death. While auxiliary to the main story, they provide a bit of fan service and help fill in details of Ezio’s life.

Ezio’s ending in Brotherhood, unfortunately, felt sporadic and rushed. Maybe it was because of the ties to actual moments in history, but following and chasing Cesare from location to location, skipping months or years at a time without any context felt disjointed.

From a gameplay perspective, Brotherhood feels more like an extension of the series, perhaps even labeling it as Assassin’s Creed 2.5. Besides the addition of training other assassin’s, along with tweaks to both the combat system and the economy, Brotherhood largely plays just like Assassin’s Creed 2. Combat builds on the previous system by adding the ability to chain kills; after a counter-attack, you can string one-hit kills on nearby enemies until interrupted by another counter-attack. Chaining together kills not only reduces the time spent in combat, but also minimizes the frustration of maneuvering when surrounded by a big crowd of guards.

Economy improves horizontally more so than vertically in Brotherhood. Rather than just building and renovating the Monteriggioni villa as done in Assassin’s Creed 2, this time it applies to all of Rome, which seems bigger than all of the cities in Assassin’s Creed 2 combined.

The thing that makes Brotherhood memorable is its way of melding gameplay mechanics into narrative. In order to rebuild Rome and improve the economy Ezio must burn down Borgia towers enabling not only the nearby shops to open back up for business, but run-down landmarks, aqueducts, and sewer tunnels become available to use. As the Borgia influence lessens, more citizens offer themselves to the brotherhood, where they can level up, complete missions, or join Ezio in combat.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood may not improve on much, but the things it does add and how those things work within the narrative so well, it’s hard to complain. There are few games I’d recommend jumping into after finishing the predecessor, but Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood connects to Assassin’s Creed 2 so fittingly, I almost view them as two parts of the larger Italian renaissance narrative.

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