Just when I thought I was out...
There's no denying that Assassin's Creed II was a massive improvement over the first game in the series. Among all of its amazing (and absolutely necessary) additions, the narrative stuck out as the most important progression Assassin's Creed could make. Sure it meandered here and there, and too many characters got involved too quickly to matter, but there was a point to killing all those people.
[image1]A year later and without a numerical value in its title, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood sets out to prove itself, not unlike a young Ezio Auditore da Firenze. This time Ezio's grown himself a beard to last the whole game. His sister Claudia and his mother have met him in Rome as well, but more important are the few members of the Assassin's order you might care to remember. The Volpe and Machiavelli are by your side through Brotherhood's narrative, assisting you in rebuilding Rome one day at a time.
If you couldn't be bothered to refresh yourself on the ancient history that is Assassin's Creed II, you've got to be wondering how Ezio finds himself in Rome in the first place. Despite sparing the life of the previous installment's villain, Rodrigo Borgia, and reclaiming the all-powerful Apple of Eden, Ezio has not been forgiven by his enemies, who are all but content to let him rest at home in Monteriggioni. Rodrigo's general and son, Cesare, comes knocking and destroys the town you worked so hard to build in the second game. Of course, you're not going to let them get away with that, and if there is any hope of besting the Borgia at home in Rome, you're going to need back up.
Where AC II confined the economy and city-building aspects of Monteriggioni, Brotherhood blows it up to include the entirety of Rome. Throughout the city are Borgia towers, which house entire missions in and of themselves. Each tower has a leader who must be assassinated before you can scale the tower and set it ablaze, liberating the people of the area from Borgia influence. Once liberated, shops, transportation hubs, and banks can be renovated for the right price. These buildings generate revenue for the player and fuel the building mechanic throughout other areas of the city.
Easily the biggest and most entertaining addition to Brotherhood is the ability for the player to build your own guild of assassins. Heading to a pigeon coop or faction building will let you manage your assassins, and you can send them on missions, assign skill points, or even choose their colors. (Venetian wine is in this season, by the way.) The assassins you recruit are not relegated to contract orders, either. Using Brotherhood-assisted moves, you can call assassins to take out guards, lend a helping hand in open combat, or even launch a flurry of arrows at several guards.
[image2]Ezio also has a crossbow that is more effective at taking enemies down from a distance and some new abilities that make open combat more user friendly. If you manage a successful counterattack, further executions can be strung along behind it. The same can be said of old-fashioned kills that come easier now that you can break your opponents guard with a kick. It's only been a year since the last game, but Ubisoft Montreal have taught an old dog some new tricks.
Aside from massive steps forward in terms of the open world being at your thumbs and much needed combat tweaks, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood takes a huge leap forward in mission design. Areas encourage more stealthy play than all-out warfare, though missions remain varied enough to leave that style of play welcome. The first and second AC games left things too open, while Brotherhood offers several specific paths while still allowing you to make your own.
Even without a multiplayer mode, Assassin's Creed titles offer a ton of replayability in the story. Every mission includes a special constraint that makes things more difficult, and admittedly, more fun. Even killing Borgia captains around those damned towers have special parameters. The much marketed Leonardo missions are long, fanciful, involved affairs, but you'll want to go back to them right away to experience them all over again. Several VR training missions also challenge the player to obtain the highest possible score. These aren't the only nod to the Metal Gear games. Keep your eyes out when you meet up with Da Vinci again.
If you're wondering whether this game is just a multiplayer AC with a single-player expansion, you're wrong. Multiplayer doesn't hold back the story or gameplay of single player at all; in fact, I can't imagine an Assassin's Creed game releasing without multiplayer from now on. There is nothing more exhilarating than the constant, foreboding, nerve-racking cat-and-mouse game you'll play with others online. If it weren't for how unique and different multiplayer is, it probably wouldn't be as exciting, but it doesn't change the fact that Ubisoft Montreal made sure to churn out a fully-featured mode.
[image3]In each mode, players earn points for their kills and the way they accomplish those kills. Aerial kills, acrobatic kills, silent and incognito kills all have specific point values and the ultimate goal is to score higher than everyone else. The Wanted game mode pits up to eight players against each other, with the highest-scoring player being chased by the others. Hunted pits one player as the assassin, one player as the victim, and the rest have to stop the killer. Alliance mode separates players into teams of two. As first outings go, Brotherhood's multiplayer mode delivers in spades.
Brotherhood's story is easier to follow, has an amazing variety of missions and replayability, and the soundtrack is amazing throughout. There's no doubt you'll be wanting more immediately following the end. With a campaign worthy of sequel status and a multiplayer mode full of fresh, entertaining ideas, there isn't enough praise I can lay on AC: Brotherhood. Assassin's Creed is one series I don't mind interacting with annually, monthly, daily, now.