Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a direct followup to 2009’s Assassins Creed II. The story follows Desmond Miles, heir to the assassin legacy, as he further experiences the life of his ancestor, Ezio Auditore, literally picking up the story with the closing scene of ACII. In a combination tutorial and Metroidvania style “abilitease”, Ezio escapes the Vatican and returns to his family’s villa, days before it is attacked and destroyed by the Papal Armies under the command of Borgia family (this is early enough in the game that it is not a spoiler). Following the attack, Ezio escapes to Rome to take his revenge. Meanwhile, in the real world, Desmond and co. are forced to move their operations to the now ruined Auditore villa.
Now, ACB is a direct sequel to ACII, but seeing as it does not follow a new lead character or take place in a different historical era, it isn’t really a full continuation of the AC story as much as it is an intermediary, in-between story that, supposedly, will lead better into Assassin’s Creed III rather than simply going from ACII. But that’s okay in this case, as there is so much here that it cannot be written off as a simple side story. The writing is strong, the voice actors from ACII reprise their roles, continuing to provide strong acting alongside the handful of new characters, including primary antagonist Cesare Borgia.
The accents in the English track continue to be believable, with the included Italian phrases helping add further authenticity to the acting. Make no mistake, name and numbering aside, this is a necessary story in the greater overall plot of the franchise. My only problem is a personal one, as this is effectively the end of Ezio’s story, and he was a great character.
If ACB is about anything besides the story, it is the refinement of ACII in preparation for ACIII, and the mulitplayer.
As for the refinement of the formula, the simplest way to explain it is this: if you (the reader) like ACII, you will like ACB. Every refinement ACII made from AC, as well as every additional thing ACII added, are here, and refined to make everything cleaner, easier, and more streamlined. While the Auditore villa is gone, the city of Rome is essentially the new villa, and is the size of probably two of ACII’s cities mashed together.
Systems for buying and upgrading the shops are in place and are active, there are just more of them, though you no longer have to return to central place to collect the rent, instead you are able to go to the nearest bank. ACB however contains the previous game’s problem of artificially blocking off portions of the map until certain plot events happen, keeping the player from fully exploring the world early on, if they feel like it.
The vistas are still sweeping and impressive, and the city itself contains and interesting mix of Renaissance era buildings and Roman era ruins existing in the same space. While the graphics did seem to be a bit better than ACII, the clipping and mip-mapping plane was incredibly obvious to me at times. To keep the city from getting too boring, the crypts make a return, but now with some additional elements beyond being simple platforming challenges, as well as several side missions that have Ezio traveling to destroy war machines created from Leonardo da Vinci’s designs, or remembering the woman he left behind in Florence (which ties into the beginning of ACII).
Combat is still based around counterattacking, but it was rebalanced to make doing it more effective. Ezio is now able to perform chain-kills after a successful counter, kind of like in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Enemies seem to be less difficult, with the new chaining mechanic further lowering it, and this is usually offset by the game throwing larger numbers of enemies at you. Free-running still feels generally the same, it works but still occasionally seems slow and sometimes camera angles get in the way of making proper jumps, usually involving jumps at weird angles.
The biggest new addition to the single player is the addition of the Assassins themselves. After a certain point in the story, Ezio is able to save civilians from enemy troops and then train them as assassins. The training takes place as a sort of management minigame where you send the recruits on missions to gain experience and level up. Why is it important? Because when they are not on missions, the recruits can be called in at almost any time to take out enemy troops, appearing from shadows, hay bales, and out of sight ledges to attack. The higher level of the recruits, the better their equipment and the more likely they can survive during combat. With enough recruits ready at once, they can even launch a crossbow attack, killing all nearby enemies in one fell swoop. The entire thing adds a great dynamic to the combat, and is pretty cool.
The biggest addition to ACB though, the addition that the game was practically sold on, was the inclusion of online, competitive multiplayer. For a long time, before the beta test and tradeshows that showed it in progress, the big question was how this would work given AC’s core stealth-based gameplay, which confused even myself. And actually, they did a good job of translating that very gameplay to a competitive multiplayer mode.
The basic premise for all modes is Hunter/Prey, where each player hunts down a player, while being the prey for another hunter. Now this by itself would lend to either rather chaotic killing, or cat-and-mouse hiding, depending largely on how the areas are set up. The areas in ACB are large, open, and multi-layered, allowing for the same kind of free-running as the main game. How the game keeps this kind of layout from getting chaotic is the inclusion of NPCs. Lots and lots of NPCs. Before a match starts, every player (or party leader) chooses one of the several types of avatars available to play the match as, and NPCs of almost every one of those types, including the ones chosen by each player, populate the map many times over. The point is to find your prey and avoid your hunter among all of these roaming NPCs.
Scoring is based around being unnoticed, with increased scores for killing in many different ways except being noticed by your prey. And there are quite a few ways to escape hunters too. From blending into crowds, throwing smokebombs, hiding in haystacks, and simply outpacing pursuers during a chase. Added into the mix is another multiplayer advancement structure, where higher levels grant access to different abilities and perks that only serve to make the game more interesting.
I, personally, have had a lot of fun with the multiplayer mode. It is well made, very good looking, and it’s impressive that the game is running so many AIs at once, even if they are just simple pathing scripts and animations. It has a unique style that is different from other games, and requires a skill set different from other games. The almost requirement for patience is significantly different from the dominating first-person shooters. In the set of Hunted mode matches I played, a team-based mode where each team takes a turn being the hunters and prey, the opposing team would equal the number of kills of my team, but lose because they don’t know how to be subtle, thus having low scoring kills. While the abilities and perks do not cause any significant changes to the core strategies, the minor variations they allow keep things from becoming completely stale.
The downside though, is that when the kills start, things can go downhill in a matter of seconds. With the hunter/prey style, many times one player will kill their target, only to get noticed by their hunter and killed, and so on, forcing several players to respawn very quickly. As well, while prey cannot kill their hunters, they can stun them, but stunning them is often difficult, given the placement requirements, though I have seen some players who were proactive with stunning. And above all, that same play style difference that makes the multiplayer unique will probably also keep it from staying popular in the long term, unless there is a lot of DLC released on a regular schedule. This isn’t like BioShock 2’s mulitplayer, which was unneeded, this is something truly outside the norm and can become even better with a few iterations.
The bottom line is this, never mind AC, if you like ACII, you will like this. Everything about ACII has been refined and improved, and the curious addition of multiplayer is a welcome change from the volume of military shooters out there. I wholly recommend it.
Brotherhood continues the series' trademark of great storytelling and acting. Throw in multiplayer that is interesting and different from most other games out there, and you have a fantastic overall experience.