I imagine my history with the Assassin’s Creed franchise is not too uncommon. I found the first entry in the series to be disappointing, but the follow-up, and subsequent side stories, made me do a 180. However, once Ubisoft made the jump to North America for the third main entry, I soon began to lose interest. A combination of technical hiccups and lack of compelling storytelling made passing on sequels a wise decision. Regardless of how I felt about the series, though, I still held the saga of Ezio Auditore in high regard, which is what made coming back to it with Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection a compelling idea.
With a feature film to promote, but no new entry slated for release, Ubisoft’s decision to bring The Ezio Collection to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is a smart one. Remastered versions of two of the most beloved entries, Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and their lesser companion, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, would be a good way to bring in new fans, while also potentially enticing older fans to return. Rounding out the set are two short films that go further into the life of Ezio, Assassin’s Creed Lineage and Assassin’s Creed Embers.
Besides being highly praised for their world building and dynamic gameplay, the Ezio-centered trio of games included here are well-regarded for their beloved main character. Making the transition from Italian playboy to master assassin, Ezio Auditore da Firenze is in the running for the best Ubisoft created character of all-time, and certainly the best in franchise history. He’s both personable and stoic, and his ability to maintain these characteristics despite everything that happens over the course of his life is what makes him a treat to inhabit. His overarching story, which involve liberal use of real-world historical figures, may not hold up under scrutiny, but witnessing the evolution of his character makes it worth delving into.
Of course, while the Italian assassin may be the anchor of the compilation, The Ezio Collection also re-introduces us to modern-day protagonist Desmond Miles. It’s through his memories we travel back to the 15th Century via the Animus. While Mr. Auditore may have had the personality to make up for the dull narrative, Desmond does not have the same advantage. His battle against Abstergo Industries was a slog to deal with in 2009, and feels even more tedious now.
Part of that comes from just how ridiculous this sci-fi gobbledy-gook is, but most of the agony of trudging through these sections again comes from the lacklustre cast of characters. Desmond has all the personality of a piece of balsa wood, and his allies run the gamut from grating (Rebecca) to dickish (Shaun). By the time the double-cross happens, you’ll be ready to check out for good. Unfortunately, you still have another game to get through.
Of the three titles included, Brotherhood is the one that still stands tallest among Ezio’s adventures. The sequel takes the often clunky mechanics of Assassin’s Creed II and sharpens them into something that closely resembles more modern games. The parkour feels less cumbersome, and the combat integrates all of his tools better. If anything, jumping between the two entries is a fascinating look at how much Ubisoft was able to evolve the franchise in just a single year. Rome provides a bigger and better playground, while the ability to call in help from a capable stable of assassins was a stroke of genius from the studio. On top of all that, you get to hunt down noted historical jerk, Cesare Borgia.
The flipside of this is that Assassin’s Creed II feels much worse than it did back in 2009. The combat is a total mess, with the only (barely) functioning skill being the art of the reversal. The stealth kills fare a little better, but even those can be tricky to pull off due to the clunky movement. Not even my rose-tinted glasses can hide the fact that traversal in this title is an absolute pain. Ezio’s once slick parkour skills have devolved into someone with the grace of the town drunk. Sometimes you won’t jump despite holding down the two buttons required to, while other times you’ll plummet without warning into the streets of Florence.
That leaves us with the black sheep of The Ezio Collection, Revelations. While the quick development cycle of the game is evident in how it fails to match the highs of Brotherhood, it comes off a lot better now than it did in 2011. It looks the best of the three, and the Constantinople setting is a nice change of pace from the more traditional locales of the other two. I’m still not a fan of the tower defense mini-game the pops up during the campaign, but some of the other additions, like the hookblade and bomb crafting system give a new dimension to the gameplay. Plus, it serves as a satisfying conclusion to Ezio’s story, which, as we have learned over the years, is no easy accomplishment.
In spite of how important these games are to Ubisoft’s popular franchise, and their continued fan support, The Ezio Collection is not a great remaster. The resolution has been bumped up to 1080p, with improved textures and new water and lighting effects. However, the curious decision was made to lock all three titles at 30 frames-per-second, which is odd because these consoles could easily support a higher framerate. And while the graphics do look better than their last-gen counter-parts, no one is going to mistake these for current-gen titles. The facial textures come off the worst, with some scenes of Ezio have him looking like a strange blend of alien and Italian.
It would have been foolish to expect Ubisoft to rework the mechanics of the franchise, as this is only a “remaster,” not a remake. With no changes being made to the gameplay, though, it did allow me to experience just how last-gen these three titles are. They feel very much of that era of design, with sprawling open-worlds with limited interactivity, but plenty of crap to collect. It’s essentially ground zero for the Ubisoft formula of open-world design that can be seen in everything from Far Cry to The Crew. I don’t necessarily dislike this approach, but compared to more modern fare like The Witcher III, or even Grand Theft Auto V, it feels dated.
As someone who previously conquered Rome, Italy and Constantinople previously, Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection was a nice trip down memory lane. All three historical epics were still compelling to play through, even if they don’t feel as fresh as they did upon release. While I enjoyed myself here, I do wonder if all those who previously played through Ezio’s story will get the same enjoyment. The remaster is lacking in improvements, and I’m not sure the promise of the same old adventure, but for another $60 is enough to draw older fans back in. For the uninitiated, though, this is undoubtedly a great entry point for the franchise.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided to us.
Assassin's Creed: The Ezio Collection is a great introduction to Ubisoft's popular franchise, but for those already familiar with the series, the lacklustre remaster treatment given here makes it hard to recommend.