The Assassin’s Creed franchise has had an interesting history. The first game was sweeping and ambitious, but serious problems with pacing and tedious repetition kept it from achieving what it set out to do. Then came Assassin’s Creed 2. While staying true to the core concepts and mechanics established by the first game, AC2 revamped the flow of the game with a mission structure similar to Grand Theft Auto. This turned out to be a smart move as AC2 turned out to be a very good game and effectively cemented the franchise in the current generation.
Rather than getting a full-on numbered sequel, this past year gave us Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Brotherhood is a continuation of Ezio’s story in AC2, which you may remember as ending rather abruptly (something the series is getting rather efficient at). Brotherhood is a fitting continuation, as it outlines Ezio’s rise to leadership of the assassins and his quest to remove the templars from Rome.
As with AC2, this is all well and good but it’s the sci-fi present-day story that hurts the overall experience. The present-day characters continue to be uninteresting and it seems that with each game release the plot becomes more and more of a lost cause. The ending of Brotherhood is the worst in the series, and I feel like this escalation will just increase the more that the games focus on present-day storylines.
Thankfully, the story of Ezio (in Renaissance-era Italy) is much more interesting and much less convoluted. However, it may be difficult to make it through Ezio’s story considering how unremarkable most of the story missions are. Brotherhood is a game of escort quests. While playing, I felt like every one out of three missions had me escorting someone while trying to keep them alive. How long will it take developers to realize that escorting NPCs is not fun?
I also felt like another one out of three missions involved tailing someone around Rome. Every single one of these missions had the same layout: follow a guy, don’t get too close, and if you’re on street-level (rather than the rooftops) don’t let him turn around and see you. This is really just another, arguably worse, version of an escort quest. One of the very first missions you do when you get to Rome is following a group of guards; this goes on for way, way longer than it needs to. It’s almost as if the game is saying, “Hey! Here’s what you’ll be doing for the next 30 hours!”
When two-thirds of the story missions in your game are tedious, that’s not good. It’s something that was a problem in AC1 and should not be happening anymore in this franchise. Thankfully, the last third is actually made up of really fun missions. There are some sneaking missions that can be quite challenging and enjoyable. There are even vehicle missions where you pilot things like a tank designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Considering the mission problems that Brotherhood has, it’s a good thing that the outstanding sandbox effect is still in place. Rome turns out to be an absolute blast just to run around in. Unlocking new districts by burning down enemy towers is addictive, as is buying shops and landmarks to increase the income of the city. You’ll often find yourself going out of your way just to buy a single little shop you might have missed.
I do have a few minor problems with Rome, though. Considering that the entire game takes place in one city, you don’t really get the color or art variation that we got in AC2. If you’ll remember: Florence, Forli and Venice all had different color palates and architecture so that each location was a refreshing change of pace. Rome does not have this luxury. The city is huge and there’s some empty farmland around it, but overall most of it looks the same.
My other problem with the city, and possibly my biggest problem with the game, is the map. When you first enter Rome, you won’t have access to every district immediately. Some just aren’t available until later on in the story. The map indicates, with white dotted lines, where the current barriers of the playable area are. The thing is that everything on the map is white or light-grey. Not once did I actually see the white dotted line before I had looked at the map to find out why I was blocked off.
There are also the classic Assassin’s Creed smoky wall-things that serve as an in-game visual key that you’re at the edge of the playable area. The problem with these is that they don’t actually appear until you’re right on top of them. Several times while playing Brotherhood, I was heading out to a new tower to burn only to find the area inaccessible after I had already travelled out there.
That’s another thing about the map system: it marks objectives and locations in areas that are not yet available. To use the example above, the map notifies you where all the enemy towers that need to be burned are. Sadly, it even tells you where the ones that you can’t do yet are. This is why I often found myself running out of my way only to end up blocked off. The map should not be marking things for you that are inaccessible.
There are other problems with the map. For one thing, trying to tell the difference between shops you’ve bought and shops you haven’t bought is like trying to take an eye exam. That’s enough about it though, as there is one more aspect of single-player that needs to be discussed.
As the title implies, this game is all about brotherhood. At some point during the story you will unlock the ability to recruit assassins into your brotherhood and then manage them. Once you’ve acquired a few of these allies, you can play what is essentially a menu-based management game in which you send your assassins all over Europe to complete jobs. It’s a nice little addition to the game and while it doesn’t exactly feel like a fully fleshed-out feature, it’s a good distraction.
You can use these recruited assassins in-game as well. If you don’t feel like getting your hands dirty, all it takes is a tap of a button and the assassins will fly out of the sky at your command and take out whoever you want. It’s easily the best new feature in the game and it does a good job of making you feel like some powerful assassin leader.
The disappointing thing about the assassin recruits is that they never really come into play in the story. You get a cutscene where Ezio decides that he needs to recruit people and expand the brotherhood and then after that, nothing. I was fully expecting the team to become involved to some degree with the story during the last few missions, but they never really amount to anything.
Let’s move away from single player. One of the biggest surprises when Ubisoft announced this game was the addition of multiplayer. How could multiplayer work in an Assassin’s Creed game? Amazingly. The multiplayer in Brotherhood is one of the most unique, refreshing online experiences I’ve had in a long time.
The basic mode of multiplayer is called “wanted” and involves you and about seven other people. Each player picks a character model to play as and then the game populates the map with tons of those same models. You are then assigned a player to assassinate and told what he looks like, while another player is assigned to kill you. The gameplay pretty much boils down to whoever can do the best job looking like an AI character. You’ll walk around, sit on benches, whatever it takes to not get noticed by the person hunting you. At the same time, you’ll want to be equally blended while hunting your own target.
The result is a truly unique and simply fun experience that breeds paranoia while at the same time being much less stressful and frustrating than faster-paced online multiplayer games. Occasionally people will break the game by just running everywhere and it can hurt the experience, but for the most part everyone seems to enjoy playing it as intended. There are other modes, such as one where you play as a team against another team, but wanted is where you’ll be spending your hours.
All in all, I feel really conflicted on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Maybe it’s because the improvement between AC1 and AC2 was so huge and this one is not as impressive. I can say with certainty that AC2 is a better single-player story experience than Brotherhood. I’m not saying that’ll be the case for everyone, but it definitely was for me. Thankfully, Rome is still a blast to run around and cause havoc in, so that aspect of the game is intact. Really, though, I consider Brotherhood to be worth buying for the multiplayer alone. It features fifty levels of progression and unlocks to work through and that takes quite some time to do. In a multiplayer generation focused on capture the flag and deathmatch, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood offers something entirely different, refreshing, and just plain fun.