31
Jan
10

Design By The Creed, Part 1

Vai, amico, libero da fardelli e paure.

It’s commonplace for a game sequel to improve upon the original through various methods. The obvious ones are being bigger or adding more. Those developers with a more philosophical bent will add explosive action because, in gaming, anything explosive is a sure-fire moneymaker. Sometimes people with no understanding of the concept of cliche will add a darker, more intense story… That’s always a good move.

Increasingly, though, the developer will actually look at the criticism of the previous game and take steps to significantly change the experience for the better. It’s a move that should be celebrated and, in recognition of this, I’m going to look at some of the changes Assassin’s Creed II has made that fundamentally improve the experience.

Mission Structure

I’ll start with the major one. The first Assassin’s Creed tasked you with killing nine people, each in a different district across three cities. First, though, you had to find your target. This process involved completing a minimum of three out of a possible six information gathering missions. This introduced a whole host of problems. The most important of these was that there were only a handful of mission types (usually interrogate, pickpocket or eavesdrop) so, by the time you were looking for your third or fourth target, you were becoming bored of the whole thing. The other issue was that the bare-bones nature of the set-up to each assassination meant you only ever met a few recurring characters, the defining trait of any of which was the extent to which they disliked you (ranging from ‘sarcastic pleasentries’ to ‘all out foaming at the mouth’).

The sequel presents its main story as a sequence of linear missions. At first this may sound like a step backwards, bringing the game in line with the majority of open-world games out there. In practice it, somewhat ironically, unburdens the game of its rigidity. Major assassinations now feel like a progression of events that naturally lead to Ezio being within reach of killing his next victim. It makes each assassination feel unique instead of formulaic. It also makes Ezio a much more social creature than Altair, with many of the missions involving enlisting the help of others.

Narrative Structure

I’ve already covered most of this in the last section but specific mention should go to the way the game handles the slightly bizarre disconnect between the series’ two timelines. I’m assuming a level of familiarity with the plot of the two games but, for those unaware, they essentially cast the player in the role of a guy in the present experiencing the genetic memories of his ancestors through a big machine. In the first game this manifested in the player being taken out of game-proper just as you were getting into the swing of things and dumped back into the present day to listen to a big diatribe from your corporate captor (yes, the game features an evil corporation. Quelle surprise) and go to bed.

The sequel keeps you in Italy for most of the game, only pulling you out two or three times over the course. It’s actually infrequent enough that you start to warm to the moments you do spend outside of the Animus, becoming a welcome break from the main setting rather than an annoying distraction. Unfortunately these brief narrative segments are still no-way near compelling enough to justify themselves. Still, you do get to do more than just have a lie down.

Assassinations

The biggest problem I had with the first game: you couldn’t assassinate people. No matter how stealthily you made your way to the targets, dispatching guards before they knew you were there and avoiding archers in the distance from spotting you, the final confrontation was always a standard fight, followed by guards chasing you through the city. The infuriating thing was that I remember engineering situations where, by any normal application of logic, I should have been able to kill my target without ever being noticed. I even once stood on a roof overlooking my victim and tried to leap onto him while stabbing him with my hidden blade. Instead Altair jumped off of the roof, fumbled around a bit and then engaged in a standard sword fight. It struck me as a glaring omission.

The sequel allows you to leap onto your target while stabbing him with your hidden blade. You can assassinate while hanging from ledges and even when hidden in hay bales. There are more assassinations to perform, both in the main mission and in side quests, and most of them allow for a silent kill. Mess it up and you’re back to a series of fights to kill your target but, with the increased number of missions, messing one up feels less like a wasted opportunity as it does a motivation to learn from your mistakes and be more careful next time.

Collectible Motivation

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of collectibles in open world games. Often they’re a lazy excuse to encourage the player to explore the world, with little or no incentive to do so. The first Assassin’s Creed was one of the worst examples of this, littering flags all over the three cities but offering no rewards for seeking them out. For the sequel there are actually more types of things to collect but, importantly, every single one not only offers rewards but actually ties these collectibles to an element of the story. Codex pages not only unlock weapon upgrades and health bonuses but take the form of journal entries from Altair, detailing events after the first game. Glyphs are encryptions left by a previous Abstergo test subject and, upon the completion of a ‘decryption’ puzzle, unlock a segment of a video enticingly called ‘The Truth’. In actual fact the video is pretty terrible, guilty of the series’ worse tendencies toward sci-fi indulgence but, conversely, the puzzles themselves are generally compelling, each one revealing some of the Templar’s machinations throughout history. Even the feathers, the game’s direct replacement of flags, are collected in an attempt to help your mother recover from her period of mourning over the loss of her youngest son. It’s good motivation to actually go looking for them even though it was somewhat hilarious that by the time I’d collected the last one Ezio’s mother hadn’t spoken a word in over 10 years.

Character

To be perfectly honest Altair was a bit of a dick. Ultimately he was vindicated, coming to learn to uphold the tenants of the Assassins of his own volition. Towards the end of the game he was continuing with his mission not out of blind faith to the brotherhood but because the price of allowing the Templars to achieve their goals was simply too great. Boy did it take a long time to get to that point though. For a long while it’s all too easy to identify with the procession of fellow assassins who disliked him, because his main character trait seemed to be misplaced arrogance.

Ezio is much more likable character, and more human in his motivations. The ‘avenge the death of your family’ plot might not be original but it works well. One great touch is that each assassination ends with Ezio uttering “requiescat in pace” (rest in peace). It shows a sympathy for the target and, more importantly, a tinge of sadness at the necessity of Ezio’s work. It gives the character a core of humanity that was largely absent from Altair’s portrayal, and makes him a much more relatable lead.

All this isn’t to say that the game is perfect. In the next part I’ll be looking at some of the decisions that don’t quite work, and which elements could use tweaking in order to enhance the experience.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Design By The Creed, Part 1”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: