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Why Assassin's Creed II is one of the greatest games ever made

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Some game sequels are content to polish and improve the established core concepts of their predecessors. Some, however, go the extra mile and straight up embarrass the games that came before them. Such was the case of Assassin's Creed II, which took the erratic pacing and repetition of the original and stabbed them both in the throat. Hard. 

The end result was beautiful, ultimately landing AC2 a spot on our list of 100 best games ever made. It took simulated stalking, breathtaking scaling, and parkour stunting to all new heights. Most notably, it did so while introducing the charismatic Ezio Auditore (one of our top video game heroes of all time) and wrapping the whole experience around an expertly paced narrative that melded sci-fi fiction with a deeply personal tale of justice and revenge.

 

But that tale had an innocent beginning, especially considering our first introduction to Ezio occurred in one of the strangest tutorials ever conceived. Here, he--newly birthed and quite  gooey--kicked his arms and legs at the command of his father like some sort of baby genius; and thus the Italian Assassin thrust the blade of affection into our hearts where it has remained anchored ever since.

The opening of the game is fantastic in its pacing and lighthearted nature, weaving between Desmond's present-day plight and Ezio's women-wooing, street-brawling ways. It doesn't rush headlong into a never-ending murder spree, nor does it drag to the point of putting players to sleep. In fact, the first hour or so familiarizes you with Desmond's situation and lets you get to know Ezio--a brilliant (albeit risky) move on part of the developers. Spending so much time with Ezio in his formative years ultimately created a strong attachment to the character, though disaster could have ensued had those interactions been too boring or pointless. Thankfully, they weren't.

We'll never forget that foreshadowing exchange between Ezio and his older brother, Federico, after the two completed a rooftop race: "It is a good life we lead, brother," Federico says, to which Ezio replies "The best. May it never change." A heart-wrenching audio track quiets in the background as the two share their appreciations. "And may it never change us," Frederico responds. Then stuff got dark

Watching the events that spurred Ezio's maturation from a cocky teenager into one of the best assassin's the Order had ever seen was like watching a good friend fall on hard times. We sympathized during his moments of anger and helplessness, and we did what we could to help him come out on top. The journey was all the more rewarding for it. It was also full of satisfying revenge: Taking out Templars had never been more fun, as AC2 pumped some life into a combat system that had previously relied solely on counter-attacks.

Sure, most engagements could still be completed by counter-attacking, but the sheer number of weapons--each with a slew of unique assassination animations--kept them from feeling too stale. The introduction of the disarming ability allowed for alternative tactics in battle, and a huge arsenal of tools meant you'd be hard-pressed to find much in the way of repetition. The same held true for the crazy variations in mission structure. In one, you'd be tasked with stealth killing a target during a street festival; in another, you'd team up with the affable Leonardo da Vinci and use his flying machine to infiltrate a heavily guarded building.

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38 comments

  • BllTap - December 29, 2013 8:19 p.m.

    This game was very good in my opinion totally better then 3 and better then revelations I think it could have been better on the storyline because of how fast the finding of your enemies was and how no one important died like in star wars important people in the world died So he didn't care about losing anyone else close to him he put all his faith in thieves brotherhood might have been slower and worse of a game but at least it actually brought out emotions that we never saw before plus the ending in 2 was horrifying and a waste of hard work and time. It could have been better but it is still my favorite game beside halo reach and minecraft.
  • mikeylawson - March 17, 2013 11:24 a.m.

    If we're talking about a game that embarrassed its predecessor, look no further than Just Cause 2. That definitely deserves a 'Why JC2 is one of the best games' article.
  • Moristhecat - March 16, 2013 12:57 p.m.

    I strongly disagree. The story line was shallow and unrealistic and seemed very rushed. And to everyone saying "Assassin's Creed II was a huge improvement to the first game" and "It's superior by far" I do not understand what you're saying. Assassin's Creed I was revolutionary and simple. Its controls were firm and solid, all of your weapons could be selected without a weapon wheel, the characters stayed true to the status quo that was set at that era, and had superior, beautiful graphics. Ezio's emotional struggle was also a big failure. It felt fractured and artificial, like half the time he didn't care and other times he'd break out in a killing fit. Sure, AC2's movement and climbing were smoother, but they were also very boring. Calling Assassin's Creed II the best game ever made is an insult to videogames overall. I wouldn't even say the first one (which I love with all of my tenacity) was the best of all time, although it was definitely up there in 2nd or 3rd place. But I guess every once in a while there's that majority opinion that you disagree with and you just have to deal with it. :/
  • BladedFalcon - March 16, 2013 9:30 p.m.

    "But I guess every once in a while there's that majority opinion that you disagree with and you just have to deal with it. :/" Perhaps you should take that as a hint that maybe, just maybe, you might be in the wrong. Specially if you seriously think the first game is better looking, in which case, you probably need to go to the oculist.
  • sephex - March 17, 2013 4:27 a.m.

    No one called it the "best game ever made".
  • GamerTom27 - November 22, 2012 8:12 a.m.

    I'm going to say this and leave before I get destroyed........... I don't really like Assassin's Creed.
  • jotham - October 31, 2012 8:18 p.m.

    Too bad the PC port is an unplayable abomination.
  • Silentkit - October 25, 2012 9:21 p.m.

    I have no idea why people like this game. I found any "stealth" and blending aspects to be too simplistic and shallow, the battles and overall gameplay was just way too easy, and the game progression was imbalanced because it was too easy to amass huge amounts of money for weapons/armor that never really made a difference. The graphics, huge open world, and lore of the series are pretty great, but don't count for much with such shallow gameplay at it's core.
  • FlamingSkull777 - October 25, 2012 1:42 p.m.

    I love Assassin's Creed 2 so much. But for some reason I thought that nobody else recognized it as much as I did. It's cool to see most gamers see it as the masterpiece it is.
  • winner2 - October 25, 2012 6:58 a.m.

    Definitely one of my favorite games of all time. Only problem is that it set me up with huge expectations for AC, and brotherhood and revelations sucked immeasurably compared to it. I've got high hopes for 3 knowing that it's another true installment that's been in the works for a good few years.
  • Darkhawk - October 25, 2012 6:25 a.m.

    Definitely agree with this. For me the best thing in ACII was exploring Italy, in large part because so little has changed. It was wonderful to hop jump and climb around all these landmarks that I've actually visited. That's actually been my objection to all subsequent entries in the series: setting it in uninteresting locations (including, IMHO, a United States that does not look the same today). Still ACII is a classic!
  • reincarnator - October 25, 2012 5:30 a.m.

    It's a good game, but far from being among the best. I WOULD say it is one of the best sequels to a game however. It improves on pretty much everything bad about the first game. However, many of those improvements fell apart a bit in the last 3rd of the game. Also, the combat was flawed, and the only thing not massively improved from the first game. It was still far too easy. If I'm playing an assassin, I shouldn't be able to take on an army and win. I shouldn't be able to win the game just by spamming counter attacks.
  • Moristhecat - March 16, 2013 1 p.m.

    I agree 100%. At least Altair was smart enough to take on small groups because he was only human, not an impossible legend who's better than everyone else like AC2 made Ezio seem.
  • crazor89 - October 25, 2012 3:14 a.m.

    I came late to the series and actually enjoyed the first game but ACII was a big improvement. I'm currently replaying it and its still great fun.
  • SDHoneymonster - October 24, 2012 4:21 p.m.

    I've actually never gotten round to playing it as I thought the first game was an unforgivable steaming pile of turd, but I keep getting shouted at by most of my friends for not having done so. I'll pick it up if I find it cheap.
  • BladedFalcon - October 24, 2012 5:04 p.m.

    Well, if the main reason for not wanting to play the second one was the bad taste the first left on your mouth, then you have a valid reason to be wary. That being said, I am also someone who didn't like the first game very much, I thought the gameplay had some unique and interesting ideas, same as the story, but the overall execution and level design was atrocious. Still, giving ACII a chance despite that didn't disappoint. It really IS true that most of the problems the first game had were greatly solved by the second one, and it really is a game worth playing.
  • Moristhecat - March 16, 2013 1:02 p.m.

    Which problems were solved? The first one seemed well-rounded to me, at least compared to the 2nd, which was unbalanced.
  • BladedFalcon - March 16, 2013 9:28 p.m.

    If by well rounded, you mean having a supremely repetitive and boring Mission scheme in which you have to do the same boring errands over and over, and having a combat system which boiled down to spamming the counter-attack button again and again, then yeah, it's definitely more "well rounded".
  • chriszewski - October 24, 2012 5:06 p.m.

    I'm hard pressed to think of another sequel that improved so much over the first entry. AC1 was hardly a turd, but AC2 is so good, it sure made it look and smell like one...
  • yonderTheGreat - October 24, 2012 8:44 p.m.

    I absolutely loved the first game *UNTIL* that moment of "wait... this is it"? I still finished and enjoyed the game, and I'm glad I did because of the AC2 games. I had friends who started w/ AC2 and that made AC1 even more painful. But they're still glad they played those games.

Showing 1-20 of 38 comments

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