It’s easy to think of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood as Assassin’s Creed 2.5, but that’s not quite right. The follow-up to 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II adds more than it changes, true, and it looks and feels virtually identical to its badass, Renaissance-set predecessor. But more than an update, expansion or sequel, Brotherhood feels like the missing second half of ACII.
Big and lengthy enough to stand on its own, Brotherhood is more varied than ACII was, crammed full of cool ideas, gadgets and missions that simply wouldn’t have fit in the last game. It introduces factions, recruitable followers, Leonardo da Vinci-designed war machines, conquerable territory and a ton of optional quests that provide some of the game’s most interesting content. And for an adventure set mainly in a single city (as opposed to ACII’s numerous, sprawling towns), it’s surprisingly huge. Just don’t expect a whole lot of character development or earth-shattering revelations this time around.
To put it another way, if ACII could be summed up like this:
Then Brotherhood is a bit more like this:
Above: That dapper fellow in the painting is Cesare Borgia, Brotherhood’s central villain. And the tent-looking thing is a tank
If you haven’t yet finished Assassin’s Creed II, and have somehow managed to avoid spoilers up to this point, stop reading this now and skip ahead to the next section. In fact, you may want to finish ACII before you even consider starting Brotherhood, because the story picks up exactly where ACII’s left off – which is to say inside a secret, prehistoric vault deep beneath the Vatican.
Above: ZOMG SPOILERS!
From there, it follows the continuing story of Ezio Auditore, the Italian nobleman-turned-killer who we previously took from wet-behind-the-ears kid to grizzled master Assassin. After beating up the incredibly corrupt Pope and receiving an apocalyptic warning from a long-dead precursor civilization (directed, weirdly enough, at his modern-day descendant Desmond Miles), Ezio figures his war is over. With the mind-controlling Apple of Eden in hand, he makes a triumphant return to Monteriggioni, the little fortress town players built up from a relative ruin in ACII.
Of course, it’s not going to last. After a brief interlude that re-introduces most of Ezio’s allies, Monteriggioni falls under a massive siege led by the Pope’s son, Cesare Borgia. With his town shattered by cannon fire and the Apple stolen again, a wounded Ezio sets off for the Borgia seat of power – Rome – to exact revenge.
Above: This stuff with the cannons only really happens once in the entire game, in case you were wondering
If you’ve played ACII, Brotherhood will feel instantly familiar. As before, you’ll spend most of the game climbing huge, medieval buildings, free-running across rooftops and slaughtering roving packs of guards as you chase down the game’s story missions. You’ll also spend a lot of time riding horses, which is especially fun now that they can be ridden within city limits and summoned with a whistle (just like in Red Dead Redemption, yes).
You still fight by being surrounded by enemies, who then attack one at a time, although there are a few significant additions to the ebb and flow of combat this time around (more on those in a bit). And you’ll still need to reveal the map piece by piece, by climbing up to high “viewpoints” and then synching with the eagles, or whatever it is Ezio does while he’s up there.
Above: You also stab dudes in the face a lot
So what’s new? For starters, there’s the game’s vision of Renaissance Rome, a sprawling metropolis that’s equal parts dense city streets and rural, ruin-filled countryside. Each of its three primary districts feels about as big as one of ACII’s cities, and they’re all filled with accurate-looking recreations of famous Roman ruins and historical sites, like the glittering Pantheon and the massive, crumbling Colosseum. Climbing around on these and discovering their secrets is fun, but what’s perhaps more interesting is that you can actually buy them.
See, Ezio’s out to do more than just assassinate his way to the Borgia clan’s leaders; to truly crush them, he needs to erode their power over Rome’s citizens. This is accomplished by locating one of the 12 Borgia towers, and then killing its attendant captain before climbing the thing and setting it ablaze. Once the tower’s burned, the area around it opens for business, enabling you to buy up the shuttered shops, stables, banks, fast-travel portals and ruins, and reopen them to the public (with a cut of the profits, of course). It’s a bit like rebuilding Monteriggioni in ACII, except on a citywide scale, and it can get surprisingly addictive.
Above: It's enormous, and it can be yours. On paper, anyway...
If commerce isn’t your thing, take heart: like so much else in Brotherhood, it’s largely optional. While Brotherhood’s central story missions are engaging enough (if a little heavy on stealth, escort and oh-so-tedious tailing jobs), its structure is a little unusual, in that its relatively short central story is propped up by a slew of optional tasks, some of which come with their own storylines, and a few of which actually contain some of the game’s best moments.