Throughout the course of the game, you’re subtly offered countless alternatives to fighting. You can slip into crowds to remain invisible to guards (no waiting for groups of scholars this time), or hire some prostitutes or thieves to distract them. You can climb past guards, yank them off ledges, use smoke bombs to escape from them, sneak around and hope they don’t notice you, or surreptitiously poison one of them and let his agonized staggering distract the others. You can even stab and conceal them from the safety of a bale of hay, or leap down from a high ledge and air-stab them before they can see you.
But here’s the thing: while all that stuff is fun, and adds a lot to the game, none of it is really necessary. Because however intimidating the new enemy types are, however tough they might be, fighting in Assassin’s Creed II is easy. Or at least, it is once you know what you’re doing.
Above: Seriously, you can take these guys on bare-handed and win
Above: The big, armored Brutes, though… they’re a little harder
Basic combat is still more or less the same as it was in the first game; enemies gather around you in a circle, trying to outflank you and waiting for their moment to strike. The difference this time around is that it’s possible to simply whale on them with the attack button, which will usually whittle down their health even if they’re blocking. To make combat really interesting, though, you’ll need to learn how to counter your enemies’ strikes by holding down the block button and hitting “attack” at exactly the right second. Pull it off, and you can execute some exceptionally bloody finishers that can end a fight instantly.
You’ll have plenty of other options, too, especially once you’ve collected all of Ezio’s various skills and upgrades. For starters, there’s unarmed fighting, which is an excellent option for pacifistic types who want to leave enemy guards alive, throw sand in their faces or, later on, simply take away their weapons with a well-timed counter.
Above: And then use them to murder their owners, if you want
Thanks to upgrade instructions left behind by Altair and implemented by Ezio’s friend Leonardo da Vinci (here still a young genius), Ezio will not only eventually be able to use two hidden blades to assassinate unsuspecting victims, but he’ll be able to wield them in combat, too. They’re not quite as effective as a sword – or a mace, or a hammer, or a dagger – but in a pinch, they’re a lot more lethal than your bare hands.
Alternately, you can simply blow your enemies away at close range, once you’ve earned the hidden- pistol upgrade (although it takes a second to aim). And if things start to go really badly, you can prolong your life by taking a quick hit of medicine, which cures instantly and can be carried around in an upgradeable pouch.
Above: The catch is that you have to talk to these guys and their creepy plague masks to get it
The key thing is that you’ve got a lot of interesting ways of getting out of any given scrape, and they’re all fun to play around with. Having Ezio’s gadgets, speed and near-superhuman acrobatic skills at your disposal – combined with the out-for-justice narrative and the way people talk about Ezio as his notoriety slowly grows – makes the game feel a little like being a medieval Batman, only with a better sense of humor and no disdain for murder. And that’s a pretty big step up from just another faceless assassin.
Above: You’ve even got Detective Vi- er, Eagle Vision, which is much improved from the first game and invaluable for finding hidden stuff