Friday, March 5, 2010

Assassin's Creed 2 - Closing Thoughts

So in Rachel's last post, she spilled the beans - we finished the game last weekend. The ending came abruptly, to say the least. There were some major reveals, but a ton of loose ends were still out there, questions left unanswered, and suddenly the credits were rolling.

I won't reproduce her post here, but definitely check it out if you want to know how we felt about the end (my feelings mirror hers, but with fewer expletives). Instead, I'll close this series on my end by talking about how this series has progressed between AC1 and AC2.

So much of our perception of a sequel is directly tied to the quality of the original. For example, I've heard a lot of lukewarm comments about the newly released Bioshock 2. A lot of people seem to think that while it's a high quality game, it's also JUST a game, while the original was more of an "experience". It strikes me how difficult it must be to even make a follow-up to a game like Bioshock. It had some great gameplay innovations, one of the most immersive environments I've ever seen, and an absorbing story with a strong philosophical undercurrent. How do you match that experience, let alone surpass it? Bioshock wasn't could fix some of the gameplay issues here and there. But that's not really enough to justify a sequel. And the story wasn't really begging for additional material, either. Maybe that's why Bioware can make a successful game like KOTOR or Jade Empire and then walk away (KOTOR 2 was made by a different developer)...they realize that those stories have been told and it's better to leave them that way.

In contrast, the original Assassin's Creed was an annoying game with deeply flawed structure that sucked all the fun out of the experience. But it also had some good ideas and technical innovations that laid the groundwork for a better game in the future. The question with AC2 is, how much of that promise did they realize? And I think it's fair to say that while some of the annoyances remained intact in AC2, this game is a much stronger effort than the first one. Thus we come to a somewhat counter intuitive conclusion: it might be possible that it's better to make a sequel of a game that I hated (but that had some promise) than a game I loved (but had realized most of the potential it could have ever had).

Why is AC2 a better game than AC1? It has better mission structure. No more traipsing down from the mountain tops at the beginning of every mission. The tasks to be completed are more varied. There are better set pieces to break up the more ordinary missions. No more sword fights with a hundred guards after every assassination. A lot of the petty annoyances have been eliminated, like guards who start chasing you for no reason (though the minstrels fill in where the beggars left off in the original). You get a wider variety of weapons and skills. There are little trappings, like improving the villa and hunting down glyphs, that will entertain some and be ignored by others (the perfect format for side quests). Ezio is just a better character than Altair, because more time was spent thinking about who he is and what his motivations are.

There are other reasons too, but you get the idea. AC2 is a better game than AC1. But it's not perfect...indeed it still has glaring flaws. The plot is too scattershot. The villains are not well characterized, so it's difficult to get invested in foiling their plans. Too many of the assassinations still boil down to chasing after a target through the streets of the city and pouncing on his back from behind (not very assassin-like). Tons of plot threads come and go with no resolution.

But as crazy as it sounds, I'm kind of looking forward to AC3. Yes, even though the ending was terrible. And even after all my (and Rachel's) complaints. Because the foundation for a great game is still there, and Ubisoft took a big leap from AC1 to AC2. If they can do the same for AC3, particularly by focusing the story and defining the characters (on both sides of the battle) in a way that gets the player invested, I think they have a chance to produce something really memorable.

That's it for me on AC2 (at least, until it's time for WAA), but keep an eye on Rachel's blog for her final post on the game.

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