Assassin's Creed II takes you back to the future only to once again throw you into the past.
For this sequel you play as Ezio during the Renaissance in Venice, Italy. Yesterday, I was shown a quick demo with a short hands-on time by Patrice Desilets (Creative Director) and so far I am still a bit on the fence for this one. First, let me make clear that from what I played it is obvious that Ubisoft Montreal have once again crafted a beautiful and fully explorable world for you to run around in, and all the things that made the first game as ground breaking as it was are still there.
The only reason I remain on the fence is that I am still not sure if the game will be less repetitive than the last one. To be fair, there is no way for me to really know this without getting a few good hours with the game as opposed to the fifteen or so minutes I had.
What I did have, however, was fun and reminded me of the amazing potential a game like Assassin's Creed has. Moving around the environment is just as easy as before, and now as swimming is an option you no longer have to fear the water. Another thing the developers have spent some time on is the pursuit mechanism. Patrice admitted that in the first game the chases could go on a bit too long, and so they have made it easier to escape from your pursuers and it should now take only thirty seconds each time to get guards to stop chasing you if you want.
The hidden blades are also far more useful this time around. In the first game the blade was mainly used for the main assassination and the odd sneak kill. Now you will use the blade far more often for regular combat, and it looks damn cool! Once again, the combat animations are something truly special and make watching combat an absolute joy.
Also new to the series is an economy system. You can now earn money for some missions (which will give more of a meaning to side quests) or steal it from people you walk by and use this money to buy things such as better gear, health, poison, smoke bombs or even the services of other characters. Let's say you had a bunch of guards you want to get past. Instead of attacking them, it might be easier to pay some thieves or courtesans to go start some trouble (or flirt) with them so you may get past while they are distracted. This adds another layer of depth for the player and gives you more options now of how to handle your various assassinations.
Probably the most exciting change they have made is to the mission structure. The biggest problem with the last game was that it had a rinse and repeat mission structure that became extremely boring. For the sequel, the mission structure is completely narrative based. Therefore you will no longer sit on a bench listening to a conversation because, well, you have to. Now there will always be a narrative reason for everything you need to do in the game. This should, hopefully, go a long way to make the game feel less repetitive and flow much better.
As I said right at the start, there is no way to know if the mistakes from the first title are really fixed until we sit down with the final game for the long stretch. Luckily that is only about a month or so away, which isn't too much longer to wait and I am looking forward to finding out. We're sure to get more hands-on time prior to the launch too, however in the meantime I managed to ask Patrice a few quick questions before having to rush for my taxi back to the airport;
GP: What are some of the main emotions you want the player to experience and how are going about causing that?
Patrice: So it's more than one emotion but it's basically about giving the real fantasy of being a real assassin. So making it easy to assassinate and being really this - not master assassin at first - but we'll take you and by the end you will become that guy. But there is vengeance also which is part of it. It is a vengeance story but really, the real thing is to change to emotion throughout the experience so that there's not only one, but you will have multiple emotions.
GP: What are some of the potential places you would like to see other Assassin's Creed games take place?
Patrice: Oh, that I don't know yet, first, and then I can't tell if I knew anyway, because those my little secrets (laughs), but nice try!
GP: Fair enough! So are there any plans for multiplayer in an Assassin's Creed game?
Patrice: Well eventually we will, you know, come up in this century and be able to do a multiplayer game I guess. But, we like, and I like, the single-player experience also, so you never know.
GP: How hard is it to come up with new ideas? Do you find you use more old ideas you didn't have time to implement into the first game, or are they all completely fresh ones?
Patrice: It's a mix of them all. There are some - like the economic system was something we wanted to have in the first game but the faction system is something new we had for this one. And it depends also on where you go and where you do your game. If you have, for example, a character like Leonardo De Vinci you can let yourself have a flying machine in a historical game. If you don't have that character you can't have this idea, so it depends on those factors. It's not that difficult, you just have to let yourself go.
GP: The end of the last game got quite fantasy based, how much of that is going to be in the sequel?
Patrice: I'm not spoiling the end of the game (laughs), it's part of the franchise. It is really part of what an Assassin's Creed game is, so you will see.
GP: Ok great, thanks for your time!
Our thanks to Ubisoft NZ and Australia for the hands-on time and the opportunity to speak with Patrice Desilets.