With Assassin’s Creed Syndicate just over the horizon, our look at the ways each Assassin’s Creed changed the series continues with Assassin’s Creed II. Switching its focus from the Third Crusade to the Italian Renaissance, Assassin’s Creed II introduced us to Ezio Auditore da Firenze – along with a whole host of other additions and shifts that would define the series for years to come. In the second installment of our video series, let’s take a look at expanded combat, cryptic puzzles and other innovations introduced by Ezio’s quest for revenge.
The first Assassin’s Creed was a beautiful, engrossing historical re-creation, but Assassin’s Creed II did it one better with the addition of a strong personal angle. Where Altair was silent and aloof, Ezio was a cocky teenager who loved his family – and after I’d gotten to know them, I had to try and rescue them, only to watch them all die at the hands of a few treacherous Templars. Ezio’s journey became my journey, and through him, I found ways to connect and relate to an era that, up to that point, had always seemed like a musty, art-obsessed half-step between the medieval world and the early modern one. Assassin’s Creed II brought it to life, and the illusion that I was experiencing history was enhanced by the Animus Database and its snarky encyclopedia entries, which filled in historical details for relevant people, places and events – thereby making the game informative while keeping the story free of any lumbering exposition.
It certainly didn’t hurt that there was so much more to do in Assassin’s Creed II. Intriguing side missions and dungeons filled with environmental puzzles were suddenly everywhere, and the map-revealing viewpoints that dotted the diverse Italian landscape offered a variety of climbing challenges that fit smoothly into the setting. Monteriggioni, with its dilapidated structures in desperate need of repair, gave me a side goal to work toward while the plot unfolded, as did the collectible feathers and treasure chests cleverly hidden around the game’s six maps. And the addition of more gadgets, weapons and stealth options meant more choices for tackling enemies, whether I decided to fight or simply avoid them.
Assassin’s Creed II was also a huge expansion of the series’ modern-day elements, and I don’t just mean Desmond’s story. The Glyph puzzles built up what was already a heady sense of sci-fi mystery, pulling back the veil to reveal a secret war between Templars and Assassins that had lasted eons, involved countless historical figures and built the Templars into a worldwide shadow government. It was irresistible, and the continual hunt for more secrets made hopping across Venetian waterways and neck-stabbing two dudes at once even more fun.
A big part of what made Assassin’s Creed II so special was the simple joy of exploration and discovery, and when that was paired with memorable architecture and relatable characters, the Renaissance simulation Ezio inhabited felt compellingly dynamic and real. Ezio’s first adventure remains special even today, although its first sequel, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, did even more to broaden and refine the AC formula. Be sure to join us next week, when we’ll dive into exactly how Ezio’s visit to Rome altered the series in the years that followed.
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