Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Years

Christmas came and went and I didn't get a chance to post anything here.  I hope you all had a Merry Christmas.  We did at our house.  Lots of good food and family came to share in the festivities.  The week between Christmas and New Years has flown by.  During that time, I've done little but become completely sucked into Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 2.

The game starts out exactly from the moment of the end of Assissin's Creed 1 and after a short re-introduction into the story and the concept of the Animus you find yourself playing in the 1400s as Ezio Auditore.  Playing as Ezio, you don't start off immediately as a full on Assassin which is a nice touch for new players to the series, you slowly become introduced into game play mechanics and the Auditore family story.  The story is what really drew me into the game, tying my actions in with historical events.  In the beginning Ezio is a young playboy chasing women and running errands for his father, but events that he unintentionally perpetuates, tragedy forces Ezio to become an assassin.

Once Ezio takes on the role of the assassin, game play really kicks.  Jumping across rooftops allows you to navigate throughout the city without having to worry about bumping into everyone as you race from one area to the next.  A pretty cool concept to the game is the encouragement of climbing up and running across the rooftops by lifting the "fog of war" on the in-game map when you climb particularly tall viewpoints.  The vistas are dizzying and gratifying as you climb to explore and unlock new areas of the map.  Each city has a wealth of vendors to buy items from including tailors, art dealers, blacksmiths and doctors. 

As the story unfolds you become the head of a family villa that can increase its status and wealth by purchasing upgrades to same types of vendors mentioned above.  The advantage to upgrading the vendors in your own villa give you a discount when buying wares from them.  The disadvantage to upgrading said vendors is that you have to travel back to your villa to make the purchases.  Fortunately there are fast travel locations in each of the major cities but the load times to go from one city to the other almost makes it not worthwhile.  In the end, if you do invest in your villa you can reap the benefits by collecting funds from the improvements, which toward the end of the game have earned so much that it doesn't matter what vendor you spend money at because there is always a steady income at your disposal.

At the art vendor you have the option to buy treasure maps which then display all of the little hidden chests of money scattered throughout all of the cities.  I spent a fair amount of time collecting all of the treasures from the city of Florence  initially to earn more money for upgrades on medicine pouches but as the story progressed and I had the Villa's income at my disposal I have not been nearly as OCD about picking up every treasure (yet).

The game offers more than just treasures littered through each city for collection hounds such as myself.  There are also several key historical buildings that have hidden glyphs on them.  Switching to the assassin's "Eagle Vision" (which allows you to see all enemies in red, assisting factions--courtesans, thieves, and mercenaries--in blue) you can detect the glyphs.  The glyphs were hidden through the game by another subject of the Animus and help to flesh out the larger story beyond the direct Italian renaissance tale in AC2.  Once the glyphs are found they need to be unlocked.  The puzzles associated with each glyph varies from spotting hidden objects in photos or artwork, to unscrambling art to deciphering codes.  These glyph puzzles were some of my favorite moments within the game and the final payout was definitely worth the trouble to locate them all.

Another "collectible" within the world are 6 seals that unlock Altair's armor from the first game.  These seals are hidden within tombs from other Assassins.  Getting through these tombs however proved to be more than my meager game skills could handle.  I'm not sure if I'm just not cut out to race through certain obstacles under a time limit or if the game engine is out to frustrate me, but I could not complete 2 of the 6 tombs.  Camera controls within these tombs are intentionally locked and caused me to jump at the wrong angle more times that I want to share.  It's a shame too because the unlocking of the armor feels like it would be almost a necessity to really make Ezio a whole assassin, but for now I leave him gimped.

A final "collectible" within the game are Eagle feathers that are strewn across the rooftops and walkways in each city.  Not essential to the completion of the story, the reason for collecting them certainly will have a pay off in the end (and I don't just mean 2 additional trophies) but I don't want to spoil the story.

Overall I really have enjoyed what the game has to offer.  Combat at times is a bit wonky when there are more than 4 guards attacking and utilizing some of the special moves can be frustrating as well.  Jumping through some of the racing obstacles is also a bone of contention for me.  There are so many things to do within the game however that if you get stuck or frustrated with one thing there are "mail carrier" side quests and "beat up the dead beat husband" side quests that you can go off and do something else for a while before attempting to continue with any one particular area.

After playing through part of Assassin's Creed 1 and not finishing it, I would say that Ubisoft has definitely gotten things either fixed or finished as intended this time around.  Assassin's Creed 2 has a satisfying ending that still leaves it wide open for future stories.  This is definitely a mature game worth playing that fortunately doesn't make it so impossible that even a mature non-gamer couldn't get into and enjoy.  I may continue to collect items for the near future or I may finally start Dragon Age: Origins.

More later folks and good gaming!

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