Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has come a long way in its three years. While the first game was a tremendous commercial success for developer and publisher Ubisoft, it met with a mixed critical reception and it wasn’t until the second main instalment two years later that the series really hit its stride and fulfilled the tremendous potential the first instalment had only ever hinted at. But with just a year between the release of Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, does this latest iteration continue to move the series forward or should the comparatively quick turnaround be cause for concern?
Brotherhood begins at the close of ACII, with Ezio now in possession of the mysterious and powerful Apple of Eden, having received a message from the deity Minerva that there is a coming catastrophe and the Assassins – specifically Desmond – must try to avert events to come. The overriding plot still doesn’t make a great deal of sense and the attempts at making characters ‘quirky’ more often than not turn out to be annoying. Luckily very little time needs to be spent with Desmond and his cohorts outside of the Animus, as the much more charismatic Ezio and his assassin allies again take centre stage.
After a surprise attack on Monteriggioni by the antagonistic Borgia army, Ezio and his family relocate to Rome to undermine and subjugate his enemies’ home territory. In doing so, several new features are added, including the ability to wrest control of and regenerate city districts and recruit new assassins to join Ezio’s fight against the corrupt papal regime. Through these new features Brotherhood gains an extra layer of depth and in particular having Assassin allies helps flesh the premise out and makes it feel like Ezio is no longer acting alone.
Relocating to Rome as a sole location is both a benefit and a hindrance for Brotherhood – it’s larger and has more content than any of the series’ previous locations, but initially portions of the city are blocked off with irritating ‘cannot access area yet’ messages and impassable walls, and it still feels like the Animus is being used as a cheap means to gradually open up the city. What this also means though is that there’s no sense of journey like that which Ezio undertook in ACII and no variety between locations; i.e. the stark contrast of postage stamp-sized Tuscany with its surrounding farmland against the vast stretches of architecture and ocean of Venice.
This time around, Pope Rodrigo Borgia takes a step back from being the main villain and his son Cesare takes up the mantle. Famous faces from Italian and international history such as da Vinci, Machiavelli and Copernicus also pop up throughout the game, while Ezio’s family and allies take more of a principal role managing facets of Ezio’s assassin organisation; including their ties with the Mercenary, Thief and Courtesan guilds in the city who help Ezio out or are available for hire respectively.
Most of the game is geared towards taking out enemy strongholds dotted around Rome, with the surrounding areas becoming available for regeneration once freed from Borgia control. Similar to regenerating Monterrigioni in ACII, Ezio can become patron of ruined shops and for rejuvenating them receives a small portion of the profits thereon. He can also buy various buildings and attractions for similar profit return, and even though some are extortionate purchases, there’s a certain sense of exuberant pride in owning the Colosseum or Pantheon.
This time Ezio has a few new tricks up his sleeves, including parachutes, a crossbow (good for silent ranged assassinations – if a little overpowered), calling his Assassin proteges to attack a target and even a few vehicle and turret sections. Assassin recruits can be summoned and sent after targets which adds an interesting dynamic to combat and means reinforcements are never more than a button press away. However, the recruits can die, which means someone else needs to be hired in their stead and trained up again. The recruits can be sent on missions during which they are unavailable, but upon completion their equipment can be upgraded and they gain some experience points, eventually becoming full-fledged Assassins themselves. This aspect adds a layer of depth and companionship that previous Assassin’s Creeds arguably lacked, and having a team of crack Assassins at your beck and call is hugely satisfying and enjoyable.
The series’ popular free-running aspect returns, and with it the divisive not-fully-in-control feeling it sometimes brings. When it works – which is the vast majority of the time – it’s a fantastic rush, with Ezio quickly mounting buildings or sprinting and leaping over rooftops in a manner that would impress even Spider-Man. Yet, there are still those odd occasions where he’ll jump in an unwanted direction, or get stuck when there’s a perfectly suitable ledge to his side which sours the experience and makes you wish you had a little more actual control over Ezio. Trying to walk through crowds, however, is incredibly frustrating, as Ezio pickpockets when in walk mode, and if the citizens notice then they’ll chase you and fight you. Considering you only need to walk when being discreet, and the whole exercise is a little self-defeating. Brotherhood works brilliantly as an action game, but its controls aren’t quite precise enough to succeed as anything more than a passable stealth game.
There’s never a shortage of things to be done in Rome, whether it be seeking out treasure, removing propaganda flags, repairing the neglected aqueduct or attempting the numerous side missions. The map is utterly crammed with things to do, and there are always distractions nearby. This feeling of a convincing environment is further helped by the sheer number of pedestrians and their realistic animations, and the way characters react to Ezio and one another. There is certainly as much content here as there was in ACII, and most of it feels in context with the game world and narrative.
Furthermore, Brotherhood is the series’ first instalment to feature online multiplayer. Here players take on the role of an Abstergo (i.e. Templar) employee in a version of the Animus training to combat the Assassins. Games feature eight players and each is given a target to hunt with an imprecise compass-like meter and must find them from streets teeming with dopplegangers. The key to this is, of course, to blend in with the crowds whilst zeroing in on your own target, so it’s a fine balance to achieve – particularly as you’re always someone else’s quarry as well.
The multiplayer games are fun and at the time of writing there is never too much trouble finding a game, but ultimately the game’s longevity will depend on its community. Although there’s more reward for stealthy kills and many abilities are carried over from the main game, some players online prefer to run around on the rooftops and forsake the elements of subtlety in favour or larking around, which sadly mars the experience for everyone else. It’s not enough to spoil the experience, but multiplayer games where everyone is in the same stealthy murderous mindset are far more enjoyable. The foundations of a solid multiplayer game are here, and no doubt will be bettered upon in the next Assassin’s Creed instalment.
Brotherhood is a very comprehensive package which sidesteps the feeling of being a simple cash-in by giving depth to Ezio, his Assassin network and his enemies, as well as including a multiplayer mode that manages to feel unique and fresh next to most of its peers on the market. While it lacks a few of the elements which made ACII feel like more of a universal epic it also has more detail and feels more focused. The series’ overall plot might be a little silly and I would question how long the franchise can remain feeling fresh with yearly instalments, but Brotherhood is nonetheless a very worthy sequel that continues to improve on and add to this stellar series.