E3: Assassins Creed 2 Preview

The year is 1486 and the Renaissance is booming in downtown Venice. A slightly scruffy assassin stalks the crowds dressed from head to toe in a white robe. That unknown figure goes by the name of Ezio, and with the help of his good friend, Leonardo Da Vinci, is on a mission to avenge the death of his family. Of course we’re talking Assassin’s Creed 2, I mean where else would a plot like this seem normal? Either way, Ubisoft Montreal’s showing of Assassin’s Creed 2 at E3 this year opened up a can of worms as Lead Game Designer, Patrick Plourde, demonstrated to us that Assassin’s Creed was just the beginning of something much bigger.

Assassin’s Creed 2 essentially takes what the original did without changing the core fundamentals too much, corrects the, albeit small, oversights from the first title and then adds a ton more cool features  – which is pretty much what we ask for from every sequel of a successful game. First things first, Assassin’s Creed 2 does not seem to be that much of a visual overhaul from the original, that being said though, the original still looks pretty advanced … even now. Simply put, Assassin’s Creed 2 is as visually stunning as the first … and then some. The big changes this year come in terms of actual gameplay, which we’ll jump into now.

We pick up Ezio in the final mission of an assassination in Venice and our good friend Da Vinci has left our assassin a flying contraption at the top of a rather large tower so he can gain access to the fortress that sits next to the Piazza San Marco. Why the hell would Da Vinci leave us a flying contraption you ask? Well, good question and it’s one I asked. It’s simply because our good friend Da Vinci acts as Ezio’s “Q to his James Bond,” and throughout Assassin’s Creed 2 will give Ezio access to upgrades, new gadgets and tools like the flying machine to help him in his mission. The machine in fact is based on the original drawings that Da Vinci himself created and Plourde commented that an underlying aspect to the title was “historical facts with plenty of what-ifs.”


I’m getting ahead of myself so I’ll back up a little … seeing as Assassin’s Creed 2 takes place in a new European architectural setting which features higher walls (and bigger drops) than we saw in the original, it was a good time to show off Ezio’s first move, the “climb leap.” This simple move essentially gives Ezio a bigger bound up the wall allowing him to climb a little faster, seconds later after seeing this first move in action, Ezio rips a guard over the barrier whilst climbing, which is also new to the title. Plourde was quick to add that “if the player can think about it, they can do it” … and I certainly thought about doing that.

When Ezio reaches the top of the tower, he can strap himself into the contraption and make for the fortress. Being 1486, getting to the fortress with what is essentially a glider is harder than you think, which is why before this part of the mission, Plourde explained that the build up involved Ezio going round Venice to bribe the thieves to create a few fires around the city so that he could use the hot-air to gain altitude. It’s also a good example of the new mission structure that the title now uses and it’s less systemic than the original and is different for every assassination (of which there are currently 17). Instead of the usual random and uninspiring mini missions and often boring build up to an assassination, Ezio knows who his target is, but has to work out how to get to them and this ties in to the new structure nicely.

The crowd in Assassin’s Creed 2 is also important to mention, with them being a lot more dynamic this time around, and not only can you pick pocket NPCs to get their money which you can spend at the shops on “ammo, armour and weapons,” but you can blend in, bribe courtesans to distract guards, and on the whole, use them to have a bigger impact on gameplay. The civilian NPCs in general are more diverse with a lot more fluent animations and it gives the city a vibe that it’s more than alive. The whole crowd aspect also depends on what time of day it is in the game’s new day/night cycle – so expect more crowds in the daytime making it easier to blend in, and more suspicion from the guards at night but you have darkness on your side. However, expect no different weather conditions, but Plourde hinted at their inclusion in Assassin’s Creed 3 (oooh, confirmed the sequel already, niiiice).


From the glider Ezio must use the fires to gain altitude, avoid the archers trying to take down a “flying man” (in 1486? That’s like witchcraft!!) whilst cutting into the odd dynamic cinematic to kick an enemy off their perch; all this before landing (or should I say crashing) on the roof of the fortress. From here we cut straight into the two new gameplay mechanics, which are absolutely epic in nature – the first of which is an extended “air assassination.” In the original you could only do these “jump & stab” moves from close proximity; now you can do them from up to 20 metres high. Rolling from the air assassination Ezio stalks the rooftops to two unsuspecting guards where we see the second new gameplay addition; the “double blade assassination,” where you can take down two unsuspecting foes with one assassination move. Even better, Plourde told us that you can effectively take a group of four down without any of them seeing it coming if you can take the two back ones out without the front two realising. Proper assassin stuff.

The trademark leap of faith makes a welcome return this time, but of course, as they seem to be doing with a lot of features, they’ve revamped this aspect as well by extending the ability to be able to disturb guards, lure them in, assassinate them and pull them into the hay to hide their body. Truly quite epic, and this isn’t just limited to piles of hay either, but can be used on wells and a number of other places spread throughout the cities.

The combat is of similar nature to Assassin’s Creed which according to Plourde was using “little input, big output” and “using the momentum of the enemy against them,” however, this time, Ezio will be using his bare hands to fit more in with the assassin stereotype. That doesn’t mean that Ezio can’t use weapons, in fact, he now has access to over 30; from axes to maces, and from warhammers to swords. As far as other weapons in the game go, Plourde noted that “if it existed at that time, we pretty much have it.” Other additions to the series in terms of combat, or should I say combat evasion, include things like smoke bombs to aid your escape and of course the ability to swim. Heh, it’s amazing how a simple ability like swimming can make it in as a new gameplay feature that we get excited about.


Assassin’s Creed 2 will also boast a huge amount of side missions, 100 in fact, and this time there will be a ton of variety to them according to Plourde, mentioning new races and specifically, one mission type where Ezio the womanizer has to carry a fair maiden home in exchange for cash (and a little loving), and of course others that give the setting more life and that Italian vibe. These side missions, and the core missions of course, will be spread around 4 cities, 2 major and 2 smaller, with Ezio essentially starting his mission of vengeance off in Florence, then heading up through Tuscany, stopping in the “Manhattan of the Renaissance,” AKA San Gimignano, before getting to Venice (I know that’s 3 before someone says anything but the fourth was not named).

Assassin’s Creed 2 on this short showing was enough to prove to us that Ubisoft Montreal have learnt from their mistakes and that it will leave its predecessor on the distant horizon as it looks to overshadow it ten-fold. Easily one of the best titles out at E3 this year and it’s truly great to see the franchise listen to the fans and add more diversity, more life to the city and story, and more importantly, more variety to the proceedings. Plourde assured us that we’ve not seen nothing yet and the best is still to come, he commented that “there’s stuff that currently just a core group of people know about” and “a month ago, we showcased something new to the leads and the people were floored!” Strong words, that we hope can be backed up with big announcements down the line, but even if they aren’t, what we have here already, is the making of a fantastic Assassin’s Creed sequel.


Assassin’s Creed 2 is currently slated for a November 17th release in North America and what we can only assume as a November 20th release in Europe.