Less than a week for completion. Not a record, but not bad.
So you've already been subjugated to my review of Assassin's Creed. Now it's time to review the sequel! On a side note, I feel I should go back and edit the first review...maybe I will later.
Story time. This game picks up literally minutes after the end of AC. Lucy Stillman, the assistant of the evil prof Warren Vidic from the first game, who was always more sympathetic to your situation than Warren, comes rushing in with blood on her shirt telling you that it's time to gtfo. But first, she sends you into the Animus (the machine that lets you revisit ancestral memories) and you witness the birth of the new member of Desmond's ancestry: Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Lucy then takes the data from the Animus, and you flee the complex, fighting some guards on your way out. You wind up in a warehouse somewhere, where a small group of modern-day Assassins have holed up with their own version of the Animus. The Templars may have gotten the locations of the Pieces of Eden, but so do you, but there is more to seek out than just that: something from the previous subject, Subject 16, hinted at some greater threat in the world, and the Assassins need to find it in Ezio, who was a key player in it. The process will also help Desmond to become an assassin on his own, due to the 'bleeding effect', where memories overlap. You then head into the past, reliving the life of Ezio, who witnesses his family betrayed and his father and brothers executed on false charges of treason. After escaping with his mother and sister, he swears revenge, and begins on his mission to slaughter everyone who was involved with the plot and then some. Along the way, you meet bunches of people across history, including Leonardo da Vinci, who builds most of your equipment.
So the gameplay as a whole hasn't changed at all. Ezio controls pretty much exactly like Altair, and though he does have a few new moves, they all control pretty much as you'd expect them to. Like Altair, Ezio gets new moves and equipment as he goes along, but this is where the game starts to really show the advancements. With Altair, you were stripped of everything and had to regain it all back with each successful mission, but since you got your sword and hand blade back before you went on your first assassination, the only new piece of equipment you got where your throwing knives. Everything else was just a change in Altair's appearance: a glove here, a bracer there, etc. Ezio, on the other hand, gets a fucking arsenal of items. You start with the hidden blade, get a sword, dagger, throwing knives, a SECOND hidden blade, poison, smoke bombs, and a mutherfuckin' hidden pistol. The man is a goddam walking armory. I should note that 'sword' is actually a misnomer: you have a number of main weapons you can chose from, being longswords, scimitars, and maces. You can also disarm enemies and steal their weapons, allowing you to also wield polearms and greatswords.
With Ezio's arsenal displayed, it should come to no surprise to you that Ezio is a different kind of Assassin to Altair. Where Altair was all about stealth and subterfuge, sneaking over to the target inconspicuously and then leaping out of nowhere to suddenly strike, Ezio forgoes that most of the time. Altair is the sniper, carefully waiting to strike, while Ezio is the revolutionary, charging in with an assault rifle, shooting into the air and shouting "Vive la Revolution!". Seriously, most of the assassination missions, the target KNOWS you're coming, and half the time he knows you're in the goddam building. So you show up and he calls the guards and you have to either hack them to pieces or try to chase the fool down while avoiding being hacked. It reminds me of the differences between Prince of Persia Sands of Time and Warrior Within. They threw out most of the stealthing aspects for more combat. Even the final boss is fought three times, the last time with your bare hands so you can punch him to death.
Speaking of combat, it really hasn't changed at all from the first game. Your best friend is still your counter, but the game this time helpfully displays the enemy's health over their heads so you know who's the most weakened. One thing the game does add is that you can now effectively use your hidden blades in combat. Before, Altair couldn't, because he had nothing to block with but his arm, but with the second hidden blade you get a metal bracer, allowing you to never need to unequip the hidden blade ever. :D I mention this because the game also adds a grab to your unarmed attacks, which makes the game almost too easy. Most enemies can be grabbed without trouble and are helpless once they are, allowing you to mercilessly beat them senseless with your bare hands until they are weak enough for you to assassinate them.
Ezio does get a number of fun new moves, with his second hidden blade. He can double assassinate, do air assassinations, and assassinate while hiding in hay or while hanging from ledges. It really does help add variety, but it also means that you kill a LOT of people. Seriously, for someone who was not raised as an assassin, Ezio makes Altair's body count look minuscule. There is a change in according to how people react to you because of this: the notoriety gauge. While this was present in AC, all it did was tell you whether or not the guards were angry at you or not. In AC2, it increases a little bit each time you do something illegal, like pickpocketing, killing a guard, or running from the guards. You can then lower your notoriety by tearing down wanted posters, bribing heralds, and killing corrupt officials.
I feel I should note that these changes seem to have been made to accommodate not only the new setting, but also some of the more bizarre nuances from the first game. Ezio actually will attract the attention of the guards just by standing around, because he's carrying a fucking arsenal and also looks pretty damn suspicious. And unlike the first game, you can't just blend and lose their attention. Altair could because he was dressed as a monk (albeit a very well-armed one), but Ezio can't pull that excuse. Instead, you blend by getting into groups of people, effectively blending into the crowd. It's nicely realistic, even if you still are armed to the teeth. Ezio can also hire people to help him: thieves to distract guards and make them run off, prostitutes to create a mobile crowd for you and to also distract guards, and mercenaries to fight with you. Aah, back to combat again.
So back to the story. As usual, the story is broken down into chunks, with most of the chunks ending with an assassination. Unlike AC, which took place over the course of days, AC2 takes place over the course of years. Decades, even. You start in the year 1476, when Ezio is only 17, and progress through time sometimes at an unexpectedly rapid pace, ending finally on 1499. 23 years of assassinations! Jeez. This does, however, provide another aspect of the game I like. In AC, Altair was a faceless killer. Sure, he had a name, but it means 'Son of None', and the only thing you ever really saw of his face was his strong, manly jaw and hooked nose. We see Ezio's face from the start, and we see him progress not just as an assassin but also as a person. It's interesting!
Also, if you read PA, you might already know this, but there is a fair amount of Italian in the dialogue. It's not nearly as much as they would have you believe, but subtitles do really help at times. There is an in-game explanation, similar to the one used in AC: the Animus is translating the Italian real time, but since the Animus you're using isn't hooked up to a supercomputer like the first one, it doesn't always catch every word (Desmond actually mentions here "The subtitles really help out" xD).
There's also a lot of extra stuff to do now! AC's only real detraction was that there wasn't much in the way of sidequests to do. AC2 loads you down with tons of little ones: courier services, races, collect feathers, treasure chests, equipment, and do assassination contracts. The contracts seem to me more like how the game should really be; you're given a target to kill, and you need to sneak over to them without being noticed and kill them without drawing attention to yourself. These I actually found to be more difficult that most of the main story assassinations, especially the ones that are timed. None of the side missions are ever too difficult, but they do test your skill level at times. Plus its when you really get to make the most out of all of your new skills. On a side note, you also get a town (!!) to upgrade. This serves as your source of income in the game, which is based off of the score/price of the town. You get money deposited into a chest every 20 minutes of gameplay, but after 4 deposits the chest becomes full, so if you want to maximize your income you need to stop back home every hour or so. This kinda breaks up the game flow sometimes, but you're given a notice every time money is deposited, so you don't have to keep track of it on your own. Alternatively, you can do what I did and sit in the town for several hours, collecting money and immediately spending it on upgrades, thus further increasing the amount you get with each deposit...and so on, and so on...I could only pull this off because I was playing FFXI at the same time. :x Yes, I'm awesome.
One last little sidequest in the game that I feel I should mention: there are pieces of data stuck into the Animus, hidden by Subject 16 in the form of symbols stuck on buildings. When you find these, you need to first solve a puzzle in order to see the data that he hid. These puzzles range from matching 5 pictures together based on a keyword, finding a hidden item in a picture, or solving a code wheel. There are 20 of these, and they start out pretty simple and go to ludicrously HARD. Seriously, the last 4 of these I literally solved through trial and error. It was like pummeling my head against a wall until it broke. I swear to god, these puzzles must have been made by Dan Brown with how hard they were. One of them required me to know Sumerian numerals! Who the fuck knows those?! The game, to its credit, will give you a hint if you keep guessing wrong, but of course as you get to the last ones the clues become more and more vague. I'm not even kidding, these were fucking hard as hell. Your reward for finding these are pieces to The Truth, a short video that reveals the truth behind everything. This video is originally broken up, so the pieces don't create a full story until you have all of them, whereupon they combine to give you to real deal. The Truth is actually kind of unsettling, one of those things that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable thinking 'what if this were true?', which is kind of odd because it's not unexpected.
Alright, I've gone on long enough. To wrap this up, the game is a ton of fun. If you liked AC, you'll like this more. Even if you didn't play it, I still recommend it. The ending is tripping more balls than the first, but how can you say no to a game where you get to have a fist fight with the Pope? Especially since the Papal Staff gives him mystic powers. If that doesn't make you want to play this game, then I think you need to stop for a moment and take a good hard look at your life and who you are.