Anywhere the first Assassin's Creed failed, its sequel excels. Simply put, Assassin's Creed II feels like the game that should have been, eclipsing the original in every way.
Though I really enjoyed the first Creed, it had undeniable problems that held it back immensely. The mission structure was downright awful, the world felt barren despite its dense population, and there was a total lack of variety. Assassin's Creed II fixes all those problems and more. Ezio has a much more dynamic and believable personality than Altaïr, growing from a carefree aristocrat into an assassin capable of feats Altaïr could only dream of. He can swim, climb faster, fight better, and uses two hidden blades to perform double assassinations. Double assassinations. Playing as Ezio is, in every way, a vastly superior and infinitely more fun experience.
However, the mission structure is far and away the most improved element over the first game. Every mission has you doing something different and more interesting than the last, following a logical progression with the story. There's a sense of unpredictability here that wasn't in the first game. Even the cities themselves feel livelier, with more compelling reasons to explore and more interesting sidemissions. It introduces a lot of new mechanics like notoriety and estate management that help mix things up, but some of these could've used more work. It's not a perfect game, as the sloppy introduction proves, and still has a lot of little flaws, but none of these significantly detract from the experience.
It's a little shocking how much better Assassin's Creed II is than its predecessor. It adds so much variety and fixes so many problems that it actually helped me understand why some people didn't like the first game.
Assassin's Creed II / $59.99 / Reviewed on PS3