By the time the credits were rolling on Assassin's Creed II, I couldn't even imagine how the next game in the series could top it. The leap in quality from the first game to the second was insane. But after watching the credits roll on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, I can't imagine ever going back.
In past Assassin's Creed games, combat tended to devolve into waiting for enemies to attack so you could parry them for one-hit kills. For Brotherhood though, once you get your first parry, you can go on an unending train of death until either someone interrupts you or there's just no one left to kill. The rhythm of directing your strikes while watching for attacking enemies and occasionally parrying mid-combo feels a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum. Mind you, it's not quite as good as Batman, but it's definitely a big step in the right direction for the franchise.
The other big change is Ezio's ability to recruit and put to work new Assassins. They'll shadow you day and night until you whistle for them -- while free-roaming, on a mission, whenever -- then will appear out of nowhere to kill whichever unlucky guards you were targeting. It's a thrill that never once got old to watch my recruits fall from the sky and land on enemies. Easily, this is the smartest, coolest departure from past games in the series, and precisely why I can never go back to flying solo; it's just too fun rolling with a crew of Assassins.
For a game that was initially hyped as a mostly multiplayer-focused cash-in, it's pretty astonishing how much better the single-player is than the last two games. It's more expansive, yet more focused at the same time. Really, this game is one pleasant surprise after another and full of unexpected ambition. Much more than either of the first two games, I found myself getting sidetracked for hours on end. There's just so much stuff to see and do that it's almost overwhelming, but always exciting.
Hearing that we'd be saying "ciao" to Ezio once again was initially pretty disappointing, seeming like a missed opportunity at best and an incredibly lazy, uninspired design choice at worst. But as it turns out, Ezio still had plenty of interesting things to contribute to the franchise. While his story initially doesn't feel like it'll end up making a difference overall, it fleshes out the fiction's universe well and becomes much more significant the further you get into it. As well, it's the best story yet in the series, with the most focused campaign and excellent performances from the main cast, particularly from Andreas Apergis, who plays Cesare Borgia like a true madman.
Not to be left out, Desmond's part is infinitely crazier here than ever before, especially at the end, and it's really exciting to see such a big budget franchise continue to take insane risks with the story. But even still, I don't know how much longer Ubisoft can continue to put off making Desmond the main character before the series becomes stale. I feel like Brotherhood represents the pinnacle of what they can do in their current format, so anything going forward needs to shake things up in a meaningful way.
What does shake things up already though is the new multiplayer component. Tasking you with acting like a rote AI character and truly hiding in plain sight (the franchise's ultimate promise) while you covertly hunt other players proves to be a perfect match for the series. Never before have I felt as gleefully paranoid in a video game as I do playing Brotherhood's multiplayer, knowing only that somebody somewhere is on his way to kill me and could literally be anyone. It's not perfect, and I've run across several discouraging exploits, but it truly is an innovative and brilliant addition.
It's hard to believe that Ubisoft could make such an improved, fantastic game in just one year, but they totally did. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is bolder and more ambitious than anyone could have predicted it would be, and definitely worth buying.Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PC