I believe that ‘mild trepidation’ would be the accurate phrase to summarise the general mentality towards Ubisoft’s latest entry into the popular Assassin’s Creed series. Hastily released only a year after Assassin’s Creed 2 with ostensibly little time to work on a new single player campaign and marketing focused on a new multiplayer mode emphasised our fears. Whilst there may not be the same leaps of innovation compared to the previous games; Brotherhood maintains the strong single-player model with enough tweaks to feel fresh. In addition, it incorporates an original and exhilarating multiplayer component, that in absolutely no way, feels tacked on.
For the most part Brotherhood plays exactly like its predecessor but instead of having three cities to explore, Ezio is limited to just one, Rome. He winds up there after Cesare Borgia decimates Montereggio and steals the Piece of Eden in Ezio’s possession during the game’s first sequence. The city of Rome is enormous, ranging from the hustle and bustle of the streets to the vast expanses of countryside and agricultural land. Whilst traversing across rooftops is still incredible fun and extremely fluid; a network of underground tunnels and the ability to ride on horseback in the city provide opportunities for much-needed faster methods of travel. Yet behind Rome’s blatant grandeur lies the Borgia family, who hold influence over the city through corruption and oppression. Spurred on by a desire for revenge, Ezio forms the Brotherhood of Assassins to take back Rome and retrieve the Piece of Eden.
Once again the main storyline is broken up into sequences tasking you with completing a number of missions to unlock each subsequent sequence in the chain. Desmond and the team of assassins in 2012 are trying to access a memory tied into the final sequence with the hope of discovering the location of a Piece of Eden in the present day. Each sequence manages to offer a solid variety of tasks from infiltration and tailing to the as expected assassinations. A few of these sequences early on are slightly disappointing, simply requiring you to follow an NPC while they cram you with exposition. However, later missions truly shine and have you leading a group of mercenaries in a surprise attack on the Borgia or scaling the walls of the Castel Sant'Angelo to break in and rescue Caterina.
Concurrent to each sequence’s main objective are a variety of other engaging activities and you’ll often find yourself being distracted from the main storyline because of them. Similar to Montereggio, Ezio can reinvigorate areas of Rome that have been crippled by the Borgia rule by renovating shops, structures and landmarks. Doing so will provide a steady stream of income as well as discounts in the stores and access to new areas. Before this can occur though, Ezio must eliminate the Borgia influence in the area, represented by Borgia towers looming overhead. By killing the area’s guard captain and burning the tower, the various properties of that territory become open to renovation. It’s an enjoyable system that also works towards the game’s largest new addition, the Brotherhood.
As you free areas of the city from Borgia control potential recruits appear nearby in the form of ‘save citizen’ missions. Once saved they join your cause and can be called to arms at the tap of the shoulder button: attacking selected targets or simply helping you out in battle. Once you attract six recruits to the Brotherhood, you can order a deadly ‘arrow storm’ attack, which wipes out small groups of soldiers with ease.
Additionally, via pigeon coops dotted around Rome, you can assign the assassins in training contracts across Europe. Successful completion of a contract rewards them with experience points to upgrade their weapons and armour as well as an amount of money depending on the difficulty of the contract and on the hardest tasks, special items for the use in shop quests. It becomes quite an addictive meta-game building your Brotherhood and balancing how many recruits you send on each contract to increase its chance of success and how many you leave in Rome to call on when needed.
When you do call on your Brotherhood companions they are extremely effective but thankfully not to the point where you can hide in a haystack whilst they slay countless Borgia guards. They are perfect for arranging distractions or coordinating attacks against multiple groups, reducing some of the unnecessary stresses from the game’s still irksome combat. Minor adjustments have been made to improve it; such as giving Ezio the power to perform execution chains with a well timed button press but it still feels flat and simplistic.
It’s quite a challenge to summarise everything in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood as the sheer amount of variety in the single player alone is overwhelming. Assassin tombs return as ‘Lairs of Romulus’ – home of a strange cult that is possibly working with the Borgia. Leonardo Da Vinci has a much smaller role, furtively producing equipment for Ezio including an additional hidden blade and the climb leap glove. He also divulges the locations of various machines he was forced to create under pressure from the Borgia. These side-missions task Ezio with commandeering prototype versions of a tank and naval cannon for example and destroying the original plans to prevent the Borgia from mass producing them. Constructed as elaborate set-pieces, they are fantastic change of pace and merge the superb stealth, free-running and action aspects of the game. It is safe to say that the complaints of tedium and repetition from the original were listened to and those who shared those complaints will now be hard pressed to find similar flaws this time around, even without touching the multiplayer!
Which, by the way, is incredible.
Reminiscent of Outerlight’s The Ship released on the PC back in 2006, each player is assigned a target to kill; the challenge coming from identifying your target and eliminating them in the most silent way possible to receive the greatest amount of points. You can simply sprint around the map achieving quick kills but you are rewarded with considerably fewer points and easily draw attention to yourself. Being so overt also increases the chances of being spotted by your own pursuer who you try to avoid, knock out or trick into killing an NPC.
It is such an intense experience that constantly challenges you to check your surroundings for threats whilst also scouting out your target. Numerous perks and abilities cater to various play styles and experimenting with different set ups to find effective strategies and then pulling them off is extremely satisfying. A personal favourite of mine is morphing a group of NPCs into your character model and hiding in a nearby haystack. Then watching as your pursuers eliminate them one by one leaving you free to pop out of the haystack and track down your target.
I could elaborate further detailing more intricacies of the multiplayer mode and other elements of the single player campaign but that would risk serious information overload and spoil the self-discovery available in the game. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood contains a lengthy campaign with enough extras to keep you playing for at least twice as long and a multiplayer mode that stands alone and proud in a sea of FPSs. Needless to say it is more than a glorified add-on pack, more than worthy of its full price tag.