So the end of Assassin’s Creed 2 is the big moment where you don’t assassinate people? At the big ending, both protagonists pass on obvious and easy chances to kill Borgia and Vidic. Letting those creeps live will obviously lead to misery in the future, but Desmond and Ezio are slaves to this idiot plot.
I am giving Assassin’s Creed 2 my Goldun Riter Awward for storytelling. I realize this award might be somewhat controversial. I’ve only given it twice before. Does this game deserve to stand alongside Champions Online and Fable 2 as titles with laughably idiotic writing? Is it really that bad? Is it really worse than Fallout 3?
I think so. I’m not really faulting the game for the business with the alien artifact, or the fact that everyone from Eli Whitney to Elvis Presley was apparently a Templar. Yes, those ideas seemed kind of cornball at times, but I think those elements are a fine starting point. In the right hands, that can work. No, the problems with Assassin’s Creed 2 are thus:
- The tone is all over the place. We see an entire family hung in public, including a small boy, as the beginning of Ezio’s character arc. This does not fit with carneval, or “it’s-a me!” or any of the other absurd, lighthearted moments. The opening screams to the player, “I am a dark and gritty game! Take me seriously!” Then it begins undermining that setup and turns the whole thing into a farce. And yet it still expects us to sit through a bunch of mustache-twirling exposition on the part of the bad guys. You can have a grounded game that demands to be taken seriously. (Heavy Rain, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Arkham Asylum, Mass Effect.) You can have a zany game where fun comes first. (Saint’s Row 2, Serious Sam, Overlord.) You should be very, very careful when mixing these elements, in order to avoid making a joke of your own world. (See also.)
- The writers cheat like crazy. Here we have a game where you can excuse most videogame contrivances with “animus did it”. Additionally, the Pieces of Eden provide them with a convenient magic Macguffin that can do anything required by the plot. Finally, the idea that “The Templars write history as it suits them” gives the writers freedom to change historical details that don’t fit their pre-determined story. This is writing on Easy Mode. Yet the writers repeatedly introduced preposterous events that couldn’t be explained by the animus, altered history, or alien technology.
The scene where the Spaniard beats ALL OF THE ASSASSINS in a swordfight and then kicks Ezio and runs away is so shockingly, offensively contrived that I am still dumbfounded. That scene is far worse than the moment in Fallout 3 where Dad commits suicide to keep his broken dehumidifier from falling into the hands of people who want to fix it. There is layer upon layer of nonsense in this sequence.
- The egg is transported via parkour?
- Then the egg is put into a parade for delivery?
- Delivery takes place in a public place, and not a fortified one?
- Borgia is able to keep up with Ezio in a swordfight?
- Borgia produces mooks from nowhere?
- Everyone Ezio has ever known just happens to arrive at the same time, here, at this moment, despite them not being part of the plan?
- And they’re all assassins?
- And they’re apparently useless against one fat old guy?
- And Borgia manages to hold off everyone, despite being surrounded? Even useless non-assassins ought to be able to stab him in the back.
- And then Borgia manages to ESCAPE, despite being surrounded?
- Nobody even TRIES to chase him?
This is a childish hackjob from start to end. I can’t believe this was written, approved, and put into production. Shameful.
And this ending sequence is just as ridiculous.
- Ezio is a gigantic Black Hole Mary Sue. He’s a super being who somehow became the most accomplished assassin in history without any real training. He’s fabulously, effortlessly rich. Women throw themselves at him everywhere he goes. He advises Leonardo Da Vinci on how to be a better inventor. He’s the first man to fly. Then at the end, we learn that all of his friends are secretly assassins, only they didn’t tell him because they were trying to… guide him? Somehow? The point is: It’s all about YOU, Ezio! You’re the only one everybody thinks about. The only one who can accomplish anything. Your friends don’t have lives of their own. When you’re not around, all they talk about is you. You’re so important they form a secret conspiracy within their already-secret society, the sole purpose of which was to give you as much of the limelight as possible.
- Ezio’s doesn’t have a character arc, he has a flat line that suddenly lurches downward at the end. Ezio begins the game as a privileged, spoiled, womanizing, self-important punk. Over the course of the game he transforms into an arrogant asshole who murders people because he’s angry. Then he finally gets a chance to behave like an assassin and kill a dangerous and important Templar, but he decides not to because he doesn’t feel like it anymore. It’s all about him, and since his revenge is sated he no longer cares. This guy was never an assassin. He was just a murderer.
And they decided to make two more games starring this reprehensible jackass?
- The bad guys were comical evil villains with no goal. The first game gave us some nice philosophical ideas to play with. Would you use force to prevent war? Would you bend people to your will to MAKE a more peaceful, harmonious society? Vidic proposed some interesting ideas in the first game. His portrayal gave the Templars an understandable yet thoroughly distasteful worldview. We could understand what they were doing, even as we fought to oppose them.
In Assassin’s Creed 2, I didn’t see any of that. The bad guys were just Bad People. What was Borgia’s goal? Yes, he did all those things in order to become pope and gain access to the vault, but why? Just to play around with it? Did he want to use it for something in particular? Or did he want it simply because it was powerful? It doesn’t matter. He’s the most cardboard type of villain: He killed your family, left you to die, and then tried to conquer the world. Because.
I wouldn’t mind this so much is the first game hadn’t been so much better.
It would be one thing if the story was a small part of a larger experience. I don’t hold Oblivion or Fallout 3 to the same standards, because the story in those games is very small compared to the massive world of freeform roaming, leveling, crafting, looting, collecting, and dungeon-diving. You can skip dialog and get back to the gameplay if you’re in a hurry. (Although I’m always adamant that those games should do much better. I mean, there’s never a reason for the writing to be crappy, just like there’s never a reason to make a horrible interface.) But in Assassin’s Creed 2, the plot drives the gameplay. You’ll spend most of your time executing the missions given to you in those un-skippable cutscenes, and so the actions you’re taking need to make sense and move you towards an established goal. The lesson here is simple: If you’re going to write dreck, don’t put your story on a silver platter and shine a spotlight on it.
Most of all, I’m giving Assassin’s Creed 2 the Goldun Riter Awward because this company and this series could have done so much better. These contrivances could have been painted over with just a bit of forethought. This is a plot ruined by set-piece driven design, and then further crippled by lazy writing. The first game may have a few issues with the writing (although I can’t think of any right now) but it was a far more coherent piece of work. This company is capable of doing better. They didn’t. So now they get this:
For what it’s worth: I liked the free-running gameplay, and the set design was spectacular.
And so ends our coverage of Assassin’s Creed 2. Requiescat in pace.
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