When I first saw the announcement for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood I immediately thought that it was an expansion pack to add multiplayer to AC2. Fast forward to E3 and all anyone was willing to talk about is the multiplayer components of the title. Nearly all of the ads, videos, and preview coverage I’d seen for the title pointed out the same thing – Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a multiplayer expansion pack!
I was wrong.
I’ve had the chance to play through the entirety of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood at this point, and let me tell you that the folks at Ubisoft may be saying that this is not a sequel to AC2, but there is more than enough content to make that assertion. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a full-featured direct continuation of the great storyline of AC2, but with a whole lot more. I’ve never been so happy to be mistaken – let me tell you all about it.
“Do not fear the darkness, but welcome its embrace.”
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood kicks off directly after the events of AC2 and begins with a quick recap of the events of both previous titles. As modern world protagonist Desmond Miles comes out of the Animus he begins to realize that he is suffering some ill effects from prolonged exposure to his ancestral memories. Now able to occasionally see the echoes of the past, he has also inherited some of the incredible acrobatic abilities of both Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Making a hasty retreat at the end of AC2, this chase thrusts us immediately back into the mysterious world of Abstergo, the Apple, Templars, Leonardo da Vinci, the Borgia family, thieves, murder, and eagle-screeching high falls from impossible heights. If any of that seems like more of the same, let me tell you why that isn’t a bad thing.
Once you get through the tutorial to re-acquaint you with the mechanics of the series, you’ll almost immediately begin to notice small changes. While it is true that Ezio (the primary focus of this title) is capable of climbing vertical surfaces rather quickly, you can now also use rope pulleys to rocket you to the rooftops. Rounding corners was always a chore for Ezio, but this too has seen some attention – you can now grab onto chain-held pots on the corners of some buildings to swing a tight arch around the edge.
Obviously Ezio was an unstoppable killing machine at the end of AC2, so in true reset-button fashion we see him reduced to his rookie status almost immediately. Caught prone during an assault on the villa in Monteriggioni, Leonardo’s inventions, Ezio’s armor and weapons, and all of your wealth is reduced to ash and rubble in the blink of an eye. Not to worry – you’ll enjoy earning it back courtesy of some new mechanics.
After finishing up the recently released Fable III, I was itching to try out the real estate mechanics in Brotherhood. Unfortunately for Ezio, it isn’t as easy as it was for the protagonist of Fable – the entire city of Rome has been divided into 12 districts and is fully under the control of the Borgia family. Before you’ll be able to renovate and monetize the blacksmiths, art dealers, doctors, aqueducts, landmarks, banks, stables, and more you’ll have to first wrest control from the locals. Each district contains a large tower controlled by a captain and his guard. Each of these towers is ranked in terms of difficulty, and have all but replaced the synchronization points of the previous game. Killing the captain isn’t as simple as sounds as each of them are different, using varying patrol methods, sporting a heavily armored entourage, or simply start out on horseback. Additionally, these towers are off limits and the guards will immediately go on high alert if they spot you. If your skills fail you and you are caught, the captain may choose to try to kill you or he may rapidly escape, leaving you unable to complete your objective until he returns at the next changing of the guard. Once you have laid the captain to rest, you must then scale the tower and burn it to regain control of the area.
Rome is a fairly large city, and the game is set there almost entirely. Getting around can be done either via horse (which you can now ride in the city), or you can renovate and utilize a series of underground tunnels. These tunnels help keep the pace of the missions moving as you can move through the city freely without being bothered by beggars and those damned lute players. When Ezio stabs the lute players the game warns that Ezio didn’t kill civilians, but I think this is an exception that he’d be ok with.
With control of the area restored, you can spend money out of your own pocket to restore some of the aforementioned local businesses and locations. Fully renovated, you can use these places to purchase new weapons, artwork for your hideout, and upgrades for your existing equipment. Renovate enough of them and you’ll unlock new things like expanding your knife carrying capability, more bullets for your pistol, discounts on purchases, fast acting poisons, and more. Unlike the previous title however, not everything is available to you – there are now quests for shopkeepers as well. Looting bodies and chests scattered around the city of Rome will yield items like silk, gold ingots, prayer beads, and various other items that are in short supply. When you turn in these items to the shopkeepers you can exchange them for otherwise restricted weapons, armor, poisons, and more. While these unlockable objects are in no way necessary to beat the game, the call will be too strong for any completionist to ignore.
“Altaïr, can you lend a hand? Perhaps a blade”
The best upgrade in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was a complete surprise to me – friends. Sure, in the previous titles you were able to hire mercenaries to act on your behalf, and this mechanic returns here, but Brotherhood takes it to a completely new level. The city of Rome is absolutely massive, and you can’t be expected to handle all of the actions necessary to free it on your own – it’s time to build a Brotherhood of Assassins.
After completing a few solo missions and establishing yourself in Rome, you’ll realize that you’ll need more than your old friends to get the job done. Setting fire to a Borgia tower suddenly popped a new icon on my minimap. A quick tap of the select button revealed that this was a citizen of Rome in trouble and I was being given the opportunity to help them. Dispatching the guards bullying this lone citizen I turned and spoke to them. Announcing that the liberation of Rome had begun, the citizen immediately knelt and swore fealty to my cause – I just recruited a junior Assassin!
The Assassin crew system works beautifully. When you recruit a citizen to the cause they come in at level 1, and it is your job as their master to build them into proper Assassins. Accessing pigeon coops, your hideout, or any liberated Borgia tower allows you to use a screen that contains mission overviews. Each mission is rated by difficulty and grants a certain amount of money and experience if completed successfully. Assigning an Assassin to the mission tells you the percent chance of successful completion (the penalty for failure is death, so be careful with those odds!), any special items they’ll receive upon completion, and how long they will be unavailable. When they receive enough experience points you can upgrade them, giving them new weapons and armor, changing their cloak and armor colors, in addition to some new abilities and special attacks. These off-site missions aren’t the only way in which you can use your new team. As they level up you’ll get the ability to call in a storm of arrows to kill all of the guards on screen, or you can tap a shoulder button and they’ll drop in and support you directly! Performing many of the aerial assassinations and attacks you use, they’ll ride in on horseback or descend from the rooftops on your enemies. Their level and how much armor they have on determines their overall health – be mindful that they are in fact mortal or you’ll be training a new recruit in their place.
The Assassin guild mechanic is a real game changer for me. I was having difficulty with a particular guard captain at one point on my own – this mission got a whole lot simpler when I called in 5 fellow Assassins to take out the captain as I kept the remaining guards busy. There were also times where they proved invaluable during stealth missions. Training up the eventual team of 12 Assassins, you can unleash a pretty powerful team when you are in trouble or if you’d just like to redefine the word ‘overkill’.
“Talk to me or talk to god”
One of the primary issues with AC1 and AC2 was repetition, both with voices and with missions. You could race, gather information, follow stealthily, and kill folks – the pool of missions was either a well-scripted and well-written mission, or a somewhat generic side mission. You could also do some tomb raiding and rooftop racing, but the side missions were deemed pretty repetitive. I’m glad to say that, for the most part, this is improved in Brotherhood. While the rooftop racing is gone, there is more variety (or at least more story) in the mission types. You’ll end up working with Leonardo on some special missions (the Borgia have pressed him into making some incredibly powerful weapons that must be removed from their hands), simple missions to track down some guys who like to beat courtesans, a stronghold rescue mission, hidden messages from the world outside of the Animus, leading a revolution, setting up various factions in the city, disguised stealth missions, a hostage rescue, and many more. As you liberate the 12 districts of the city, you’ll find some repetition, but far less than before. There is an added mechanic that adds a dash of difficulty as well – sub-objectives.
Unlocking memories is a central point of the Assassin’s Creed, and now there is a twist – Ezio can unlock repressed memories as well. When Ezio is presented with his mission, he will also be presented with a sub-objective that, when completed, grants Ezio 100% synchronization. I’ve not managed to get 100% on all of my missions, but the game promises a big reveal should you pull it off. These sub-objectives vary wildly, but they are all completely possible to achieve. Sometimes they’ll ask that you use a hidden blade to kill your target, kill only the intended target, complete your objective in a certain time, only lose a small amount of health, remain completely in stealth, throw your target into a nearby scaffold, lose no health, open a certain amount of gates, and more. These add to the challenge of the free-form mission system, giving players incentive to play the game more like a ninja and less like Rambo.
The tomb raiding missions in the previous title often lead to small rewards. In Brotherhood there is a subset of the main story involving an underground lupine group called The Sons of Romulous. These guys live underneath some of the landmarks around Rome, hoarding a good bit of loot as well as a hidden key. When you’ve uncovered all of the keys you can unlock a large cache including some armor and weapons that can’t be found anywhere else.
Speaking of weapons, there are two new mechanics in the combat side of things. You can now kick your opponent to interrupt their attacks – this helps significantly with the larger and more armored opponents. Often a kick to the jewels plus a short dagger across the throat ends their little reign of terror. It doesn’t unbalance the game, but there is another addition that does – the crossbow.
The crossbow is a relatively expensive weapon, but not prohibitively so. Once you have this weapon you are absolutely unstoppable. The range allows you to snipe any unaware target, dropping them from a significant distance and with a single shot. I purposely did not use the weapon very often as it makes killing the otherwise tough guard captains and Templars almost trivial. One particular mission asked me to kill 20 guards in multiple locations – I climbed to the top of a tower and sniped all of them without taking more than a few steps. I imagine the developers envisioned this to be a more difficult mission than this.
There is an issue that returns from AC2 to plague Brotherhood as well – distance to target. There are a few missions that ask you to escort, observe, or in some other way stay near a specific target. Unfortunately, the game is still very unforgiving on the distances to these targets. In one instance I was making a rescue and I told my friend to stay put while I dispatched a few guards no more than 30 feet away – the game warned me I was too far and desynched pretty quickly after that. Another 5 feet would have allowed me to dispatch this guard, ensuring a clean getaway, but instead I had to practically carry the wounded person to the guard and then kill him before we were spotted.
“Who can hide from a man this skilled?”
I think I’ve made it clear that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is bringing a single player experience that could stand on its own, so it is a pretty huge bonus that the multiplayer aspects of the game are this good. There is a nice CGI intro that explains how the multiplayer actually ties into the single-player storyline – it does a great job of preventing any thoughts you might have about this being simply ‘tacked on’.
You’ll begin with a quick tutorial mission that acquaints you with the mechanics of the new mode. You are given a target visual (you’ll need to be precise as there are many lookalikes!) and a general vicinity (courtesy of a general ‘compass direction’ that increases in width as you approach your target) in which to conduct your business. Killing a civilian will cause you to immediately lose your active contract, so measure twice and cut once. The compass will brighten slightly when you can actually see your target, but with crowds as thick as this, sometimes that isn’t a clear indicator – it also means that your target can see you as well. Your target card in the corner also has a detection meter that indicates whether or not your cover has been blown – if this happens, prepare to chase your prey. Being detected affects your overall score as it is based on detection, the quality of the kill, as well as the amount of kills performed. After a mission you are given a score tally that looks at the number of kills, whether they were discreet, silent, focused, hidden, acrobatic, or incognito, as well whether you stunned your target or had to perform an evasion and escape. This means that if you simply run up and stab your target, you’ll get far less points than if you sneak up on them, tap them on the shoulder, and impale them in the neck before they even knew you were there.
There are unranked player matches, private matches, friend-only matches, and ranked public matches. As your rank increases you will go up in levels, unlocking other characters such as the Blacksmith at level 15, the Thief at level 25, a Footpad at level 35, and finally a mercenary at level 45. You’ll also unlock advanced gear, superior gear, and finally elite gear in a fashion not unlike the very popular system featured in the Call of Duty series. Leveling up gives you special skills like the ability to change your disguise, sprint boost, or use smoke bombs. You’ll get two abilities and two perks, as well as bonuses for kill streaks and loss streaks including increased precision, throwing knives, double score, templar vision, and much more at higher levels.
There are four modes to play online: Wanted, Advanced Wanted (locked until level 12), Manhunt, and Alliance (locked until level 5). You can think of Wanted and Advanced Wanted as essentially a simple deathmatch, but with stealth. All players have designated targets and the highest score at the end wins. There are Templars hunting you, so you must keep your head or you’ll end up prey yourself. You’ll need 4 people to play this mode. Manhunt divides up players into two teams, with one team as the hunters and the others being the hunted. You can’t just run to the edge of the map though – you earn points as the hunted by remaining very close but undetected by the other team. You can hide in the usual places – hay bales, benches, rooftops, wells, and more. You’ll also earn points for humiliating your opponents, so there are plenty of incentives to stay close. Since the minimap radar doesn’t tell your opponents exactly where you are, they’ll have to watch the crowd and spot the person doing things that are out of the ordinary – climbing, running, and erratic movements will give you away pretty easily. You can play in groups of 2 to 4 people in this mode. Alliance is a spin on Manhunt, with players assigned as pairs. Your job is to assassinate other teams of two, coordinating against your targets. Having a solid partner makes all of the difference in the world in this mode – a good partner coordinates, a bad partner runs off and does their own thing. There are a total of 8 maps released with the game, some rather large and some very small. I imagine we’ll see this map list expand as players become very proficient with them. Playing as hunter and then hunted takes a bit of getting used to, with the first victim being your psyche – prepare yourself for some serious paranoia. When your enemy looks like a Harlequin, EVERY Harlequin who walks by could be out to kill you – it has a remarkable effect on your brain and turns out to be a lot of fun.
“Requiescat in pace.”
So Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood isn’t a sequel, but it’s got enough content to be one. Brotherhood isn’t simply a multiplayer expansion pack, but the multiplayer is good enough to have been a low-priced stand-alone or an addon to download over XBL or PSN. While there are a few items that unbalance the game, there is so much new under the sun that works well (recruiting, renovating, better lip synch and graphic work, etc.) that you can’t discount this title. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has everything you loved and hated about AC2, but it has shined up the positives to a sheen I didn’t expect. Toss in the fantastic multiplayer with its persistent experience and leveling system and you have a solid and worthy successor to an already great series. If you haven’t already – sneak your way over to Amazon and pick up a copy!