Ezio returns, and this time he's not fighting alone.
Assassin's Creed II might be a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean Ezio is entirely out of the picture. He's returning in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, a sequel that picks up directly where his previous adventure left off. The game will feature a number of new features, including even more story developments for Desmond along with a multiplayer component, a first for the franchise. For this preview, I'm going to talk about a recent demo of Brotherhood's single-player portion.
After the climactic events of Assassin's Creed II Ezio returns to his Villa, the stronghold players spent the majority of the previous game upgrading and making as fancy as possible, only to be assaulted. As Ezio's lying in bed a cannonball smashes through his ceiling. He runs outside to find buildings on fire and a surging army at the gates as more cannonballs rain down from above. He does something unexpected: gets up, runs outside, and jumps on a horse.
That's unexpected because previously in Assassin's Creed, a horse would rear up and stall at the entrance to a city like it was the edge of a fiery chasm. But in Brotherhood, the main setting of Rome is so large -- three times the size of Florence -- that a faster mode of urban transportation is required. As Ezio thunders through the streets an explosion collapses the side of a building. The stone shattering across the street knocks aside the horse, forcing Ezio to continue along on foot. He jumps at a ladder and loses his grip when a large chunk of stone is shot out from above. When he reaches the top of the ladder and emerges onto the walkway along the top of the Villa's ramparts, he's finally able to get to a perimeter mounted cannon to try and cut into the hostile forces converging on the city gate.
Though I didn't get to play this part, it's basically a turret sequence. Ezio stands behind a cannon and it's your job to aim and fire at masses of troops and siege towers. The sense of scale here is as impressive as the battlefield is enormous, with hundreds of troops moving around as cannon fire arcs overhead and wood splinters at places of impact. When enough damage has been done Ezio steps away from the cannon only to find a siege tower has made it all the way to the wall, unloading soldiers onto the rampart. Ezio approaches and engages in combat.
Ubisoft says players complained that Assassin's Creed's gameplay felt too slow before, so it's been sped up for Brotherhood. Enemies attack faster and tend to be more aggressive, so in theory you'll spend less time standing in one place waiting for an attack so you can counter. Enemies will be a lot more challenging this time too, so expect tougher fights. In order to better prepare you for the challenges ahead, Ubisoft is implementing a major new addition to the single-player game: teammates.
Once Ezio finally makes it to Rome, he'll be able to recruit and train other assassins to help out in the field. These guys can be leveled up and upgraded and come in handy in a few different ways. For example, if a large group of enemies is blocking your way, a rain of arrows can be triggered that'll take them out, as presumably your teammates shoot from off-screen. Teammates can also be called upon to pounce on enemies from above, an Assassin's Creed version of an orbital strike, to pounce down and stab targets. If surrounded, Ezio can call in his teammates to distract any hostiles while smoke is released, letting him slip away unnoticed amidst the confusion.
For personal use, Ezio also gets a useful crossbow that's carried on his back and can swiftly and silently bring down targets from afar. Should his personal arsenal not be enough, his teammates can be upgraded as play progresses through a mission system. As new guild members are added, Ezio can consult a map and send them on open missions. Each will have an associated difficulty level and, should a teammate carry out the mission successfully, they'll be awarded with experience points and boost their skill sets and health. Multiple teammates can be assigned to the same task, but that means they'll have to split the rewards, so there'll be few things to consider when determining how best to grow your stable of assassins. These missions aren't playable, however, so it sounds like the assassins just disappear into the ether and ideally return with good news.
Those who enjoyed the villa upgrade system of Assassin's Creed II may be interested to know that in Brotherhood you'll actually be upgrading the city of Rome itself. You'll buy property and generally bring the Renaissance to an oppressed populace, something you'll see represented visually as the city literally brightens and becomes a happier place as you make progress.
While I didn't get to play, it looks like it could be interesting for Assassin's Creed fans, particularly the ability to call in what essentially amounts to Renaissance-era air strikes. Look for the game on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on November 16th.