Far from the expansion pack that many expected, this is the definitive Assassin’s Creed game so far. It’s as beautiful as the series has always been, and the character animation is superb – but this time Ubisoft have layered dozens of game types on top of the basic quests. As many reviewers have noted, it’s easy to become happily waylaid in sidequests, en route to main story locations – in fact, this is the only game I can remember where I’ve begun to rinse the remaining sidequests immediately after completing the main story.
The city-building metagame, now presented as part of the open world rather than a discrete interface, appealed to my completionist tendencies and the effect on the game world was tangible. The brotherhood metagame, where you send fellow assassins on remote quests for loot rewards, was less successful. It’s all too easy to ignore the text descriptions of quests and to see assassins as resources to be apportioned out – I’d expect this element of the game to be improved in later sequels.
One of my biggest criticisms in the first AC game was that it encouraged lazy play rather than elaborately stealthy assassinations. Importantly, many of the key assassinations in this third title are framed in ways that invite imaginative approaches: by rooftop, from hidden positions within crowds, and using smoke bombs and poison to dispose of targets. Even though my occasional frustration led me to take the easy route at times, the introduction of a ‘100% sync’ bonus for completing a quest in a particular manner should ensure that I’ll be aiming to up my game later.
The story is, as always, tosh – at least, in terms of the nuts and bolts of dialogue, exposition and so on. But Brotherhood’s strongest narrative suit is the blending of the contemporary world (Desmond and his assassin-sympathising techies) and his ancestors’ memories. Leaping around Ezio’s mansion as modern-day Desmond was a strange thrill that’s far more affecting that anything contained in the script proper. Like many open world games, Brotherhood’s most enduring moments are non-scripted. My revelation was early in the game as I discovered the ruined Colosseum, clambered to the top of the one remaining full wall, and surveyed the glorious view.
Spoilers! Don’t read this paragraph if you’re planning to play the game.
There was, though, one story element that really surprised me. Ezio’s quest is to rescue Lucrezia Borge’s lover, Pietro Rossi: he’s taken the role of Jesus in a Passion play, but Cesare Borge has ordered Micheletto to stab and kill Rossi as an ‘accident’ during the rehearsal within the ruins of the Colosseum. As Ezio, the player steals and wears a Roman soldier costume and infiltrates the rehearsal, kills Micheletto and rescues Rossi, who has also been poisoned. Taking Rossi to a nearby doctor to be cured involves the player guiding this Roman soldier, as he carries a bloody and limp Jesus rescued from the cross, slowly out of the Colosseum. While, of course, both game characters are acting these parts, the image is striking. It’s one of those moments (like the Tibetan village scene in Uncharted 2) where the player is invited to dwell on the details with only a small amount of agency in the onscreen actions. It’s one of the most interesting scenes I’ve seen in a game all year and raises all sorts of questions about subject matter that could, one day, be addressed by videogames.