There's little talk of Templars in Brotherhood's campaign, but there is a new group of enemies to contend with: the followers of Romulus. Most of your contact with these beastly, fur-clad zealots is in their lairs, which take the place of Assassin's Creed II's tombs. Lairs are improvements over the tombs, however, in part because time limits are no longer so central to completing them. There is also a lot more design variety to them. In one, fires erupt beneath you, and you must leap from pillar to pillar to avoid falling into the flames. In another, you leap across great heights and use your crossbow in creative ways to cause an enormous chandelier to crash into a column. One fascinating lair is an expansive abandoned residence, which is a nice visual change of pace from the darker, more structured tomb architecture.
6284017Ezio is willing to defend his family at all costs. None
Many of the standard missions should be familiar to series fans: tail your target by slinking from one group of citizens to the next (it's nice that they engage in conversation with each other when you do this now, rather than remain silent); fend off a series of attackers; or navigate to specific locations so you may eavesdrop on important conversations. But even within these assignments, there is a great deal of diversity. In one case, you must infiltrate a Passion play and determine the appropriate target before he can poison your contact. In another, you must kidnap and imprison a key figure who puts up quite a fuss in the process. The missions surrounding da Vinci's inventions are perhaps the most memorable, however. They recall the flying machine mission and carriage escapes in Assassin's Creed II, but this time, you get even more impressive toys to play with and more thrilling scripted sequences. Some tasks don't quite rise to the same level. Assassin's Creed's loose movement mechanics are wonderfully suited to its free-form climbing and so-called social stealth, but are less ideal for traditional sneaking and hiding. This can lead to frustration in missions that automatically fail if you are spotted. Fortunately, these are infrequent exceptions; on the whole, Brotherhood's mission structure is inspired.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's most noteworthy new feature isn't introduced until you're several hours in. In a callback to the original Assassin's Creed, distressed citizens might be under attack by Borgia's loyal soldiers. Rescuing one makes him or her loyal to your cause. From here, you control this underling's fate, sending him on various missions around the region, and even calling for his assistance in battle. These missions are handled via menus when you visit a pigeon coop. You select a contract and choose a recruit or recruits to assign, and they hopefully succeed. By completing missions, the recruits level up, and you can then improve their armor or weaponry. Eventually, they become full-fledged assassins and even celebrate their newfound status in a ceremony. Provided you haven't sent the whole cache of recruits on missions, you can call upon a few in battle, at which point they either rain down arrows from an unseen vantage point, leap out of haystacks, or charge in on horseback and engage their targets.
This lair really turns up the heat.
This aspect of Brotherhood is another way of giving you something to do in a game already full of content. At the very least, it's fun to call upon your brothers and sisters and watch them do their dirty work on your behalf. Ultimately, however, this aspect feels unnecessary and contrived. This is due in part to the combat's lack of challenge. Swordplay has been tweaked for the better, but a move that lets you string together one-slash kills keeps it from ever being so challenging that you need to call on your fellow assassins to gain a strategic advantage. More importantly, there's never any payoff for spending time improving your subordinates. The very existence of an ever-growing group of murder machines hints at an overall purpose--a grand final battle or some sort of reward for putting together the most powerful brotherhood possible. But no such reward exists, which makes the entire process feel like busywork. Granted, it's entertaining busywork, and it implies that Ezio is the full leader of a growing order. However, the feature lacks direction; it's as if you spent hours leveling up in a role-playing game, only for it to end without a climactic standoff.
You may never have thought that Assassin's Creed begged for a multiplayer component, but Brotherhood introduces one nevertheless. There are several modes, but they are all variations on the same theme: you hunt an assigned target (alone, or in a team) while simultaneously trying to avoid the player assigned to assassinate you. This isn't as easy as it sounds. You get a general indication of your target's location, and you know what your target looks like. But then again, many of the non-player characters look exactly the same; if you're smart, you'll move slowly and stay close to your look-alikes to throw your hunter off your trail while keeping your eyes open for the telltale signs of another player. To further complicate matters, you can level up and earn special powers, such as temporarily disguising yourself, or using eagle vision to spot your victim. Matches aren't packed with action, but they can be incredibly intense. You might discover your target and give chase across rooftops, only to lose the assassination contract when he escapes. Or you might leap onto your target and plunge your blade into his throat, only to give yourself away to your own pursuer. The measured tempo won't be appealing to those who thrive on ceaseless thrills, but Brotherhood's tense tug-of-war pacing makes it an appealing alternative that rewards you for careful and clever assassinations.
Training scenarios let you practice your swordsmanship, though they're not the game's finest addition.
You may run into a few glitches here and there, such as those moments when you walk forward, only for Ezio to bend forward as if he's on a ledge, even though you are on continuously flat terrain. In addition, we fell through the world geometry and into the waters far beneath on several occasions, which required a restart. But these are uncommon occasions in a refined and sophisticated adventure. Almost every aspect of the series has seen enhancements in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, from travel (you can whistle for a horse and ride it almost anywhere) to value (you can now replay any completed memory). There is joy in leaping across the Roman rooftops, taking in the grand sights in front of you and realizing that it is all your own playground. Stealing a combatant's spear from him and impaling him on it is a brutal pleasure. And the little touches--the way Claudia meets Ezio's stare with one of her own, or the fluid animations that characterize your agile maneuvers--are constant reminders of what makes these games so enchanting. This may not be Assassin's Creed III, but like Ezio's smirk, Brotherhood is too irresistible to ignore.