The Assassin's Creed franchise is turning into something of a behemoth and the impressive thing is that it has managed to do it in such a short space of time. After debuting in 2007, the franchise has appeared on almost every console, can be explored in written form and is viewable in the form of some short films - it's the epitome of Ubisoft's convergence mantra. But it's only been such a success because of its mysterious storyline and its ability to transport players into past time periods with such ease - two aspects that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood manages to nail yet again, despite being primarily set around the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze for a second time.
The game kicks off right where Assassin's Creed II ended and your first action in the game as Ezio is to escape from the Vatican with the assistance of your uncle Mario. From here though, things take a sharp turn for the worst, as the Borgia are back to seek vengeance for Ezio's previous endeavours and they have a new leader in Cesare Borgia, Rodrigo's son. They lay siege to Monteriggioni, killing Mario in the process and taking back the Apple of Eden from Ezio.
However, the main premise behind the story of course isn't Ezio, it's that the Animus is struggling to figure out where exactly Ezio hid the Apple of Eden when he retrieved it for a second time from the Borgia. Because of this, Desmond must again tackle Ezio's past in order to re-synchronise the Animus and where better to do this than Monteriggioni, in the present day. After all, sometimes the best place to hide is somewhere that's rather expected.
As the game develops, it will once again hook you in. However, it probably won't answer many of the lingering questions that were posed by both Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II. In fact, it probably opens up even more questions and the ending, in true Assassin's Creed style, is another monstrous cliff-hanger which will leave you craving Assassin's Creed III to figure out exactly where the story will turn next.
Although it's possible to leave the Animus at any time to play as Desmond, it does feel as though this aspect is still a bit restrictive. Only brief conversations can be had with the various team members and while it is possible to roam around the town of Monteriggioni, the sections where you're forced to play as Desmond are about on par with previous iterations.
Due to the attack on Monteriggioni, the bulk of Ezio's equipment is destroyed. He flees to Rome and with the help of Niccolo Machiavelli, he gets the basics back almost instantly. You'll have to work your way up to performing certain actions, like the double hidden blade. You can get things like this relatively soon though so there isn't much waiting around which is nice.What's also nice is the new subtle features that have been added into the gameplay, such as further refined climbing and an enhanced combat system which makes the fighting much more fluid and devastating. Naturally, Ezio has new animations to accompany his various attacks, but the new chaining system makes it so much more enjoyable. In previous games, each opponent had to be battered down or killed via a counter. In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, you can still do this if you want, but after killing an opponent any others can be killed instantly until you get hit, or miss. When counters are also thrown into the mix, you can take down a squadron of enemies in no time at all and it's very satisfying to pull such a feat off. The word 'untouchable' comes to mind.
The main campaign is still focused around unique missions, but to make them feel even more unique, secondary objectives are now present. Performing only the main objective will allow Desmond to gain 50 percent synchronisation with Ezio, but performing the second objective will allow for 100 percent synchronisation, allowing for some repressed memories to potentially be unlocked. Secondary objectives are usually things like, go through the whole mission without being spotted, or kill your target in a specific way.
Perhaps one of the biggest additions in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the ability to recruit other assassins. It is also one of the main themes of the game too, as it's all about Ezio building up a brotherhood to fight against the Borgia and to do this, you must find citizens who are in need of assistance. It's possible to recruit a total of twelve assassins to aid your cause, one for each of the Borgia towers located around the city of Rome.
The Borgia towers cement their influence around Rome, and taking them down allows you to exert some of your own influence on the city. After a tower has been taken down, a potential assassin recruit will appear on the map; help them in combat against the Borgia and they will join your cause. From here, comes a bit of micro-managing. You can send your assassin recruits on missions throughout Europe via a menu system which can be located from pigeon coops, but you can also call them in to help you with fights.
It's not a very deep system, but it doesn't need to be and it compliments both the story and the gameplay in a suitable manner. You can completely ignore them altogether and still complete the game, but using them and endorsing the micro-management aspect also has its own benefits as they become stronger in combat, providing much more suitable aid if you need it.
Other gameplay refinements come in the ability to ride horses at any time during the game. Tunnels are provided for quick-travel, but due to the sheer size of the map, horses also provide a rather quick mode of transportation. Quick climbing, which wasn't that great in Assassin's Creed II, now seems to be much more effective too and overall, the whole experience has just been made more streamline and fun to play. Assassin's Creed II didn't have too many faults from a gameplay perspective, but Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood addresses the few faults the game had. It's something that Ubisoft Montreal should be proud of - listening to feedback and making sure things are improved upon. They did it between Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II, and they've done it again.The game's presentation is very similar to Assassin's Creed II. It adorns the same art style and the customisation options in the game are relatively similar. There are some nice new locations to visit though and the Sons of Romulus pose platforming conundrums this time around. The music and sound overall is again exceptional, although the soundtrack has a very similar tone to it, probably a move that was done on purpose to reflect the unchanging location that the game finds itself in.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has replay value in spades. The main campaign, if you solely concentrate on that, will probably take just over ten hours. The beautiful thing about the game though, is that purely focussing on the main campaign is so difficult as there are so many things to distract you. Whether it's hunting down Templar Agents, getting the Scrolls of Romulus, renovating all of Rome, hunting down Subject 16's new Truth, helping Leonardo da Vinci or taking down all of the Borgia Towers, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a monster.
And that's not even getting started on the things which can be mentioned as "other" distractions, like the Virtual Training Room and the Multiplayer. The Virtual Training Room is comprised of numerous short objectives, each of which are designed to make you a better player in the main campaign. They can based around numerous topics, such as speed running or performing kill chains, but their challenging nature makes them rather addictive. There are also some run rewards if you can complete them all too.
On top of this is the multiplayer, which has a very minor story element to it. The premise is that Abstergo have put the Animus through mass production and are training their employees to become soldiers through the art of simulation. In the multiplayer, you play as these employees as they're learning, and so, what you do is effectively their training program. There are numerous modes to enjoy, with the main mode being Wanted, where it's effectively a free-for-all assassination deathmatch. It's genius though. You are given a target, but you're never 100 percent sure who your target is, as there are many other characters with the same features walking around the world. It's up to you to determine which is the correct one, all while trying to ward off opponents who are sizing you up for assassination.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is more than just worthy a addition to the Assassin's Creed franchise, it's the best Assassin's Creed title to date. It offers another gripping story, with an equally climactic ending and the only negative is that we now have to wait to see how the next chapter will unfold. The gameplay refinements are very welcome and with this much content packed into one title, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is sure to keep people busy for a considerable amount of time.