Assassin's Creed II is getting religion. Well, more religion than the previous chapter – which was already essentially soaked in the intrigue and horror of the Crusades. The ending of the original Creed tackled a cornerstone of the rise of civilization head-on, too: the birth of a shared mythology and its power to shape the course of human history. Prior to his PAX presentation of Assassin's Creed 2 to a crowd of 5,000 eager gamers, creative director Patrice Desilets sat down with IGN for a few minutes to talk about the game. In our conversation, Desilets confirmed that the series will continue to delve into the use (and abuse) of religion in the ongoing struggle between the Templars and the assassins.
(Warning: slight spoiler alert in the next paragraph for those who have not played the ending of the original Assassin's Creed.) I asked Desilets about whether or not the conspiracy involving the apple would continue in this game, despite advancing the time frame into the Renaissance. "You will learn more about the apple," he confirmed. Apparently this artifact (and possible others) will be a common thread that binds the stories together despite a change in hero. Another thread that links up all of the games in the franchise (Desilets kiddingly referred to an Assassin's Creed 36) is Desmond, who will play a larger role in the second game, now that players have been exposed to him and understand his role in the narrative, particularly during the closing minutes of the game when you get an idea of not only how far back this conspiracy runs, but just how encompassing it is. If you freeze frame that wall at the end of the game – and you know exactly which wall I'm talking about – you see that this about more than an apple. More than just the memories of a single person.
Another feature of the game we discussed was the evolution of crowds moving into chapter two. Desilets admits that the crowds in the first game were not optimal: "In AC1, the crowd was an obstacle. This time, they are an opportunity." The on-stage demo of the game seen later in the day at PAX confirms several of the new opportunities presented by crowds, such as the ability to pick any pocket for money. (This money can be used to buy gear and items, such as poison – but more on that later.) The people in Florence are doing a lot more than just milling about. They seem genuinely engaged in lives, such as playing dress-up to impress peers and gathering in groups to gossip. These groups are essential for the player that focuses on stealth. When you slip into a crowd, a sparkle appears around Ezio that indicates he is invisible to his quarry. A fantastical circle also appears around the crowd that shows you the area you must stay within to remain hidden, provided you do not make any rash moves to upset the innocents you mingle with.
The on-stage demo Desilets goes through wows the crowd. It's fun to pick up on what makes gamers cheer. The first time Ezio runs along a rooftop and then leaps out to a hanging planter or lantern to swing around a ninety-degree corner inspires a whoop. The urban acrobatics are certainly back. In the demo, Ezio performs incredible feats of grace and balance as you slips along posts and poles, shimmying up walls, and essentially defying gravity in little bursts. You can tell Desilets is clearly enjoying the reaction to the game, as it gives him a chance to – and this is his quote – "back up our bulls—t" with a crowd that will have no problem roasting him if the game appears underwhelming in any way as several attendees rather rudely did during the question-and-answer part of the Splinter Cell: Conviction portion of the demo session.
Desilets also reveals that Assassin's Creed II shares a little DNA with the Prince of Persia series. After slipping into the catacomb below Florence, the camera tracks through a gymnastics puzzle. You see the general path you must undertake, but then it snaps back to Ezio with a "now what are you gonna do?" vibe. Using moves similar to the Prince, Ezio weaves and winds his way through passages, jumping across crumbling walls and swinging over gaps in the floor. According to Desilets, there will be approximately 4-5 hours of Prince of Persia-style gameplay in Creed II.
The Persia-puzzle soon gives way to a chase scene which challenges you to perform those same acrobatics you practiced on the rooftops under great pressure. Ezio must track down a fleeing Templar in the catacombs. The chase goes on for quite some time to build tension (although there appeared to be moments where Desilets could have pounced on his prey sooner). It ends, though, as they always do in the Creed games: an assassin standing over the slumping body on his victim.
Desilets says that assassinations will be easier to perform in the second game. The twin wrist-blades help with double kills and Ezio also has a hidden gun on his wrist that fires a deadly shot into his quarry. But there are additional ways to kill a man in Florence, such as pricking him with a poison-tipped knife as you saunter by.
The demo ends with Ezio creeping up to the rafters above a secret meeting in the depth of the catacombs. Several noble-looking men have gathered around a table. The news is that the Pope is giving his blessing to the upcoming Templar operation. There will be murder soon, linked to real-life events related to the Medici family during the Renaissance period.
The crowd was definitely into the game. There were other moments of loud reaction, such as the first double-assassination. At the beginning of the session, Desilets posited that by now, over 35 million people have experienced the first Assassin's Creed in one form or another. With Ezio being one of the last heroes standing in the great stampede of games into 2010, Ubisoft is sure to add quite a few more eyeballs and thumbs to that impressive statistic.
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