Game Review: Assassin’s Creed: Ezio Trilogy

Ezio overlooking Constantinopole

A few months ago, I had little to no desire to play any of the Assassin’s Creed games.  From what I saw of the games in various magazines or websites I could say that it looked nice, but didn’t seem to be what I wanted to play.  Then I saw the first preview for Assassin’s Creed III (ACIII) and suddenly my interest was piqued… so I purchased the original Assassin’s Creed (AC).  I spent about four hours or so with it and was so incredibly bored and uninterested that I took the disc from my system, placed it in it’s case, and never took it out again.

Flash forward a couple of months and after a few conversations with a co-worker who is a fan of the game series, the E3 premiere of ACIII gameplay, and, more importantly, the knowledge that I could get away with starting the series with Assassin’s Creed II (ACII) thanks to a quick “previously on Assassin’s Creed” opening and the fact that the first one sucked comparatively, and I was sold… or rather… I was sold a copy of ACII for about $20… you can’t go wrong.

It did not take too long for me to plow through ACII, as well as it’s two sequels; Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (ACB) and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (ACR)… and just in time for Ubisoft’s release of both ACIII and the now bundled Assassin’s Creed: Ezio Trilogy, which is comprised of the three games that I purchased individually.

So… what or who is this Ezio?  That would be Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the titular assassin that you control over the course of these three games… an Italian assassin living in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries during the renaissance.  Perhaps you are wondering why I chose to say “control” as opposed to play?  Good question (that I imagined you to have asked).  That is because you are technically not playing as Ezio, you are playing as Desmond Miles… a man in 2012 who is attached to a machine called the Animus which will allow someone to go back into the memories of an ancestor and control that ancestors movements and actions.  And why is he in this Animus?  Because of Templars silly.  Yes… this game delves into Dan Brown territory… with the exception of actually being fun.

In the original AC, you were also Desmond, but were controlling Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, an assassin living in Syria during the Third Crusade.  In this game you learn of the centuries long fight between the Knights Templar and the Assassins… the latter fighting for humanity’s right to free will and the former wishing to control and essentially enslave mankind, and both searching for something called, The Pieces of Eden.  That’s right… you are the good guys… the assassins… that makes sense… right?

Desmond is also an assassin in training, although he doesn’t know this at first, and is recruited by an organization called Abstergo, which ends up being a Templar group.  Oops.

ACII opens with that brief rundown of the story and shows Desmond, Lucy, Rebecca, and Shaun (three people who were working with Abstergo but are on the side of the Assassins [supposedly]) on the run and searching for a place to set up their new Animus 2.0.  As Desmond gets into the Animus, the first thing we see is the birth of Ezio Auditore, then we jump forward seventeen years and the story truly begins.

Unknown to Ezio, his father is an assassin and upon his father coming into trouble he is given his father’s assassin robes and weapon, his hidden blade.  From this point on, Ezio will take up the mantle and will fight to free his family and eventually, he will fight the Templars.

The three games follow Ezio as he first travels throughout Italy seeking justice for the death of his father and two brothers, then focuses in on the Borgias in Rome, and eventually taking the fight to the Templars in Constantinople in search of the keys to Altair’s vault.  Each game seemingly improves upon the previous game and by the time you reach ACR, you will have played through Ezio’s life from 17 to his mid 50’s or so.  He will feel like an old friend… and you will feel for him and the troubles that he has gone through.

Please note that I have not once mentioned any actual gameplay… I have come to realize that gameplay, although important, always takes a back seat to story for me.  Without a good tale to bridge any action, a game is simply going through the motions… but with a great story I can feel invested and involved… and over the course of these three games, I became very wrapped up in the life of this man… I wished nothing but goodwill towards his fate, and it was a pleasure helping him along the way.

That said… I suppose I should talk about gameplay.  This is a sandbox style action-adventure game where much of the game is played by climbing and fighting.  You must at times be stealthy, other times more aggressive… each mission and quest gives you a certain set of objectives in addition to some optional objectives in order to bump up the difficulty and/or make the game more involving and challenging.  This is what they refer to as “synchronization”… or rather, if you can match up your actions with Ezio’s actual memories, then you can achieve 100% synchronization.  If not, you can still continue the story, you will just not get a trophy or some other pointless thing.

I was at various times reminded of both Uncharted and Skyrim… the climbing and fighting were very Uncharted-like at times, in addition to some of the climbing puzzles… and the character management felt a bit like Skyrim at times, although nowhere near as all consuming, more along the lines of buying weapons and armor, making improvements to your villa (ACII), purchasing landmarks and stores (ACB & ACR), and taking out the enemy strongholds and replacing them with your assassin’s strongholds (ACB & ACR).

One element of gameplay that was introduced in ACB and continued through ACR is the notion of finding recruits for you to turn into assassins.  This was great fun for me and became my favorite element of the games.  You are able to assign your recruits all over the Mediterranean and surrounding areas in order to bring more of the known world under assassin control.  The management for this brought in more money and gave you added aid in times of need.

Also, great pains were apparently taken to achieve a certain amount of historical accuracy with regards to the locations and the people involved.  Each game starts with a disclaimer of how this game of historical fiction was created with people from many religious and cultural backgrounds… and I can understand why they would want to put that disclaimer there… in ACII you must go after a corrupt papacy, in ACB you continue on that quest.  Plus there are a whole host of potential political pitfalls at play in ACR when you are in what is now Turkey.  But it is in Italy when you come into contact with some of the more historical persons… Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, Lorenzo de’Medici, and Rodrigo Borgia.

Another aspect of the game that was missing in the original AC but very present in the other three… a sense of humor.  There are a number of expectantly funny moments… and I appreciate that to the nth degree.  Nothing can suck the joy out of playing something more than a game that takes itself too seriously… actually, I think I can say that for almost anything.  There are moments when this game feels a bit heavy handed and a bit too on the nose… but there are surprises, and the end of each of these games delivers a number of very groovy reveals.

Which now leads me to ACIII… coming out next week on October 30th.  We will no longer be playing as Ezio or Alair, but instead a man named Conner during the American Revolution… although you will still be Desmond Miles, in what is being said to be the final installment in the Desmond story.  I can’t wait…

Summing up… I thoroughly enjoyed playing each of these three games that comprise the Ezio Trilogy.  As mentioned, each game improves upon the last… and crap, how did I not mention the fact that all of these games are freaking gorgeous.  Beautifully rendered city-scapes and with such attention to detail you will feel that you are part of these old worlds.  The scenes in Constantinople are simply stunning… and with each game you have to climb to various high points in order to fill in your map and finish off with a “leap of faith”… a many, many story swan dive into hay stacks.  Visually arresting, fun adrenaline filled action sequences, and enough mysteries and strong story elements to make you want to find out everything you can about this world and become surprisingly frustrated when each game ends because you still had so much more to do.

I left out a whole bevy of details about these games… my hope is that you will invest your time and give them all a go…

Arrivederci Ezio Auditore da Firenze,
Cornelius J. Blahg 

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