Why I think Assassins Creed Brotherhood is the worst of AC, and a worrying title for AC fans
I know I'm going to get some (well, probably a lot) of heat for this but screw it I'll go for it anyway. Just so you know, there will be spoilers ahead about AC:Brotherhood itself and possibly ACII and AC.
Lots of people have talked about what Ubisoft have achieved with the Assassins Creed series. Assassins Creed was a game that was in development for quite a while and was initially planned to be a Playstation 3 exclusive but was eventually announced to be a multiplatform title. Assassins Creed never really lived up to the potential it had, something which Ubisoft admitted a while ago in acknowledging that the hype that began to surface on the title resulted in them making the game a little more mainstream and simplified than they had planned.
Assassins Creed then looked a promising title but never really got off the ground. But Ubisoft knew where they went wrong and weren't afraid to admit their mistakes and try to fix things with Assassins Creed II, and that's exactly what they did. Much improved free-running and gameplay in general with fast-climbing, more hiding options such as blending with groups and on benches, aerial, ledge and hay-bale assassinations, and more of a focus on the player individual assassination sequences and pushing players to be more stealthy. Combat was much improved too from the drab affair it was in Assassins Creed, with different weapons such as the poison blade and the hidden pistol, and also different types of swords and heavy and small weapons being available to the player to buy and use with the new monetary system. Counter-attacking and dodging worked much more efficiently and combat, while still not feeling incredibly different and diverse, was much less dull and irritating as it sometimes was in Assassins Creed.
Assassins Creed II also grabbed our attention with wonderful visuals and graphics and a number of famous and beautiful locations to explore and enjoy, such as Florence and Venice. Story wise players were introduced to the life of a very likeable and interesting protagonist in the amiable and naive Ezio Auditore da Firenze, along with his encounters with a huge range of memorable characters in the supporting cast.
I've blabbed on enough already without even talking about Brotherhood, so let's get down to it, why the hate for the game?
First of all when you jump into Brotherhood you notice how similar it is to Assassins Creed II. In the surroundings of 16th century Italy, in combat, in characters, and even in plot. I was already sceptical about the release of Brotherhood so soon after ACII was released and in a setting that seemed so similar, but hey I enjoyed ACII and enjoyed AC so why wouldn't I like this? My main worry about the game was whether there was really any point in the game in whether the story would actually hold any importance in the overall arc of the AC plot, and it was easy to see on my first playthrough that I was justified in worrying about it.
The game begins directly after the ending of Assassins Creed II (much like ACII begins directly after the ending of AC, albeit a few hours later in that case) with Ezio and his uncle Mario escaping The Vatican with the Apple of Eden. From then on the game, to put it simply, tells the story of how the Assassins lost the Apple, and got it back again. It sounds like I'm literally just dumbing down the story to nothing (which I could perhaps do with ACII aswell and make it seem just as redundant a game), but think about it. The first number of sequences are about things that in ACII would have been skipped on but referenced to since they were so small and unimportant. Ezio has the Apple, Cesare Borgia, another unimportant character although that point is for later, attacks Monteriggioni and kills Mario and steals the Apple of Eden for the Borgia household. The next sequence you get to the Tiber Island hideout. The next sequence you just do missions for the courtesans, thieves and mercenaries to gain their help. The next sequence you rescue Caterina from the Castello Sant Angelo and then destroy one of Da Vinci's war machines. And so on and so on.
In Assassins Creed II I felt there was a point in me playing out what I was playing. I find out Umberto Alberti betrayed Ezio's family and plot revenge on him. Then I begin to find out more about the Templar order. Then I take down to Pazzi to keep Florence a republic in the hands of the Medici and to stop the Templars taking full control of more of Italy, etc. Everything regarding Ezio's story in Assassins Creed Brotherhood is so redundant and unnecessary. Even the main enemy and the main antagonist, Rodrigo Borgia's (or Alexander VI's) son, Cesare Borgia. Cesare first appears in ACB in Monteriggioni as he leads the attack of the Papal Forces on the area and takes the Apple of Eden from Ezio. After this point we get to see his influence and importance in the story, but there's one problem: it doesn't exist. Cesare appears sporadically, at one time to dash out of the Castello when Ezio is trying to save Caterina, at another time to kill a man who claims to have been a loyal servant of his but who made a mistake. We never really get to see much of Cesare until the 8th Sequence when he storms into the Castello whinging to Rodrigo Borgia about him cutting his money as he can't afford to pay Louis XII for his French forces amongst other monetary issues. Rodrigo tells him he took the Apple and hid it away. Cesare eventually kills Rodrigo and finds out the location of the Apple, as does Ezio and they begin a chase to see who will get to it first. Here Ezio regains the Apple for the Assassins and all is right with the world. He eventually also catches up with Cesare once more in the future after he has escaped from the confinement of the Spanish, and seemingly sends him to his death.
My point here is that Cesare Borgia's position in, not even just the overall AC plot, but even just in Brotherhood, seems meaningless. He is portrayed as an idiotic, naive child who doesn't know how to command his men. In Assassins Creed II, Ezio spends the game trying to reach whoever is at the top of the Templar order, at least in Italy, to make whoever ordered the death of the other men of the Auditore family pay. Throughout the game you begin to learn more about "The Spaniard" and how incredibly powerful he really is and eventually, after a long and ardous attempt through multiple intelligence sources and assassinations, Ezio finds his way to reach the ever illusive Rodrigo Borgia, and even then with his fellow assassins by his side he fails to despatch of him. In Brotherhood despite the claims of other characters such as Machiavelli and La Volpe, Cesare hardly seems like he's anything near untouchable, and in time you find that that is definitely the case.
Another one of my main gripes with ACB's structuring is the fact that the whole first 5 sequences are spent introducing new players to the world of Assassins Creed. I'm all for giving new players to any series a chance in to help them understand things and how they work, but not if it ruins the experience for the rest of the players. The first 4 sequences are spent showing players through the Romulus scroll / tomb missions (which are a pretty poor copy of the Assassin tombs from ACII), teaching players how to track and trail targets, how to hide successfully in groups, how to find targets with Eagle Vision, and a number of other things. I wonder to myself "didn't I already play this introduction in Assassins Creed II"? Sequence 5, The Banker (another unimportant character who's killing seems another pointless task to achieve), is the player's first real rest in the whole game for hiding and assassinating anyone, in real sense of the word "assassinate" that is; I found the lack of real assassinations in AC: Brotherhood extremely worrying. The introduction of the assassin recruits was an interesting idea but was another reason why combat and any tasks in general were too easy in ACB.
Only on the near-completion of my second playthrough of Brotherhood did I notice also how bad some of the scriptwriting is. The majority of the memory sequences spend their time giving fan service to Ezio, making him seem like an all knowing, all wise hero of the world. While Ezio is being shown as an infallible hero unable of any misjudgement or wrong-doing, we get cringe-worthy lines from the likes of Caterina Sforza saying something along the lines of "good people of Roma, don't give up hope your time of freedom will come!" and other things such as "Vittoria agli Assassini!" (Victory to the Assassins!). You also begin to notice some other slight issues with certain story elements too. Ezio, a complete womanizer throughout Assassins Creed II, perhaps until he meets Rosa the thief who he seems to become quite close to, at the start of Brotherhood looks as if he wants to settle down for a while with Caterina Sforza, someone who he has had 2 short interactions with, while Rosa has disappeared completely despite being intimate with Ezio for a much longer period. Is she suddenly unimportant in the AC plot because Caterina Sforza was a real person and a historical figure?
Then there's the combat. The thing about a lot of games this gen is that obviously with newer technology developers have more tools available for their games and they can give players more options, but I feel Brotherhood's combat additions are more of a hindrance to ACB (and possibly all future AC games) than a help. The problem with combat in ACB, is that it is incredibly too easy. The addition of the "kick" means that instead of waiting patiently to counter your enemies's attack, or trying to dodge their attacks and break their defense from there, all you need to do is press X (or A) and attack 3 times with the sword and bam, you're done. You also have killstreaks which honestly I can't understand the inclusion of. Basically once you break one enemies' defense and kill them, all you need to do is press the attack button once and aim the analogue in the direction of any other enemy for an instant kill, and you can just do it over and over and over. If that's not enough, there's the introduction of the Crossbow. The crossbow has been teased to players ever since one of the first trailers for Assassins Creed (1), but you can tell why it wasn't included so soon. The crossbow is a way to silently kill any enemy that is from near-medium distance away without any scruple. Again the problem with this is that it makes the game way too easy and reduces that classic tension and patience you have to have in any moment of any old stealth game, like say Metal Gear Solid 1 for example, where you know that around any corner there could be enemies and where you are forced to be as stealthy as possible. With the crossbow in ACB even if an enemy is looking directly at you and from just a few yards away with his suspicion meter rapidly filling you can speedily grab your crossbow and take him out with one simple shot. One of the main problems with this is that it makes the use of the throwing knives, a key item in Assassins Creed, completely useless, especially since with certain enemies it will often take 2 throwing knives to kill them.
I don't hate Brotherhood completely. The Desmond sequences to me are the only parts of the game which stay true to the AC story and style and are of any real relevance, particularly the final 15-20 minutes of course. What I'm getting at is this question: why couldn't Ubisoft leave out Brotherhood and really go for the next title to make it as good as it can be? Brotherhood spent 2 fifths of the game introducing the franchise and gameplay to new players, another quarter giving fan service to Ezio with some absolutely really awful dialogue making the assassin order seem as if everything they do is morally simple and correct, another fifth buying things from shops and walking up to multitudes of signs to rebuild Rome, and the final fifth actually forwarding the story with Desmond's sections.
Perhaps the most ironic thing is that despite all of my complaints, right or wrong, I have a bit of hope for Revelations. Ezio reaching Constantinople and searching for a number of things, Altair's return at what could be a fairly important time in his life, and Desmond's story too. Assassins Creed (1) had a wonderful setting, something almost completely alien to what we experienced in ACII and AC:B, but with the gameplay flaws among other things it wasn't as good as it could have been. I think with the jumps ACII made AC:Revelations could be a lot of fun, but clearly I am very worried about where the series is going and whether the AC plot and games in general is going to suffer because they want the series to "appeal to a wider audience". While Ubisoft are clear about their desires to continue AC as a yearly franchise I don't think it is the best option for them, especially if they do the same with Assassins Creed III.
There are some things I have left out since I have spent an age writing this (and didn't plan on writing this much) so apologies and also apologies if some things seem ambiguous or written poorly which if so is probably because of the same reason.