Rumble In Renaissance
Following the previous game, it was almost inevitable that Assassin’s Creed would return for a follow-up title. With familiar characters, a constant narrative device that shifts back and forth between past and present, along with a new plot to digest, Assassin’s Creed II refines the gameplay in a big way and with that, adds a much more expansive story spanning a new time period and world to explore.
The main narrative continues to follow Desmond Miles, only this time instead of piecing together the crucial moments of Altaïr’s life, those genetic memories fall to another of Desmond’s ancestors, Ezio Auditore da Firenze whom we follow this time. From the very beginning of the game, Assassin’s Creed boasts a much more vibrant world, taking place during the height of the Renaissance in Italy during the 15th and 16th century, while the continuing feud between the Templars and Assassins loom heavy over large swathes of the story.
After the events of Assassin’s Creed, we begin our tale with Desmond Miles rescued from confinement by Assassin Lucy Stillman who, as you may remember, was revealed to be the undercover mole in the previous game. She takes him to a remote safe house, where he meets her team including historian and analyst Shaun Hastings and technician Rebecca Crane. Using plans stolen by Lucy, the group have constructed their own version of the Animus, dubbed “Baby”, which they intend to use to train Desmond as an Assassin through the so-called “Bleeding Effect”.
The Bleeding Effect allows the user to learn all their ancestor’s skills instantly, cutting out all that time-consuming training. Desmond is assigned to investigate the memories of his ancestor Ezio, starting with his birth to a wealthy Florentine family in the late 15th century. Along the way, Ezio meets real historical figures including Niccolò Machiavelli and Rodrigo Borgia; the latter later known as Pope Alexander VI.
The story then skips forward several years in Italy, with Ezio a reckless man and living right in the heart of the Renaissance. After his father and brothers are wrongfully hanged after being framed for treason by a corrupt magistrate, Ezio kills that magistrate and flees to Monteriggioni in order to be with his mother and sister. There, his uncle Mario reveals that he and his Father served within the Assassins, and agrees to train Ezio in stealth and combat.
From here, the main narrative changes to one of revenge as Ezio sets out to kill the men responsible for arranging his father’s death; specifically anyone aligned to the Pazzi and Barbarigo families. The search takes him to various different cities and he even meets inventor Leonardo da Vinci along the way, who provides Ezio with new equipment and thin slivers of exposition. While in Venice, Ezio learns the identity of the Templar grandmaster known as “the Spaniard”, who happens to be Rodrigo Borgia.
This man has been planning to unify some of the most influential families in Italy to the Templar Order. Ezio confronts Rodrigo while helping him transport an Apple of Eden to Rome. Armed with the papal staff (which turns out to be a Piece of Eden) Rodrigo reveals his intent is to unlock the “Vault”; a chamber he believes to contain a power greater than any the world has ever known. Rodrigo manages to escape though, leaving the Apple in Ezio’s possession. As a reward for service, Mario, along with other major characters who are revealed to be Assassins, formally induct him into the Assassins.
Back in our present timeline, Desmond uncovers a random memory left over from his time at Abstergo, one that shows Altair impregnating Maria Thorpe, a woman who happens to be one of the Templars we encountered in the previous game. Desmond also finds a series of glyphs, which, when deciphered, reveal a vision of two human slaves stealing an Apple. This significant image is pondered over by the team who suggest that the two humans may be Adam and Eve from the Bible.
With the final fight approaching, the team send Desmond to Ezio’s final memory in 1499. With Rodrigo now secure in his position as Pope Alexander VI, Ezio infiltrates the Vatican during Mass and beats him in a fistfight. Rather than kill him outright, Ezio lets the man live with the knowledge that he has failed. Combining the Apple and Staff, Ezio opens the entrance to the vault. Inside, he’s contacted by a strange woman called Minerva.
She explains how her people, the “First Civilization”, created humanity to serve them but were subsequently destroyed by a solar flare which caused chaos in its wake. The survivors of this event joined forces with their former servants, building a series of vaults to preserve their technology and culture. Before vanishing, she breaks the fourth wall and speaks to Desmond, telling him that only he has the power to fulfill this “prophecy”, leaving both him and Ezio confused as to what she means.
Shortly thereafter, Abstergo agents led by Vidic enter the hideout, forcing the team to abandon everything except the Animus. As they head to a new location, Lucy informs Desmond that the Assassins have detected strange occurrences in the Earth’s magnetic field; a solar flare scheduled to pass the planet in a few months may well lead to the same event that ended the First Civilization we learnt about during the climax of Ezio’s ventures in Italy. As Desmond prepares to re-enter the Animus, we leave things wide open for Brotherhood to continue Ezio’s journey.
With a more expansive story this time around and a lot more regions to explore, the Assassin’s Creed formula that’s become a main-stay in this series begins to take shape and part of that is thanks to the way its story plays out. While it doesn’t have the same twists and turns the previous title had, Assassin’s Creed II more than makes up for that with a clever use of the Animus to thrust Desmond into different moments through Ezio’s life rather than playing out a straight forward linear narrative.
This allows for a much longer story to play out, across multiple regions in Italy and across Ezio’s life, while using the similar tactics of the successful assassination targets drip-feeding exposition about what’s going to happen next. The present day timeline changes and adds a lot more urgency to proceedings in order to help advance the plot too, although the end-of-the-world scenario feels a little cliched and over-done.
Still, there’s a reason Ezio is one of the more beloved Assassins we meet over the games and his character is given a decent amount of depth here to help us empathise with him. His family set-up and motivations make sense and across the game, he becomes a lot more adept at his role which helps with that aforementioned character progression. With Brotherhood continuing Ezio’s journey, this second chapter does well to keep you excitedly anticipating what will happen next.