This review was written with the goal of trying to explain my experience with the game through the context of the score system provided by FG2. It is also my intent to judge it fairly in each category, with a “5” being considered average instead of the typical tendency of most gaming websites to give a “7” or “8” score in that respect. If you disagree with my scores, please feel free to discuss in the comments below.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has always had a complicated relationship with plotting. All of the trailers you see touch on the historical shenanigans you can get up to. “See the world as an assassin during the Crusades!” it seems to say in one trailer. “How about the Age of Piracy in the Caribbean?” “How about the turn of the century American colonies?” Assassin’s Creed has always been about these moments, gallivanting about famous time periods as the biggest badass in town. All under the pretext of fighting some endless war where an organization of Assassins try to preserve the freedom that evil Templars are trying to take away from the people of the world.
A lesser known fact is that there is an overarching story behind it all. In it you control Desmond Miles, a man who can use a Matrix-esque chair to relive the memories of his assassin ancestors. Desmond is noteworthy only in that he is the blandest and least interesting video game protagonist I have ever laid eyes on. But Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is nothing if not a double-edged sword, and averts a total crisis in this category by bringing back one of the greatest video game protagonists ever seen. This game witnesses the return of one of the coolest ancestors Desmond ever spends time with: Ezio Auditore, the charismatic and mischievous Italian youth that we got to know in Assassin’s Creed II.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood picks up where II left off, a continuation of Ezio’s war against the Borgia family in Renaissance Italy, a significant conflict in the wider global war of Assassins against the Templars. In this, we are shown an Ezio who has gone through major change over the years. Unlike his brash early years, the Ezio of Brotherhood is smarter and more devious, seen clearly in his plan to defeat the Borgia. Ezio intends to do this, not by straight-up killing everyone related to the infamous Italian family, but by slowly undermining their influence in the city of Rome, their seat of power. As part of this journey, we get to see how Ezio’s sense of forgiveness wars with his desire for vengeance, as well as considering what sort of man he might have been if he had never gotten involved with the Assassins.
It is hugely entertaining to help Ezio form his own brotherhood of Assassins alongside the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo DaVinci. Creating this small army of assassins is key to taking on the deep seated power of the Templars, and you are never in any doubt as to why this is necessary. Brotherhood starts strong right out of the gates, with a powerful emotional punch that illustrates just how nasty the Borgia are, and how important it is that they are defeated. As Ezio and Machiavelli determine how to combat the Borgia, interesting questions are raised along the way that add nuance to the story. As the story played out, I wondered whether revenge would satisfy Ezio. Similarly, I began to wonder whether Rome would really transform for the better with the Borgia gone. Perhaps most impressive, Brotherhood makes you realize just how ambiguous the Assassin goals are when you sit back to think about them. Is historical change possible or lasting, especially with an apathetic people who are unaware of the wider conflict? Will a change of leadership actually push the country in a new direction? These are compelling questions that can just as easily be asked and debated today within our current political system.
Unfortunately, while Brotherhood can be a good demonstration of how to bring deep themes and questions about history into a video game, it also stands as a marvelous example of either writer laziness or preposterously stupid developmental oversight. After a strong beginning, the majority of the game becomes an endless sequence of action missions that hack away at the influence of the Borgia, but without advancing the story or the characters in any meaningful way. Virtually no new characters are introduced that pique the interest. The villains are two-dimensional at best, as evidenced most clearly by the cheesy and cackling Cesare Borgia. And only Ezio’s sister, Claudia, goes through any memorable character development throughout the story; disappointing, as she is a secondary character at best. Altogether, Brotherhood ended up feeling like 1/3rd of it is exciting on a story level, with the other 2/3rds being mildly passable filler.
Nonetheless, the positive aspects of Ezio’s tale help to outweigh the negatives that come with Desmond’s crappiness and a story that slowly peters out the longer you play the game. I give this a 6 out of 10 for being a flawed gem that still manages to be fairly memorable despite its flaws.
GAMEPLAY & FUN
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has always been a clear believer in the theory that video games should empower the player. Brotherhood takes this philosophy and immediately dives off into the deep end of the pool with it. Through Ezio, you can become so badass that defeating small armies of armored Roman soldiers is totally doable. You have a kit of hidden blades, throwing knives, poison, smoke bombs, parachutes, crossbows, guns, and more. You have a button that you can use to whistle and summon a horse that magically appears next to you at any time. What’s more, you are the master of parkour long before that was even a term, able to leap across tall buildings in a single bound, as if you were the stunning result of a threesome between Superman, Aladdin, and Tarzan. Rome is your oyster and, in Ezio Auditore, nobody is your equal.
This does not even touch on what you are capable of once you start developing your Brotherhood of Assassins. By hitting the “Call Assassin” button once, one to three Assassins can come out of nowhere to kill the target of your choice or to defend you from harm. If you use all three of your charges, then you can easily begin a massive battle in the streets of Rome. There were many times where all I did was just stand there in awe as Assassins hopped out of piles of straw, leapt off the rooftops, and rode in on horseback like goddamn heroes to utterly curbstomp the Borgia guards who stood before me. I never died once in this game. The Assassins that you train are just that capable of beating the paste out of any threat that dares to stand before you. And, even if they somehow couldn’t do it, you can always just use all three charges to trigger an “Arrowstorm”, a hail of arrows from your Assassins that kills everyone around you. This renders any physical danger to your character absolutely moot.
In short, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a hilariously imbalanced game that is effortless to play if you use even half of the tools given to you. This lack of challenge is also seen in the economy system, where you purchase property in Rome in order to slowly erase the influence of the Borgia in Rome. This grants you income, which fills your bank account periodically with money every 20 minutes. This becomes absurdly easy to abuse, which I discovered purely by accident. If you happen to leave the game open for a while as you do other things, you never need to worry about ever having a money problem in this game again, as your bank account spirals out of control. Thus, in every aspect of Brotherhood outside of timed jumping puzzles or frustrating “do not be detected” missions, the game is trivially easy.
Nonetheless, it would be unfair of me to not bring up that the game is freaking fun and oftentimes hilarious in how outrageous it can get. It is like, as a child, being given an entire chest full of new toys that you’ve never seen, and then being cut loose to use them however you please in the environment of your dreams. I’ll give this game a 7 out of 10 for the entertainment it can offer that, though it is without much challenge and thus is not lasting, is a great way to spend a few dozen hours that I do not regret in the slightest.*
GRAPHICS & SOUND
Speaking of the environment, the Assassin’s Creed franchise always does a wonderful job of presenting ancient cities and time periods in ways that make them feel like you are really there, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood does not disappoint. Renaissance-era Rome is bustling, filled with people who look just like you would expect if you lived there centuries ago. The ruins from even older times are littered throughout the metropolis, and giving an immense feeling of weight behind it all, showing that this already old 15th century city had parts to it that even its denizens at the time did not fully understand. Golden fields of wheat rustle in the wind and the shadows from the Colosseum come and go over the horses trotting over the cobblestones below. The developers obviously did their research, and I never tired of exploring the gorgeously realized city. The same care was also given to the brilliantly rendered character models, the clothing designs, and the way the action is depicted within the game.
It is hard for me to talk at length about graphics, so I will leave it at that. For its purpose and for the story it is trying to tell, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hits on every target. I can only complain about the occasional clipping issues that I ran into, making this category easy to score at a 9 of 10. Though these graphics are considered outdated by today’s standards, they still looked spot on to me, and transported me wonderfully to this other world.
Similarly, the sound department behind Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood does a marvelous job of bringing to life the sounds and music of the time period. However, it must be noted that Brotherhood clearly reuses a lot of assets that were in the previous game. Consequently, to anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed II, this game will sound very familiar, which can get old considering how much time you must spend with both games to complete them. That said, if this is (somehow) your entry point to the Ezio series of Assassin’s Creed games, the sound quality and diversity is near perfect. 6 out of 10.
Altogether, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a solid iteration in the series that I enjoyed quite well, though it got a bit ho-hum by the last third of the game. I could see firing it up once or twice in the future for the cathartic fun that comes with roaming the streets of Rome and calling out the Brotherhood to dominate the city with me once more. But to go through those jumping puzzles again? To repeat some of the more annoying missions? To experience one more time the story that, ultimately, makes me yearn for what could have been? I doubt it. Consequently, I give this game’s replay value a 3 out of 10.
Although this game averages to a 6.3 out of 10, a score that most gamers would equate with being, “Not worth my time,” I want to emphasize that, like its score, I found Brotherhood to be an above average experience, and good enough for me to play through all the way, a claim that sadly does not come with every game that I own. There is nothing like Ezio Auditore among all the video game protagonists out there, and his story, uneven though it may be at times, made me want to go on to the next game the moment I finished this one. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood might not be the best game you’ve ever played, but it is one that has its own unique charms. Not every game can let you command a small army of Assassins in a bid to redefine power in Renaissance-era Italy. Worth checking out!
* For this review, I merged the Gameplay & Fun categories, as they overlapped in my explanation of the game. Consequently, they both get the same score of 7 out of 10.