Thursday, January 14, 2010

Assassin's Ramble, pt.0: Axe Grinding

I read today that Assassin's Creed 2 sold 6 million copies and the author mentioned how deserving the game was of its fortune. Reading the comments I saw posts like,
"I realized after the ending that. for me, this was the best game I had played all decade. Good combat, great exploration, great subsystems... all serving ambitious storytelling."
and it triggered something in me. It deserves its success and I would be proud to be part of its development, but its 90+ metascore seems misplaced. I think Assassin's Creed 2 is very good, but rather overrated.

There are good things about it. As one of the people that embraced the first flawed game, it was partly because moving around is just so much fun. I rather like the way he connects with his environment, and the tech behind it impresses me. He doesn't get around as fast or as freely as others but for games attempting to match its detail level and sense of traversal competence, few others make movement as enjoyable. And as in Prince of Persia, when you rapidly interpret your surroundings and start to move fast, it feels amazing. But unlike Prince of Persia, AC1 rarely funnels you into movement challenges that highlight these accomplishments; AC2 thankfully adds more opportunities (in crypts and collection) for it.

But the real difference between AC1 and AC2 is simply collection. Movement in AC1 is nuanced but in an open environment, mostly serves to get from point A to B. Kills are enjoyable but more opportunities are needed. But collection sometimes requires painfully-long travel for sparse rewards with little tangible gains. So it was overhauled for AC2: more warps reduce travel, added collectibles (codexes, crypts, buildings, treasures, glyphs, equipment, etc.) give more to do, and increased usefulness (upgrades, income) completely dominated the obsessive compulsive in me.

AC2 was enjoyable, but it bothers me that nut-gathering made it worthy of such fuss. Yes, it means more opportunities to highlight movement and killing, but movement is not the point, and killing remains thin. Collection is powerful, satisfying, and perhaps even necessary, but overrated as a measure of high quality. And the elements that mark the best of the best, like great story immersion and gameplay nuance, were absent from my Assassin's Creed 2 experience.

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