As with its predecessor, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood consists of a collection of loosely related quests, missions, collections, and puzzles in addition to the main quest. It picks up where AC 2 left off with Ezio in Monteriggioni, but quickly moves to Rome for the duration of the game. Ezio's objectives in this sequel are to recover the stolen Apple, free the people from oppression under the ruling Borgias and rebuild Rome's ruins. To that end, he builds loyal factions, which include the mercenaries, the courtesans, the thieves and a guild of assassins.
Some things remain the same such as treasure hunting, flag and feather collecting, shopping, and the dreaded glyph puzzles, but several new things have also been added. One of them is the ability to invest in the shops to gain income and unlock specific items. Completing quests for one shop will unlock additional items in others. However, by sequence four I was still trying to figure out if there were any greater benefits and what the whole point of it was. When I unlocked a weapon at the blacksmith shop that I already owned, I decided this part of the game was fast becoming nothing more than filler. However, understanding the method did cause me some consternation until then. Once you've fulfilled the shop quests, collecting trade items loses its purpose.
Another addition is the recruiting of people willing to fight for the cause. Members of this guild gain experience and better equipment by fulfilling contracts. Leveling stops when they become Assassins. As long as Ezio does not send all of them on assignments, he is able to call on them for assistance during some of his own missions. This part of the game works quite simply and smoothly. You can send up to five people on one contract in order to achieve a 100% success rate. It's up to you how much risk you're willing to take as your assassins can die. However, once again, and granted this is well into the game, sending them on contracts eventually becomes only about money, which you can't spend anyway. Similar to Assassin's Creed 2, later in the game some elements become redundant.
Of the three games to this point, Brotherhood is undoubtedly the most disconcerting in some ways. To begin with, the in-game user manual is somewhat lacking in detail and clarity. Although there are pop-ups during play, they are often not on screen long enough to actually read them. As with many games, you need the user community to explain how various elements work and how to perform certain actions. On the plus side, a virtual training room has been added where you can practice your combat and a variety of other moves.
By far, the most frustrating aspect is obtaining 100% synchronization. Although most missions can be achieved easily enough to move forward with 50% sync, each one will have an additional challenge in order to reach full sync. Some of these conditions can be extremely hard to achieve and net nothing more than opening up cheats. These cheats can then only be used in segments that are already at 100%. They don't affect the story in any way, so you can be more relaxed about it if you don't particularly care about the cheats. On the other hand, guild and training achievements will net more useful rewards such as weapons and armor. However, if you enjoy the challenge, you are able to replay missions in the DNA menu to try for 100% synch.
The environmental artwork based on real history and events continues to be stunning as with the other games in the series. The detail is quite phenomenal and the characters also very realistic, particularly the eyes in the close-ups. The scenery, buildings and costumes are all magnificently rendered, but the one thing I didn't really care for was a certain lack of crispness between the characters and the background.
Fast travel returns in the form of tunnels you rebuild in various districts, but many times you still need the good old horse to get around. Fortunately, riding has been vastly improved. Combat has also been refined with the ability to perform chained kill streaks. With the addition of a virtual training room, you can get all the practice you need. Successful combat and free run jumps have always been about mastering the proper timing in these games. Some people think that using a controller will make things easier, but I can't vouch for that. Having said that, there are some camera issues that can obscure your vision if you get too close to trees and buildings.
In many ways Brotherhood resembles Assassin's Creed 2, although I liked Ezio better in this game. It can get frustrating simply by not understanding how some of the elements work and wondering how they might adversely affect the outcome. Simply, they don't, so relax and enjoy. Locked areas and items become unlocked at certain points in the main quest and trade items are found in treasure chests and by looting bandits and pickpockets. Even the rare shrunken heads needed for better armor will turn up in two specific chests. Investment is only good for acquiring trade items needed for the shop quests. Don't sell anything till you have finished these
You should be aware that if you enter sequence 8, you are forced to play through till the 15 minutes worth of credits stop rolling. Only then will you be allowed back in to finish anything you missed. Control over how you want to order your gameplay is removed and instead it rushes you headlong into ending before you are ready. This sent me into a blind rage as it was totally unexpected and I still had open missions. I'm still raging as I write this.