Picking up where Assassin's Creed left off, the story begins with Desmond's escape from Abstergo with the help of Lucy. She takes him to a safe warehouse location where he meets a cell of the Assassin's Creed organization working to stop the Templars. They have their own upgraded version of the Animus and Desmond is encouraged to continue accessing his ancestors' memories. In Animus time, we move forward to Renaissance Italy in the late 1400's. Now playing the character of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the plot continues to deal with how Desmond's ancestors have an association with the Assassin's Creed and the significance of the Apple introduced in the first game. The period covers the time from Ezio's carefree youth, through the political killing of his family, and the subsequent years of hunting for and killing those involved in the conspiracy. There are just too many details to cover in the story, so this review will mainly focus on some general impressions and how this game compares to its predecessor.
Dealing with the storyline first, many people don't seem to like Ezio's character as much as Altair and I think it's because of the motivation factor. Whereas Altair's motives seemed more pure and introspective, Ezio's are based on revenge. It abandons the moral and ethical questions that plagued Altair and I feel this weakens Ezio's character and the story. If you do all the side quests, of which there are many, (I have 100 hrs in this game) it's easy to lose cohesion with the main plot and Ezio starts to look like a mindless killer for hire. So although more content is good to a degree, I feel the ratio of mandatory and compulsory quests were not well balanced. However, since this is an open world with non-linear gameplay, you can certainly choose not to do some of the quests that don't affect the plot.
There is certainly much more to do in Assassin's Creed 2, although some of these are again repetitive from city to city. This is alleviated, however, by the addition of some interesting puzzle and platform quests. There is also shopping for weapons, clothing and upgrades for your villa, which will then bring in income. You must return to your home to collect this when the box becomes full but at a certain point this becomes a useless exercise as there is little to keep spending money on. Between this and finding treasure, I had 1 million florins by the end of the game and much time wasted in looking for it. At this point, there is no incentive to continue gathering treasure, chasing pickpockets or tackling the Borgia messenger.
Once again, the graphics are just spectacular with costumes and buildings rendered historically. Some of the scenes are marvelous pieces of art in their own right. Even the outfits are beautifully detailed. The music and voice acting are also excellent. The interface gives you some historical data on many of the locations, people and politics of the time. Even Leonardo da Vinci and his machines play a part in the story. The menus are easy to navigate and kudos that quitting the game isn't the production it was in Assassin's Creed! Saving, once again, relies on the checkpoint system.
I was disappointed that the combat was dumbed down although a few new combinations and more weapons were added. AI's glowing like nuclear waste with little red health arrows dangling above their heads is just plain juvenile. It's also somewhat buggy with Ezio often not facing the right way or defending on first strike. The animations after special moves are also not nearly as good, nor as rewarding as they were in Assassin's Creed. The WOW factor is definitely missing here and in comparison, this really put a big minus in the score column for me. I so enjoyed the challenge of mastering combat in the first game and was looking forward to more of the same. You will not find combat nearly as difficult in this one. Although they did introduce some new moves, you won't need to worry about actually using them to win the fight.
There are some very challenging and not so challenging Prince of Persia type platforming puzzles, but in this game it's very hard to get killed even with a fall. Many of them are timed, but the clock can be reset to try again. The camera will actually lock in at some points, but in most cases it's not a bad thing as it's really telling you where you have to go next. So don't fight it. There are also glyph puzzles and you will find these harder as you go along, possibly needing some Internet advice on solutions. Some of them are quite difficult, thus creating an enigma for me. Why did the developers feel the target audience could not handle the challenging combat, but then proceed to add very difficult puzzles? It's a mystery. However, these missions plus other new features add a lot of interest that was not present in Assassin's Creed.
All in all, in the score column, there are pluses and minuses to each of the first two games. I would have to say that combat was my biggest disappointment with character motivation being my second. As to how the Desmond matrix plot will be played out, once again, the game ends with questions. I assume these will be answered in the sequels, but I can't say this game made me hunger to immediately jump into Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Between Assassin's Creed and 100 hours on this one, I'm all Creeded out and will be having a little break from this series.
Overall, this is a fairly good game and worth the price. There is a lot of content and leeway in how many hours you will get out of it and if you wait for a sale, you can get them in a bundle for a bargain. I would advise playing them in order to understand the story.