Review: Pretty sure Desmond's other ancestors include Nathan Drake
The original Assassin's Creed was an ambitious concept, and while the end result was a solid game with a unique catch and enjoyable ?parkour-style? gameplay, it tended to be grossly repetitive after a while and the collectathon side-quests were nearly useless without any kind of reward for collecting flags and whacking Templars. Still, the foundation was in place, and the great success of the game in terms of sales meant a sequel could improve on everything that needed fixing. Assassin's Creed II accomplishes just that. Taking what worked in the first game ? the free running, the ?in plain sight? stealth, and the Dan Brown-esque conspiracies ? and fixing almost everything else results in a game that is so much better than the original that you almost wonder if a completely different team handled the development. Even people who vehemently hated the first game need to check out Assassin's Creed II, because the improvements are so vast and so good that it feels like a completely new experience.
AC2 picks up almost immediately after the startling end of the first game, where modern-day protagonist Desmond Miles experienced the life of ancestor Altair, and due to a so-called ?bleeding effect? of his quest, he inherits the ability to use eagle vision, which leads to the discovery of Subject 16's invisible, cryptic writings all around Desmond's sleeping quarters. While taking all that in, Assassin ally Lucy Stillman busts Desmond out of Abstergo, and into a secret hideout where the Assassins have their own Animus for Desmond to use in order to again use an ancestor to discover more about this ?Piece of Eden? that reared its head during the Altair era. This ancestor is Ezio Auditore, a late-15th century Florentine noble who has no idea that he's of the Assassin lineage until an event of extreme distress springs him into action. While this distressing situation might seem minor in the grand scheme of things, without it, Ezio likely never becomes part of the Assassins. Unlike the first game which featured numerous ?playable? sequences with Desmond that were mostly sneaking around his ?holding area? and checking emails for backstory, face time with Desmond is minimal and deals mostly with how the bleeding effect is enhancing his skills. This one is almost a constant dose of Ezio and his adventures during a nearly twenty-year period.
Because the game is called Assassin's Creed, the sequel still revolves around ending the lives of powerful people who do the regular folk wrong. In the first game, you had to ?investigate? each target until you gathered enough information about them to strike. None of this is found in AC2. Instead the game progresses like most open-world games, in that you just go from quest to quest until the target is accessible. It's kind of a dumbing-down, because the investigations were pretty cool, but it tones down the repetitive nature of the first game. So instead of investigating the AC1 way, you tend to just antagonize targets, let them know of you, weaken their defenses, etc. It makes the assassinations a bit less... assassin-y, but when you plug in the way the plot progresses, it makes some sense. Ezio isn't exactly a master like Altair was, and in AC2, you actually see his evolution from a happy-go-lucky noble to a ruthless assassin. Still, while the assassinations might be a little sloppier, they are gutsier, whether you're sneaking into a Masquerade Ball during the Venice Carnival and using a hidden weapon to kill someone while they give a speech on a boat, to the penultimate mission that would be spoilerville.
Assassin's Creed II fully embraces its sandbox nature with a wealth of side missions. The biggest of them deal with acquiring codex pages (mostly because it's a side-quest that eventually becomes required), which have numerous rewards, be it a health increase or a new/improved weapon, and also fill in some story details since they're all written and drawn by Altair. In addition, a crazy side-quest dubbed The Truth, left by Subject 16, is a creepy conspiracy theory dealing with numerous myths and religious symbols and even more about the Piece of Eden from the first game. These are found on marked buildings with a glyph, and serve as a strange (and sometimes very difficult) diversion from Ezio's adventure. Using the whole ?assassin? thing, there's also a lengthy series of assassination side-missions in every city, along with a few races, some random ?beat up the cheating husband? quests, and most importantly, the discovery of assassin tombs. The first one of these is uncovered in the main story, but spread throughout the game are six different assassin tombs that are ultimate platform challenges... with great rewards if you complete them all. These are vastly different from the core game, and almost serve as ?dungeons? in a way.
A few hours into the game, Ezio ends up in the countryside, specifically at the old Auditore villa. The place is a little derelict, but it becomes your home base and the things you do in the game will affect the progress of restoring it and the little town it's connected to. As time goes on, you earn tax money from businesses and residents, and this can be increased in many ways. Playing through the game and buying new weapons, armor, and various paintings is one way. Collecting the Codex pages and Assassin Seals from the tombs also works. Finding the various collectibles is another. Using earned money from taxes lets you also pay a contractor to improve buildings in the city. Do enough, and a sleepy little town with an old villa becomes a mini-metropolis and the once-dirty home base is suddenly a completely restored mansion that stores almost everything you earn in the game. It's an interesting way of rewarding you for being thorough, as you'll earn more money and get to see a city change before your eyes.