Review: Assassin’s Creed Revelations

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If it seems like not too long ago you were finishing off AC Brotherhood, well your probably right to feel that way. Only a year later Assassin’s Creed: Revelations has come out. Is it too soon, or is this one game you’d be glad to pickpocket someone for?

Assassin’s Creed has become a yearly installment, and while that seems like a bad idea, so far Ubisoft has managed to pull it off. Not many franchises can release a high quality product once a year, without the aforementioned quality taking a dip. I’m happy to report they’ve done so again. While I could play coy with you for most of the review; I’ll just come out and say it: Assassin’s Creed Revelations is easily the best game of the series. It’s taken everything good about the games and polished it to a shine, while only making a few slight missteps along the way.

In case you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, Assassin’s Creed is overall the story of an ancient battle between the Assassin order and the Templars. The Templars fight to control humanity while the Assassins seek to liberate them; to follow their own path, for better or worse. While you might be able to pick this up and play without touching any of the other games, I don’t recommend it at all. The game has a nice little video catching you up at the beginning, but if you want the most from AC Revelations you’ll need to play from at least Assassin’s Creed 2 on. As wonderful as the games are that isn’t much of a burden. If you’ve never played any of them to this date there will be slight spoilers ahead about the games that came before though I will list no spoilers from the newest game itself.

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Altair and Ezio: A Melding of Past and Future….and awesomeness

Following Ezio Auditore de Firenze, now the mentor of the entire Assassin order, Revelations answers several questions we’ve had about the series while of course opening up a couple more, and making way for a sequel. At the beginning of the game we pick up where we left off, Desmond is in a coma and his mind is booted into a safe mode so to speak. The animus is the only thing keeping Desmond from becoming a vegetable and in order to wake up he will need to untangle the threads that bind he, Ezio and Altair. Diving back into his ancestors memories to do this, we are soon thrust into the stylish boots of an aged Ezio as he arrives at Masyaf, the true birthplace of the Assassin order. It was here that Altair, our hero from the first game in the series, fought alongside his fellow assassin’s and it is here that Ezio now comes to find answers and knowledge to guide the order.

Shortly after the beginning of the game Ezio discovers he must find the keys of Masyaf in order to open Altair’s vault of knowledge. Unfortunately the Templars already have one of the keys and are in the possession of the journal outlining the location of the rest. Knowing the Templars must not get their hands on the knowledge, or possibly the weapons behind the vault, Ezio sets out to Constantinople in a race to locate the rest of the keys that are hidden within that city. One of the series greatest strengths is on display the minute you set foot in the city. Constantinople is drastically different from Roma and the Italian vistas from past games. Ubisoft have done a fantastic job of bringing the city to life and it’s filled with citizens all talking and bustling about their day.

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Constantinople: A Beautiful and Varied Vista

Constantinople itself is the crossroads of the ocean basically. and home to dozens of different cultures that all meld together within the city. Marketplaces are filled with shop keepers peddling their wares, shoppers going about their days and of course the Byzantine and Ottoman guards on patrol. Life pours from every part of the city and it’s a true accomplishment for Ubisoft to make me feel like I’ve somewhat visited these places.

Gameplay is largely the same with minor improvements to the overall experience. Your still free running and climbing across rooftops, carrying out assassinations and playing in a open world sandbox environment. If you disliked Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood you won’t find anything here to change your mind. The main enhancements to gameplay come in two flavors, your hookblade and bombs. Your reaction might have been similar to my own when I heard the words bombs mentioned in the same sentence as Assassin’s Creed, which was a haughty look of extreme skepticism. Rest assured though it does nothing but give you even more options in a game that features tons more then most games already.

Scattered in abundance throughout the city of Constantinople are different ingredients for bombs. Each ingredient has a different effect that it causes and you mix and match these for a large amount of customization. Dropping by any of the many impromptu workbenches you can begin your masterpiece. First you choose a casing to your bomb. These casings can be coated with a sticky substance to adhere to a guard, fragile terracota pots to break on impact, or triggered casings for landmines. Next choose two fillings, one which determines the size of the explosion and the other the effect. It isn’t just mere frag bombs we are talking about here, though that is certainly an option. Instead you can make a sticky grenade that when exploding showers fake golden coins about the target. Instantly the crowd will surge around the guards, themselves grabbing for coins, and you can slip by unnoticed. Just one of the many examples of things you can do here.

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Bomb Creation is the, wait for it, BOMB!

The hookblade is an addition to your arsenal that all the assassins of the city already have and Ezio knows nothing about upon arriving. In short, it makes free climbing and getting about the city even faster. Holding down the button during a jump will extend the hookblade and give you just that little extra reach to keep you from plummeting to your death. Pressing the jump button will launch you upwards where you can climb faster due to the handy blade. Also scattered about the city are ziplines that you can use to expedite your travel or to pounce on an unsuspecting guard. Even more useful when wanting to run instead of fight, which sometimes occurs, holding down the button for the hookblade will launch you over the guard allowing  you to continue running without missing a beat.

In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, training and using your assassins to attack was part of the gameplay. Revelations expands upon the feature making it much more fleshed out and meaningful. While you’ll still recruit your assassins from random citizens by saving them, this time you’ll also sometimes recruit some of them with a simple mission. Upon completion they’ll join you. While the missions themselves aren’t an epic part of the story it’s a nice way to add a bit more character to what was before pretty bland lackeys. As you send your assassins on missions through a meta game to conquer cities outside of the one you play within, or send them to attack,  they can level up. But what good is that? There are a few different uses for your assassins this time around.

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Your assassins can be varied with masks, hoods on or off, and different colors

As in the last game with but a bird whistle and a clench of your fist you can send an assassin to attack any target. Holding down the same button when you have three assassin signals available will cause a rain of arrows to fire down killing all guards in the vicinity. If you didn’t experience it in Brotherhood it makes you feel spectacularly powerful and lets you play the part of a powerful leader. In this game, as in Brotherhood, a number of dens around the city are in Templar control. By killing the captains of the den and lighting a signal fire to tell them this is now Assassin turf, you take over the den. When your assassin’s reach level ten you’ll go on a unique quest with them after assigning them to one of your dens. Each quest will actually be the beginning of a two part quest to kill the characters you play as in the multiplayer portion of the game.

The second part of the quest is finished at level 14 for your assassin which maxes him or her out level wise. At this point each den that is attended by a master assassin can no longer be attacked by the Templars. Which leads me to my least favorite part of the entire game. As you go through the game attracting attention to yourself, this will lead to a filling of your notoriety meter. Once full, a poorly implemented and odd fitting tower defense game will be triggered. Within this mini game you’ll be given the task of placing different types of units on rooftops to stop waves of enemies that are attacking your base. You don’t actively participate in the defense, instead you’ll be occasionally shooting cannonballs whilst giving orders and setting up various rock, paper, scissor type units. If your base takes too much damage you will lose your den and have to attempt to take it back by killing the captain again.

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Den Defense: Not so fun

I’ll be up front and say I’m not a huge fan of tower defense games. Even so, I felt that the mini game was an odd fit for the franchise. How much better would it have been to be slated with defending the base from a huge number of enemies while being able to command your assassins in the standard fashion? I feel it could have made for a more dynamic and fun experience that wouldn’t have broke the flow of the experience so much. So why not just avoid these whenever possible by bribing your way, or murdering your way, out of high notoriety? I did just that most of the game, but once I realized that some rewards were tied to completing these tower defense games, I felt obliged to participate. Perhaps I wouldn’t have disliked it so much if it could have just been something I would do if I choose without missing out on anything. As it is, you miss out on one of the best weapons in the game if you don’t participate. Still it’s a minor stumble in what is otherwise a fantastic game. Maybe tower defense fans will actually enjoy it, though I feel it’s overall lackluster and pretty standard to even the most common tower defense game.

While the main story line will take you somewhere around 15 to 20 hours there are many more hours to be had within the game even after it’s finished. There are bomb missions, mercenary missions, thief missions, Romani missions, and assassin missions. Once you complete all those you can also search for animus data fragments which give you more insight into Desmond’s character by letting you play first person puzzle missions. If you find all the data fragments you can then search for the various hidden books, tombs and buy all the weapons, armor and upgrades within the game. Or you can do none of that and skip right through the story. In essence that is what is truly great about Assassin’s Creed.

Especially with the addition of bombs and the hookblade you have more options then ever to approaching the game. Want to go through the game killing everyone silently? Ok. Want to barrel through using your awesome sword counters to make mincemeat of the guards? You can do that too. Approaching a mission you can conquer from the rooftops or the ground, both are entirely different experiences. To kill you can strike with a old one shot handgun, a crossbow, or poison darts. Using bombs you can distract your prey or you can simply send your assassins in for quiet kill or call them in while you are on the full out offensive. There are a staggering number of ways you can play the game and it leads to an endless amounts of fun.

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First I’ll blow them up THEN I’ll stab them. See fun!!

Once you’ve finished that staggering amount of content there is also various challenges that each guild sets forth for you. These range from training up 7 assassins to master level to plunging from X amount of feet into the water. Each faction (Romani, Mercenary, and Thief) offer different challenges and different rewards for completing those challenges. Completing a set of challenges rewards you with, say, faster recharging assassin signals. After completing every challenge you’ll be awarded a weapon or item specific to those challenges.

All of this is before we even talk about the multiplayer portion of the game which will extend your game even further. When I first heard of Brotherhood adding multiplayer I scoffed at the idea, but once I had my hands on it the tune quickly changed. In an online world filled with frag fest death matches, Assassin’s Creed online play is simply a breath of fresh air. Story is so important to Ubisoft that even the online mode is tied into it. Whilst you kill your fellow gamers your actually Templars training in the hundreds of animus (animi?) that Abstergo keeps on hand. Being the modern day Templar company that Abstergo is, it’s training you with the memories and reactions of characters from within the single player game. As you level up within the online portion you learn more about Abstergo and ergo more about the Assassin’s Creed universe. As a person who loves story, and not normally multiplayer, this was an instant draw for me.

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The posse of multiplayer Templar scum.

After picking one of 12 character models, of which each person playing only can choose one, you’ll be launched into the game proper. The city is littered with copies of all the characters chosen milling about and filling the city like it would be in single player. Given a target you’ll be tasked with figuring out which of these copies is an actual player. Things like running, climbing and out of the ordinary movements will tip you off. Be careful though as at the same time one or more players can be assigned to track you down. It’s a fantastic game of cat and mouse that is often very tense. Walking slowly and planning your attacks are rewarded with higher points then just dashing around slashing at things.

Kill an NPC and you’ll lose your target and be even more open to attack yourself. Body count is not as important here as I’ve seen people win the game with only a few, well planned kills under their belt. In a world full of FPS me-toos; it’s something that instantly sets the game apart. In addition, there’s a team mode where you all are the same character and you must hunt the others down. Revelations also adds new story oriented quests and capture the flag, though I still feel the original mode is the best.

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Hint: He is not a liscenced chiropractor!

When you take the shear number of ways to play the game, the vast amount of content, a great continuation of a already wonderful story and then add to it a fresh and unique take on online multiplayer, you have what is in my opinion a clear winner. Though I disliked the tower defense portions, overall they couldn’t touch my enjoyment of the game. Even with Brotherhood so fresh in my mind I was ready and eager to jump back into the rich fiction of Assassin’s Creed and I can’t imagine I’m alone. Buy the game. You won’t be disappointed.