Every time I mention Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood to my gaming friends, I get the same question: “So, is it a proper sequel, or just an expansion, or what?” At first, I wasn’t sure myself. After all, this is a game that unfolds directly after the events of Assassin’s Creed II, yet doesn’t bear the numbering that denotes a full-fledged sequel. It takes place in 15th century Rome — not exactly a far cry from the era and locales of the last game. On the surface, then, one might conclude that Brotherhood is an expansion, similar to its predecessor, with a few new features and collectibles to spice things up. As I found out after 25 of this year’s most addictive gaming hours, that particular conclusion is far from correct. In fact, not only is Brotherhood a full-fledged sequel to one of 2009′s best games, it’s actually superior to AC2 in numerous ways.
Brotherhood kicks off immediately following the conclusion of AC2, with present-day hero Desmond Miles on the run from the nefarious Abstergo Corporation. For the uninitiated: As the latest in a long line of Assassins, Desmond must save the world from a secret Templar conspiracy to turn humanity into mindless sheep. The Templar-run evil company obviously doesn’t want that to happen, which is precisely why Desmond (with some help from his techie cohorts) must jump into the memories of his ancestors in an effort to figure out just what the hell is going on and how he can stop the Templar threat. Like the previous games, Brotherhood presents layers upon layers of conspiracy theory-fueled information to be peeled back. Even taken on its own, Brotherhood’s Rome-based story is strong, mainly due to the choice of the despicable Borgia family as the primary antagonists.
I initially figured that Brotherhood would be a standalone tale, and that fans wouldn’t be left in the dark if they skipped this and waited for Assassin’s Creed III. That’s not the case at all. Brotherhood features a fully realized storyline that greatly expands the AC universe, (which is already pretty dense). Perhaps more surprisingly, Brotherhood closes with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger of an ending, meaning a lot of folks will be lost if they plan on holding out for AC3. As a fan of the series, I was happy to finally get some answers… though, like any good conspiracy, these answers pose just as many new questions.
Brotherhood’s mission structure is nearly identical to AC2′s (multiple sequences inside each memory), with one major (and welcome) difference: synchronicity. While I was free to complete each memory sequence in whatever manner I saw fit, I was rewarded with 100% synchronicity for achieving my goals within a particular parameter set forth by the game. Whether this meant making my way through a battle without losing any health, or killing an enemy by tossing him into some scaffolding, these new synchronicity challenges fundamentally changed the way I played AC. I’m usually the “kill everyone within 500 feet of my target” type, so it was refreshing to have a good reason to switch up my tactics. Best of all, I could replay memories in an effort to hit that magical 100% mark.
This actually speaks to what truly lies at the core of the AC experience: Pokemon-like amounts of collection. This “gotta do it all” mentality is honed to a razor-sharp point this time out, improving on the formula that made AC2 great. The requisite feathers and treasure chests are the simplest examples of these collectibles, but it’s the Lairs of Romulus that really shine. Replacing the platforming-heavy Assassin’s Tombs from AC2, the Lairs of Romulus combine a number of different activities, from straight-up puzzle-platforming, to combat against a slew of enemies, to racing through catacombs on horseback. They’re a lot of fun, especially when you’re gunning for 100% synchronicity. In short, Brotherhood is an obsessive gamer’s playground, one that’s hard to put down and even harder to put out of mind.