This fall's Assassin's Creed hero isn't just a better killer than his predecessor. He lives in a world in which he can swim, the sun sets and thieves can become allies, the game's executive producer, Jade Raymond, showed Kotaku yesterday.
During a demo of the game in New York played on the PlayStation 3 E3 build of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed II on Wednesday, Raymond capably flew her new game's hero, Ezio, over the streets of 15th century Venice using Leonard da Vinci's winged flying machine. She swooped him down to murder some bad men. And she managed to simultaneously field every question I could think of about how the new game will compare to the first Assassin's Creed.
Raymond described new hero Ezio as a more "badass" assassin than the first game's Altair. She emphasized this while having Ezio unsheathe blades tucked under his sleeves and simultaneously stab two soldiers, one in front of him to his left and one in front of him to his right, dead. Part of this new viciousness is attributed to a sterner motivation. Ezio's father and brothers have been killed during a power struggle of Italian nobles. His mother and sister are in hiding.
To demonstrate an Assassin's Creed game is to demonstrate new ways to murder. Raymond had Ezio scale a tower and pull a guard from over its ledge to a plummeting death. She had Ezio get up from a bench, kill a man, and then put him on the bench, an exhibition of how the locations that in the first game were just hiding spots are now also places to stash corpses. Later, when she had Ezio swan dive into a wagon of hay, she showed how the sequel's smarter enemies will root through hiding places. Bad move, smarter enemy. Raymond had Ezio kill the man and throw his body into the hay. One limitation: while Ezio can swim, he can't yet kill anyone while underwater. Room for character growth in the sequel?
Raymond promised more assassinations in the new game than in the first. And she said that players will be forced to use more varied strategies. "In Assassin's Creed, people had one strategy, like 'I always run away,' or 'I always stop and fight,'" she said. Not this time. Bigger guards will be tough to stand and fight but will be slower and easier to escape on foot — retreats helped by Ezio climbing more swiftly than Altair did. Smaller guards will be swifter, though even they can be evaded once the player gets out of an area of alarm, denoted, Grand Theft Auto-style, as an unsafe zone on the player's mini-map. Getting out of that zone gets Ezio out of trouble. "There won't be any endless chases," she laughed.
Some new systems will make Assassin's Creed II play differently than its predecessor. A new notoriety system will get Ezio into greater trouble if he's played as a reckless killer. A faction system will enable Ezio to gain alliances. For example, doing missions for thieves would make it possible for thieves to return the favor by pickpocketing guards and causing distractions. Raymond described the flow of the game as more narrative-driven than the previous game. She repeatedly referred to the first game's flow as falling into a "pattern." The player would get their assassination assignment, go to the assassin's guild in a given city, perform a few basic and recurring mission types, progress toward the assassination itself, flee and then repeat. Patterns won't hold in the new game. And instead of just a few recurring mission types, Raymond said the new game will offer 15. She wasn't one to say the first game had problems. "Frustrations," was her word, and they've been recognized and are being addressed.
The sequel has a day-night cycle, which Raymond said will affect how crowded the game's streets are. The first game's hero, Altair, could blend in with monks to avoid the suspicion of law enforcement. In the new game, Ezio can blend in with anyone in a crowd, appearing to be lost in conversation (though, sadly, he isn't going to stand on his head with the clowns who play at a party in Venice, Raymond informed me). A thinner evening crowd will leave the player fewer civilians with whom to blend.
Like the last game, the new one will cover more than one metropolis. Ezio will have a horse and travel across Italy. The regions and his adventures will be stitched together, as one big landmass in the first Assassin's Creed merged Altair's exploits in 12th-century Jersusalem, Acre and elsewhere. Ezio will travel from Venice to Florence to the Tuscan countryside, the connecting terrain being better filled, Raymond said, with gameplay opportunity than the barren hub zone of the first game. Players will be able to fast-travel to locations they've already discovered and utilize other, still-secret methods of transportation.
Former Newsweek reporter N'Gai Croal, dropping in on our interview, stumped Raymond when he asked if Ezio's horse was a descendant of Altair's. She was on surer footing in addressing my question about the return of collectible flags, saying that this time the items that can be collected in the game will unlock things, like new areas to visit.
As with the first game, the sequel will occasionally bring players to the present. In fact, the game will pick up with where modern-era protagonist Desmond left off — right after the cliffhanger conclusion of the last game. Raymond described the modern sections of the game as being "more focused on action sequences," which, compared to the placid locked-room modern moments in the first game, wouldn't be a hard goal to attain. She said that players will go to the present less frequently than they did in the first adventure.
Players of the upcoming PSP Altair-based Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines will be able to transmit money and weapons into Ezio's arsenal for the PS3 game. That's a fun Easter egg, but players of Hideo Kojima's 2008 Metal Gear Solid 4, which included an alternate Altair costume for hero Solid Snake, might imagine a cooler possible Easter egg for Assassin's Creed II. Is Kojima returning the favor and letting his franchise seep into Ubisoft's? Raymond's response was a laugh, a smile and the words: "Maybe… maybe not."
Assassin's Creed II is slated for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 release on November 17.