Kotaku's runner-up for 2009 Game of the Year gets its first expansion with the downloadable, playable bonus "memory" of The Battle of Forli. Somehow managing to be essential and unessential, it's unlikely to be nominated for DLC of the Year.
The Battle of Forli is presented in terms understandable to Assassin's Creed II players as Memory Sequence 12, the first of two missing chapters of the life of Ezio de Auditore. Ubisoft's small army of ACII developers had been unable to fully develop the 12th and 13th chapter of their 14-chapter game in time for the disc-based game's November release, the series lead creator told Kotaku last month, so it's in early 2010 that the blanks are now being filled.
As it is the game's 12th chapter, The Battle of Forli is placed close to the spoiler end zone of Assassin's Creed II, situated past the moment when Ezio has been welcomed into the guild of assassins, after he has discovered which of the characters he met earlier in the game are also in the guild, and after the surprise that one of history's most famous writers, Niccolo Machiavelli, is an assassin himself. The Battle of Forli is, mostly, a six-mission sequence involving Ezio and Machiavelli, as they try to protect a prize and deal with the siege of a small city. Assassinations are required.
It Matters:Upon booting up The Battle of Forli, players who have finished Assassin's Creed II will hear some chatter among the in-game characters engineering our ability to experience Ezio's memories in playable video-game form. The chatter explains that they've been able to access previously obscured memories. Into the Forli area and surrounding wetlands we go, terrain already accessible in the main game. New missions are available, bringing Ezio into closer contact with Forli's leader, the brash, commanding Caterina Sforza. The missions that follow pit Ezio against those who would overrun Sforza's city. They feel thematically consistent with the rest of the game. So too do the pair of new major assassinations that are required, which are introduced with the same slick cinematics and sharp writing as the others in the original Assassin's Creed II game. Almost recklessly bellicose, Sforza proves to be a more interesting character than she seemed in her brief appearance in the base game. She propels Ezio's quest. And so it feels as if the story is building, moving toward that Chapter 14 conclusion those of us who finished the game have played. In that way, it feels as if those who could play this game, DLC and all, in order, would experience a smooth narrative and be little the wiser that Chapter 12 was dropped in after the fact. Of course, the game made perfect sense without Chapter 12.
The Flaws Exposed: Assassin's Creed II overcame the flaws of the first Assassin's Creed by embedding the series' good fundamental gameplay mechanics into a narrative that required an unpredictable series of actions in the course of a long and winding story that sometimes had Ezio climbing towers in Florence, sometimes helping Leonardo Da Vinci invent things, sometimes trying to out-flirt other men to win a carnival contest and be close to an assassination target. Most of the old flaws clothed in time for its November release, Assassin's Creed II now has its blemishes exposed by the DLC. The main missions of the Battle of Forli throw an unusually high number of enemies at Ezio, requiring combat to become a button-mashing affair. The limits of friendly and enemy artificial intelligence are made bare in these chaotic skirmishes, as the wrong people sometimes hit each other or fall off towers. A sequence that offers unlimited ammunition for Ezio's little used Da Vinci-made gun feels like clumsy compensation for a neglected ACII feature, and a non-narrative bonus mission involving Da Vinci's winged-man glider provides too much proof that the game's aerial combat controls are imprecise and un-fun. The Battle of Forli offers Assassin's Creed II gameplay at its roughest.
A Wasted Prince: There are few authors more famous in world history than Machiavelli, even fewer whose names have become adjectives. But despite Assassin's Creed II's deft use of our common knowledge of the likes of Da Vinci in the base game, this expansion renders the supposedly wickedly clever and tactically masterful Niccolo Machiavelli as little more than an ally with a sword. Whatever genius the man possessed in real life finds no manifestation in The Battle of Forli. After getting so much out of history for Assassin's Creed II, Ubisoft's team gets nothing from one of their potentially richest historical figures in ACII's first expansion.
The Battle of Forli is cheap enough and meaningful enough in terms of narrative development to make it a worthy indulgence for Assassin's Creed II fans. But the gameplay and the missed Machiavelli opportunity make this one of the rougher-edged recent DLC releases, something that surprisingly has more of the experimental feel of Mass Effect's Pinnacle Station DLC than the elegant Renaissance-style refinement ACII fans would have been justified to expect.
Assassin's Creed II: The Battle of Forli was developed and published by Ubisoft for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 28. Retails for $3.99 USD. A PS3 copy of the DLC was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through all six narrative missions and flew on Leonardo's machine in just over an hour, before hitting a tantalizing cliffhanger for the next DLC, February's Bonfire of the Vanities.
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