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Assassin's Creed Brotherhood begins where Assassin's Creed II ended. I mean precisely where it ended, with Ezio (the titular assassin) staring down [spoiler] in a wildly unexpected crypt-like room beneath the [spoiler] realizing for the first time that the mysterious sci-fi seasoned backstory owes its all to [spoiler].
I picked up my copy of Brotherhood last night--it's officially out today for Xbox 360 and PS3--and poked around for a few minutes before turning in, just long enough to crawl up from the nether regions of Assassin's Creed II's denouement and have a look around. Brotherhood's set in Rome, the largest city yet modeled in one of these antique parkour adventures. I read somewhere it's supposed to be three times the size of Florence. You caught a glimpse of Rome toward the end of the last game, but then the narrative shoved you underground and, well, [spoiler]. I remember thinking "they modeled all that for show?"
Well no, not just for show, because here it is again in all its papal Renaissance glory. Brotherhood must have been in the offing long before development on Assassin's Creed II wrapped. In fact it's as if they've taken a much longer story and split it in two. Brotherhood isn't some standalone tacked-on excursion or coda, it's really Assassin's Creed II-point-five, the pickup point for the second half of Ezio's tale. Hey, the guy gets around.
It's also a rethink of the franchise. In addition to the memory nodules stippling the map that launch story missions, Rome's divided into sectors controlled by members of a family (the House of Borgia) hostile to your cause. You have to recruit assassins, train them, then bring them along to assault fortified towers located in each sector. Taking the tower yields control of each area and dovetails with a city-rebuilding meta game similar to the Monteriggioni "pimp your estate" mini-game in Assassin's Creed II.
A little like The Empire Strikes Back then, except you're Yoda when he could still whip Count Dooku's butt, working a city divvied up like a giant municipal game of Risk.
And then there's the multiplayer angle, something entirely new to the series. Your goal is basically to pursue a target stealthily while avoiding someone else stalking you: "Assassination" by round robin, in other words. It's not as simple as it sounds. You have a tracking compass but it's really just a "hot or cold" finder in lieu of pinpoint mini-map dots. If you don't approach a target quietly, using a discretion meter, they're alerted to your presence.
All the blending in techniques you learned in Assassin's Creed II can be employed to hide from your pursuer, as well as turned against you by your prey. And it's not just how many targets you kill, but how you kill them, plying 12 abilities (some that have to be unlocked) that range from smoke bombs and disguises to firecrackers and poisons.
I'm off to don my cape and robe for the day, but I'll check in periodically with spoiler-free impressions.
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