One of my favorite games of 2009, perhaps actually my favorite game of last year, is Assassin's Creed II. The story of Ezio Auditore da Firenze and his adventures in Italy during the Renaissance is a hugely compelling tale (much more so than the framing narrative with Desmond which we'll get into later), one with multiple cities to visit, a ton of sidequests, and great platforming & fighting mechanics. This year, Ubisoft has followed up Assassin's Creed II with Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. The game sticks with Ezio rather than moving on to a new assassin and time period (as happened between the original and second Assassin's Creed games), picking up right after the events of the ACII.
As with its immediate predecessor, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a truly engrossing title. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it is a refinement of last year's game, and as such is just as strong a title… mostly. In fact, it is so good that the missteps it makes are that much more glaring and hard to overlook.
Beginning with the bad, one of the reason's that ACII works so well is that once an area is displayed on your map, it is almost always available to visit. There are some occasions when you get told that a place you're trying to go to is locked, but it doesn't occur all that often. In Brotherhood, unfortunately, it occurs on an incredibly regular basis (at least early on). This is because while in the second title you venture to a lot of different cities, most of Brotherhood takes place in Rome and its surrounding area, and consequently it's a single huge location almost all of which is visible even if it isn't visitable. Assassin's Creed II simply chooses not state that there are cities that will be available later, Brotherhood has more trouble because while you can do lots of sidequests, the main story must unfold in only one direction and the game therefore can't allow you to visit places in Rome until its time for you to do so.
That then is why you're not allowed to go to certain areas, but the way the game prohibits you is really the issue. While you physically can enter many of them, the game informs you that within Ezio's memory the place is not yet available and will kick you back out. They are able to get away with this because you're less Ezio than you are a man in the present named Desmond, who is distantly related to Ezio, and who is in a chair reliving Ezio's memories (ignore that frame to the story though, it's pure foolishness and, as I stated in my review of Assassin's Creed II, just one of those things that makes non-gamers shake their head and wonder why anyone would want to spend their time playing). What actually should occur – what would have made a whole lot more sense – is for locations you're not allowed to visit to simply have manmade or natural obstacles blocking your path. It would be a whole lot more satisfying to be told that you can't go somewhere because the drawbridge is drawn or because you haven't yet learned a technique that will allow you to jump higher or grab a more slippery ledge than it is to have the game derez you once you enter an area and then drop you back outside it.