The second installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise is still my favorite for a multitude of reasons, but I’ll narrow it down to what I believe are the 3 most vital aspects on why Assassin’s Creed II stands head and shoulders above the rest. There are spoilers incoming, so beware!
1. The cities
Venice and Florence are still the two most exciting cities in the entire series to traverse and scale. Each setting was unique, and they offered two completely different tones. Florence was all about its intricate architecture, with buildings so complicated and designs so meticulous that you could wander around in the city and marvel at its beauty. Venice was all about the whimsy and its trademark waterways. Utilizing the poles that would be sticking out from the river to quickly navigate the city is one of the coolest things to do in the city. And Venice had its night life, when its eccentric citizens would come out in their masks and party.
The cities in Assassin’s Creed II were a far cry from the locales in the first game. Both Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations had a more Middle-Eastern vibe to it, with dusty roads permeated with a brownish tint. Rome in Brotherhood was fantastic as well, but I prefer the dual punch of Venice and Florence in Assassin’s Creed II. The American cities of Boston and New York are my least favorite cities of all the settings in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. American cities during the Revolutionary War aren’t exactly renowned for their elaborate architecture or varied buildings. The streets were lined with drab looking houses that all looked the same, and running across the rooftops just wasn’t as entertaining as it should’ve been.
2. The protagonist
Assassin’s Creed II introduced players to Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, the best protagonist out of the three main assassins. There’s absolutely no doubt that both Altair and Connor are true badassess. But they sorely lack the charm that Ezio pulls off so damn well. Altair and Connor don’t even come close to the personality or the likability of Ezio. They come off as blank slates that are wholly fixated on the Creed, and as a result have no facets to their character.
The transformation that Ezio undergoes throughout Assassin’s Creed II is also a part of what make him so fascinating. Ezio starts off as a rambunctious, hedonistic young man who’s only interested in chasing skirts and having as much fun as possible. He’s then shoved into a horrific event where he loses everything, and is forced to pick up the pieces. There’s no time to be eased into this ridiculous situation, and Ezio quickly needs to fill the role of the ultimate assassin that he eventually becomes. The effectiveness of Ezio as a character is closely tied with number 3…
3. The story
Assassins’ Creed II had the most personal and emotionally affecting story of the entire series. The way the chair is pulled out from Ezio is a shocking moment, and it really reverses the entire script of Ezio’s life thus far. The severity of how it happens is paramount to how personal Ezio’s journey is as well. Assassin’s Creed II was also the first game where it revealed its hand about how these games were simply more than jumping into the Animus and reliving your ancestor’s past. The ending was downright revelatory, as it would be the first of many times where you would interact with a member of the First Civilization.
I think the quality of Assassin’s Creed sequels can be directly correlated with the amount of time in between each game. Brotherhood, Revelations, and Assassin’s Creed III all came out within a year of each other. Assassin’s Creed II was the only game in which there was 2 years of development, and I think that was a huge factor on why the leap in quality from ACI to ACII was so tremendous.