To express my feelings for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I had to track down a sentence Roger Ebert wrote: “Learning the difference between good movies and skillful ones is an early step in becoming a moviegoer.” In the last few years, I’ve started to notice the “skillful video game” trend: a game that’s got all the polish in the world but isn’t any fun to play.
In fact, here’s my review of the entire Assassin’s Creed series: each game gets worse even as it gets more skillful. It was plain to see, for instance, that the series of carefully‐planned, oh‐shit‐here’s‐my‐chance assassinations in Assassin’s Creed had been rejiggered for the sequel; it became a series of extemporaneous situations that seemed to reward lack of planning. (“Who is this guy? Why I am I killing him? Screw it; I’ll just run up and fire my pistol.”) But it also fixed so much of what was wrong with that first game and gave me a gorgeous depiction of Renaissance Italy to freerun around. I was satisfied.
But something’s gone wrong. Brotherhood has added so many layers of sound that it’s lost the melody completely. Is Ezio singularly focused on getting back the Apple of Eden, the
MacGuffin crucial artifact that can exert absolute control over mankind? No, he’s balls‐deep in Roman real estate, buying shops so he can earn more money so he can buy more shops. Or he’s training new recruits with a menu‐driven process that’s about as exciting as Progress Quest.
None of this has anything to do with the plot of the game, but that’s the whole point. Filler of the Brotherhood sort is quite common in modern games. It’s an easy way to parallelize the development process: the team that works on the side quests doesn’t have to keep in sync with the team working on the main quest. But it’s also an easy way to bury the kernel of an excellent game beneath a stack of laundry lists.
A stronger story might have saved this game. Any story might have saved this game. As it is, there’s only enough plot in place to set up a stupid cliffhanger ending. But it’s getting hard to care about what happens in the present‐day universe of the game when I know I’ll be spending most of the next game in a machine, helping my ancestors become real estate moguls.