Many open-world games have a tough time finding the sweet spot between giving players tasks and planting enough story and motivation in the world to make them feel like those tasks mean something. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood occupies that ground molto bene.
As Italian killer Ezio Auditore, players stalk renaissance Rome, trying to wrest the sprawling city from the clutches of the backstabbing Borgia. That means chasing the plot from one murder to another. But between those ornate snuff sequences, the world is dusted corner-to-corner with delicious busywork. And moreso than Ezio’s last outing, the connection between free-roaming distractions and plot feels taut. Rather than snooping for treasures and dough to upgrade a remote estate, Ezio is liberating Rome itself—investing money in businesses, recruiting killers for his guild, and wresting power from the Borgia by taking down guard captains and torching their towers.
Under the game’s already pitch-perfect parkour and slightly improved (but still occasionally clumsy) combat is a foundation of empire-building that feels suspiciously like a strategy game. The elaboration is welcome, creating the profound sensation that every drop of blood spilled and pocket picked is a moment of growth.
A new multi-player component pits players against each other on crowded city streets. These matches aren’t bloody free-for-alls, they’re tense games of cat and mouse. You have a target to kill, and somebody is assigned to off you in turn. The idea is to blend in with the townspeople and pounce before your hunter takes you down. That mode sounds awesome on paper. And the standard caveat that it’s tough to assess an online mode before a game is in the wild goes doubly here, since pre-release opportunities to fully test this mode were limited. Judging by those glimpses, though, the multiplayer looks like it will deliver on its intriguing premise. But even without this clever take on online play, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood would be a strong outing. With the addition firing on all cylinders, it’s a real killer.