It's important that you know right from the start that I really loved Assassin's Creed 2. I loved the Italian Renaissance settings, I loved the Grand Theft Auto-meets-Spider Man gameplay, and I even loved the sci-fi/art appreciation/historical thriller plot. The only downside was that the game ended right in the middle of the action. Now, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood picks up the story again, delivering all the things I loved about the original game, and a few new surprises as well.
If you're late to the game, good luck catching up. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood picks up right at the end of the previous game and there are no allowances made for players who don't already know what's up with Ezio, Desmond, and the Animus. In fact, the characters themselves start in a sort of bewildered state, so there's no chance at all that a new player will be able to care even a little bit about whatever portions of the game he or she is able to understand. I won't spoil any of the story here, but I will say that Brotherhood focuses on Ezio's fight against the Borgias, who have taken power in Rome, and the disappearance of a certain artifact. Along the way, you'll meet famous people from the era, investigate art, find treasure, and, yes, stab your way to fame and fortune.
Though Ezio, Machiavelli and the Borgias take center stage, the city of Rome is the real star of Brotherhood. The city is immense and every single inch is lovingly detailed, from the heights of the Coloseum to the winding hallways of the Castel Sant'Angelo to the tiny piazzas, alleys and bridges that link the city together. Just exploring the city and discovering the various landmarks and points of interest is more than enough to keep you occupied for a few hours. The few other locations offered in the game just sweeten the deal.
Fortunately, there's also a lot of great gameplay here as well. Much like the city of Monteriggioni in the previous game, Rome tasks players with rebuilding its infrastructure. You'll have to attack and burn the Borgia towers, and then pay to renovate and upgrade the various shops and sites throughout the city. Building up this infrastructure not only serves as a handy benchmark for your progress through the game, but also opens up new rewards and quests. It's a great way to give the player a sense of constant progression while also offering up larger rewards for big plot points. The missions themselves are also much more tightly connected. The Castel Sant'Angello infiltration and rescue mission is particularly captivating. It's like this little mini-chapter within the game that seems to go on forever, but never once overstays its welcome. I mean, even the 2012 missions aren't too terrible, which is saying a lot.
While I typically don't have much cause to replay missions in games like this, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood offers a new "full sync" option for Ezio's memories. In the past, success was the only bottom line. Now, you'll have to pay attention to the way you succeed. Some missions might offer extra rewards if you can avoid detection or getting hit, so there's an added challenge to face for the truly hardcore. Even if you've managed to get through a mission and progress on through the story, you may still want to go back and get those full sync bonuses.