Assassin's Creed II: Bonfire of the Vanities
Yesterday, Ezio's missing memories came to a searing finale with the Bonfire of the Vanities DLC pack. It's a smooth transition from the closing events of The Battle of Forli, continuing the developments that lead to Ezio's recovery of the piece of Eden from Girolamo Savonarola (The bad guy in black). So is Ezio's less-than-ideal homecoming a blazing triumph or a grease fire?
I had my reservations about this DLC pack after having played through Forli's crass sequence. Bonfire definitively outshines the former though. The core game play is solid and much more refined than it's predecessor; Bonfire is reminiscent of the original, uncorrupted memory sequences, as opposed to Forli's button-mashapalooza. A great way to describe it is an abridged version of the original Assassin's Creed for brevity and enjoyability.
Upon returning to Florence at the start, old fears crept back when I found out that to end Savonarola's hegemony, I would have to assassinate nine men; Nine Men, why does that sound so familiar? At this point, I was anticipating a very redundant sequence, and this being DLC didn't exactly lend optimism either. I thought this would just be nine of the assassination-contract type missions found in pigeon coops laced together with the Savonarola story. This wasn't the case.
These are nine well crafted missions that actually made me stop and survey my approach. Stealth is integral in seven out of the nine, and with most I couldn't just distract guards with mercenaries or thieves. It felt like the guards hired a new defensive coordinator because their red-zone defense is spot on. This was especially the case with the merchant and condotierro assassinations, which required me to take out several strategically placed guards in order to advance towards my target without being spotted. I even had to do some timed killings. There's great variety in the assassination approaches as well, including a chase to the kill, battle royal, and the classic rush-from-the-crowd "Caesar-ssination."
My main criticisms lie in some of the detailing. The first thing I noticed is that Ubisoft still didn't use Machiavelli's full potential as a character. The plan to take out Savonarola's nine lieutenants in order to incite the populace is actually formulated by Ezio; Machiavelli just agrees. The same can be said about Savonarola himself, he's just the bad guy; I really didn't interact with, or learn anything from him. Historical context was also forgotten in terms of the lieutenants. They weren't anyone in particular, just generic characters, such as a merchant, preacher, and doctor. Savonarola's historical allies could have been incorporated here; including Fra Domenico da Pescia and Fra Silvestro. They would have been a nice facet in a game which has already demonstrated thorough attention to historical detail through its several info blurbs about locations and people.
The spring jump also left me a bit disappointed. It's not an ability; it's literally a diving board-esque device projecting out of some of Florence's roofs. I'll admit, the few that I used were fun, in true Wile E. Coyote fashion. The problem lies though in that if they're not along the route you're taking, you're not going to use or even see them a lot of the time. Personally, the inconsistency that bothered me the most was that the bonfires occurred in the first place to purge any objects that could incite temptation including art, books, musical instruments, cosmetics, anything that could lead to lax morality. If this is the case, why are all the art shops still open? And worse still, there sure are a lot of lutists still running around during the bonfires! By the way, warning, they seemed to be prowling in even greater droves now.
To be fair, Ubisoft did note that there probably wouldn't be any courtesans walking around during the moral cleansing, and the red lights turn back on only after a district is liberated. I also appreciated the Forli-color wash treatment Florence underwent for the DLC. It does a nice job of conveying Savonarola's strangling of Florence's vibrancy, even if the populace still in suspiciously ostentatious dress.
Execution of Savonarola on the Piazza della Signoria, artist unknown.
The "Bonfire" sequence wasn't the only thing available with the DLC. If you download what amounts to a deluxe edition, you also get to explore Templar Lairs that were originally only available in the collector's edition of the game. For a couple of more dollars, they are well worth it. This pack lets you explore the Palazzo Medici, Arsenal Shipyard, and Santa Maria dei Frari. It was fun playing hide-and-go-stab in the Palazzo, stab-you're-it in the shipyard, and, well, there wasn't any stabbing in Santa Maria, but it was still pretty cool. The Templar lairs also provide a nice change of pace with the game's puzzle solving element which I had slightly forgotten about since collecting the assassin's seals.
All in all, this DLC pack is definitely worth the buy and it definitely washed out "Forli's" ripe-clam taste. If you're looking for some more of that great Assassin's Creed experience which the original memory sequences spoiled us with, then you're going to enjoy the "Bonfire of the Vanities."
This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.