Games caught in the limbo between sequels usually have a certain stigma attached to them. Too accomplished to be called an expansion, but not quite accomplished enough to be considered a sequel, these types of games often get described in terms of decimal points. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, or Assassin's Creed 2.5 as some people are callously calling it, could be an exception to that rule. As well as concluding Ezio's story in 15th century Italy, Brotherhood introduces multiplayer for the first time in the series.
At E3 we got our first glimpse of the opening level, of Ezio bounding across the rooftops of a Roman villa as the Templar army wreak havoc in the streets below. It was a very narrative driven demonstration, and while setting the scene perfectly, it didn't give much of a sense of the all important Brotherhood features at the core of the experience. In contrast to this, the section of the game being shown off at gamescom was all about the gameplay and gave a much better picture of how players would be able to interact with their murderous entourage.
The start of the demo sees Ezio loitering around on a wooden beam, possibly 30ft above street level. Throwing himself off said ledge, Ezio plummets downward, landing on the back of an occupied horse and dispatching of its Templar passenger in one elegant movement. The horseback sections appear much more fluid than in previous games, and Ezio will leap to and from horses as naturally as he'd jump anywhere else.
As Ezio canters about the cobbled streets of Rome, Vincent Pontbriand, producer on the game explained the structure of Brotherhood to us. Each of the twelve districts in the game is governed by a tower, each tower guarded by a more senior Templar - a leader, if you will. The objective of the demonstration in question was to find the district's tower, kill its leader and reduce the structure to a smouldering pile of rubble.
On the way to the tower, several Templar appear to hinder this plan. Ezio need not concern himself with such trivial distractions, however, as the master assassin has lackeys to do his dirty work. With a single tap of a button, two assassins materialise from the shadows, throwing themselves at Ezio's enemies like bees on honey. The Brotherhood features are easily the most interesting addition to the campaign, allowing Ezio to delegate combat related chores to his ever-willing posse.
Recruitment missions are dotted about the city, allowing Ezio to expand the Brotherhood and increase his influence in Rome. Later on in the demo, we see Ezio rescue a potential assassin from two Templar guards. After launching himself from his horse, Ezio simultaneously plunges two blades into the chest of each guard, clearly an impressive sight to the fledgling killer. With the assassin free from harm, he's persuaded into joining the Brotherhood, where a host of other options open up.
Far more than a simple means of delegation, Brotherhood allows players to manage their entourage with a level of depth more commonly associated with an RPG. Assassins can be sent on their own individual missions, and if they're successful will be rewarded with experience and skill points. As they grow in level and strength, they can be sent on harder and harder missions, and will become more useful to Ezio in combat, too. Each assassin can be tailored to the player's tastes; you can assign skills, change the colour of an assassin's robes and change their equipment. The guild is yours, and you can manage it how you see fit.
The last section of the level sees Ezio scrambling up the side of the tower while his cohorts dispatch of the enemies at its base. After reaching the top, Ezio lives up to his legendary status, killing the leader of the tower, lighting some sort of explosive device and then throwing himself out the window as a firework display of flames and rubble goes off behind him.
With the tower destroyed, the area once under its control is ripe for renovation. Shops can be opened, increasing the prosperity of the area. Everything ties into this theme of influence and power; the more towers that are defeated and the more assassins under Ezio's control, the more power he has over the city. This power and influence will grow throughout the campaign, with the ultimate intention of finally overthrowing the tyrannous Borgia, the ruler of Rome.
As mentioned at the start of this preview, Brotherhood feels much more than a stop gap on the way to Assassin's Creed 3. It has enough innovations and fresh ideas to warrant a full blown sequel, but Ubisoft has already confirmed that AC3 will feature an all new protagonist, and will more than likely take place in a different historical period, too. Don't be put off by a lack of a number in the title, the word 'Brotherhood' and all the features that it entails in game is more than enough to keep fans of the series happy.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood will be available November 19 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.