Assassin’s Creed II – Plot Pacing

Let’s just get one thing out of the way as soon as possible. Assassin’s Creed II has got a good story. It’s not as thought provoking as its predecessor’s, and it’s a simple one with a very straightforward character arc, but it’s still good. That being said, at certain points it suffers from bad pacing and poor writing (which seeps into the mission design and gameplay, which is one of the reasons I decided to tackle this topic before going to a more detailed Sequence 10 post). So I’m going to talk more about that today. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Ezio’s arc in Assassin’s Creed II is a fairly standard Hero’s Journey, so I’ll be using some of that paradigm’s terminology (well, Vogler’s variation, not Campbell’s original monomyth). Let’s analyze the sequences of Assassin’s Creed II.

Sequence 1 – Depicts Ezio’s Ordinary World, as well as gives the Call to Adventure in the form of the Family Execution.
Sequence 2 – Refusal of the Call. Even though Ezio does make his first kill, he thinks it’s going to be his last as he wants to take the rest of his family to Spain.
Sequence 3 – Meeting the Mentor (Mario) and Crossing the First Threshold – Vieri, Ezio accepts the Call, starts learning about respect to the dead and embarks on his quest to kill the conspirators responsible for the death of his family.

Everything’s fine here.

Sequences 4 to 10 then become the ‘Tests, Allies and Enemies’ part. And it just goes on for too long, all that’s happening here is essentially Ezio getting rid of conspirators. Sequence 4 – in Florence, Sequence 5 – in Tuscancy, Sequence 7, 8, 9, 10 – in Venice, and Sequence 6 is a small interlude.

I think you can sense from my description that the pacing problems begin in Venice, and yes, they do, because… nothing happens there. Sure, there’s this whole conspiracy to take the place of the Doge and everything, and events are going on, but, in the grand scheme of things nothing happens – Ezio doesn’t develop, things aren’t set up or resolved.

Sequences 4 and 5 were also about getting rid of a conspiracy. However. In Sequence 4 we spy on the main antagonist (that’s our first real glimpse of him, it’s pretty important), in Sequence 5 we get the first talk with said antagonist which sets up his dominance over Ezio (that is important, because later dominance should be reversed, to show Ezio’s growth). Plus, there’s nothing wrong with Ezio going on for a while just killing conspirators. But there comes a point where that has to stop, and Venice pulls the break too late.

Sequences 7 and 8 are saved by the fact that they make sense (both from story and gameplay perspective), and Sequence 7 introduces the new city while Sequence 8 provides a very cool set-piece (that being flying on Leonardo DaVinci’s machine). Sequence 9 tries to spruce things up by introducing the Carnivale (which does provide a great amount of atmosphere), but botches that up with the non-sensical series of events, while Sequence 10 just wobbles around trying to get the last conspirators killed and provides probably the worst set of missions in the whole game (a separate post will be devoted to that). I would say that most pacing and plot problems in the game come from Sequences 9 and 10.

Sure, we get another glimpse of Rodrigo in Venice, but it’s not as meaningful as it was in previous sequences – nothing pushes anything forward in Venice until the very end of Sequence 10 when we finish the conspiracy sub-plot and learn that the whole plan to take the Doge’s seat was just a distraction. And only in Sequence 11 does the plot steadily move forward with confronting Rodrigo who brought the Apple of Eden to Venice, taking the Apple and joining the Assassin’s Order (i.e. in Hero’s Journey terms – Approach to the Inner Cave, Ordeal, and Seizing the Sword).

The Assassinations of the Templar conspirators should’ve been restructured and condensed into Sequences 7 and 8. The Assassination of Marco Barbarigo should’ve been the one where we use the Flying Machine (makes sense considering his paranoid nature of never leaving the Palazzo). Also, five targets in two sequences would keep up the pace set up by Sequences 4 and 5 – where Ezio discovered the conspirators and got rid of them in two Sequences as well (and that was 6 targets).

The faster pace of Assassinations actually helps to bring the point that this quest for revenge is Ezio’s life and focus at this point, and does not give time for the novelty of the city to wear off. And then things would have to change significantly.

One of the big disadvantages of Assassin’s Creed II is under-utilization of Cristina. Ezio’s relationship with her plays a big role in the novelization, as well as missions about her were included in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. But it could’ve been much more effective had Cristina been incorporated into the second game’s plotline more.

So, with the Templar plot to take over Venice dealt with in Sequences 7 and 8, Sequence 9 then should’ve been another breather/interlude like Sequence 6 was, but about Ezio trying to live a carefree life again (since there’s no immediate threat at the moment), getting back to the Ordinary World so to speak (with the help of the Carnevale). And utterly failing at that (with the help of Cristina dissing Ezio, though Cristina’s appearance in Venice also means that she should appear more frequently in the first half of the game). This is the Sequence where Ezio would be pondering what any of the things he has done were for and what he’s doing with his life.

Sequence 10 would then be a somewhat expanded Sequence 11, since way to the Arsenal most likely would not be open at this point yet.

So, instead of this:
Sequence 7 – Tests, Allies and Enemies; no character or plot progression;
Sequence 8 – Tests, Allies and Enemies; no character or plot progression;
Sequence 9 – Tests, Allies and Enemies; no character or plot progression;
Sequence 10 – Tests, Allies and Enemies; no character progression; no plot progression until the very end;
Sequence 11 – Approach to the Inner Cave, Ordeal, Seizing the Sword; character development (in terms of Ezio rethinking his life) and plot progression (the Apple, the Prophet, joining the Order)

We would get this:
Sequence 7 – Tests, Allies and Enemies; no character or plot progression;
Sequence 8 – Tests, Allies and Enemies; no character progression; no plot progression until the very end (same reveal about the distraction);
Sequence 9 – ??? (not sure what step in Hero’s Journey paradigm this would be); character development (Ezio rethinking his life, plus relationship with Cristina); no real plot progression but the character development makes up for it (plus it shouldn’t be a long sequence); and as a bonus, Carnevale sequence that actually makes sense and doesn’t look out of place.
Sequence 10 – Approach to the Inner Cave, Ordeal, Seizing the Sword; Ezio finishes rethinking his life and the plot moves forward.

This change would also make the final stretch of Battle of Forli, Bonfire of the Vanities and the confrontation with Rodrigo not seem as boring or padded as it does now, and the Apple’s frequent change of hands doesn’t seem as ridiculous.

In the console version without DLCs you don’t get to see this, you get from Venice straight to the final confrontation (while missing Ezio’s most important character-defining moment in Bonfire of the Vanities, though…), but in the PC version you don’t get the option to skip any of that, and the whole deal with the Apple changing hands from Templars to Assassins, from Assassins to Savonarola, from Savonarola back to Assassins just feels excruciating after having to deal with the really slow Venice sub-plot.

Though, still, a few missions should be cut out from Bonfire of the Vanities. Yes, Ezio now kills for a higher purpose, for the Creed, not for revenge, but we don’t need 10 assassinations in a row to prove that point – that’s… that’s kinda too much, actually, and also slows things down considerably.

So, yeah. In short, the summary of this post is that I believe Venice messed up the pacing and began a domino chain that diminishes the enjoyment of the sequences that come after, and Bonfire of the Vanities overstays its welcome a bit. I remember my first Assassin’s Creed II playthrough, and it was on PC, when I got to Bonfire of the Vanities I thought ‘How long is this going to take still?!’, the desire to learn what’s going to happen next was falling apart.

Ezio’s Speech at the bonfire is still incredibly awesome though, so I’ll end this post with a link to it. Thanks for reading!

Posted on November 5, 2013, in Game Design and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Awesome analysis, dude! AC2 is my favorite in the series, but the pacing has always stuck out to me. Like that bizarre two year time-skip. It also happens near the end of Brotherhood after you get the Apple; you jump from the Hideout, to the Rosa in Fiore, to the Barracks, to a total war zone in the span of half an hour. You can’t even decline the missions.

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