On Thursday, Ubisoft released “Bonfire of the Vanities” the second DLC pack for its top selling game from 2009, Assassin’s Creed 2. The second of the promised expansion packs, Bonfire, fills in the last remaining memory sequence to the main story and brings players back to Florence as Ezio in 1497 as he tries to regain the Apple of Eden which was stolen and is now being used to subjugate the populace. While the previous DLC package, “Battle of Forli,” was more or less an hour’s worth of gameplay based primarily on moving the story forward, Bonfire focuses more on giving gamers a chance to jump into Ezio’s boots again and set off on more high profile assassination missions. There are thirteen total memories and a whopping nine assassinations included in the DLC, certainly more than enough to give gamers value for their investment.
It was hard for me to understand why Battle for Forli was not included in the main game. It was short and the story sequence still fit in with the overall progress of the main story arch. Yet, Bonfire of the Vanities works much better as DLC. With so many other assassinations strung together it would have lengthened the original game in a way that would have become tedious. Additionally, the story elements really have little bearing on Ezio’s main goal and merely serve as a side-tracking quest. Yet, as DLC it offers a great opportunity for gamers who miss jumping over rooftops and planning that perfect kill to fulfill their urges to strap on the hidden blades once more.
The gameplay itself is pretty much the same as the rest of the game. A new “spring board” jump has been introduced but its not exactly a game changer. All it entails is Ezio sprinting toward these red flag poles that jut out the sides of some of the buildings. Using them like a trampoline of sorts he can vault himself across greater distances, even traversing jumps across entire city streets. A feat which is otherwise impossible for the assassin. The problem with this is that the flag poles are few and far between and so unless you happen to stumble upon them, its unlikely that you’ll use them more than once or twice. I myself only used them a few times, but that was mostly so I could test it out. Additionally, the game gives you access to a new portion of the southern part of Florence which had been blocked off. There is very little remarkable about this area of the city. There are no new shops or items or anything, and the architecture is similar to the rest of the city.
Ubisoft does deserve kudos on the assassination missions included in the pack. First, they are actually challenging at times, certainly more so than most of the others in the game. The challenge comes from the locations which vary from trying to kill a merchant on his ship, to actually having to scale the Duomo to get at a fanatical priest. These might not sound all that challenging, but for the most part the game tasks you with carrying out these assassinations without alerting guards. For some of the missions, if the guards do detect you, your prey will take off fleeing and you can chase him down, but for some of the missions (like the two I just mentioned) being seen results in outright failure and forces you to restart. They should provide a challenge to even the most seasoned assassins.
The studio has also ramped up the number of enemies trying to keep Ezio from his goal. On a number of missions it was common to have between ten and twenty guards bearing down on me as I tried to flee the scene and more often than not I was forced into combat. One of the better assassination missions in particular tasks you with killing the captain of the guard inside a courtyard with seemingly an infinite number of his troops coming after you in wave after wave as you try to scale the building to get to their leader.
The one major detriment to all of this added challenge is that the controls are not totally up to the task at times. The game still lacks major stealth controls like crouching behind walls and moving silently (other than just walking). On a number of occasions what I thought were perfectly stealthy kills resulted in mission failure, and I was forced to resort to jumping between packs of citizens to get to my target, which isn’t all that fun.
Also included in one version of the DLC is a set of four Templar lairs, previously only available through pre-order. These are housed in various landmarks, like Palazzo Medici, the home of Lorenzo De Medici, and are a combination of acrobatic puzzles and battle rooms that usually end in large monetary rewards. Nothing that is going to really excite gamers, but it does prolong the experience a bit more, just don’t expect a huge challenge. The version that includes the Templar lairs is selling for 520 MS points ($6.50) while the regular version which just includes the Bonfire of the Vanities is only 320 MS points ($4). Be sure to check which version you want before purchasing as you will be forced to pay full price again if you purchase the regular version and want to upgrade.
Regardless of the lack of innovation and the sometimes frustrating absence of controls that allow for a true stealth experience, Bonfire of the Vanities is another great buy for big fans of Assassin’s Creed II who are looking for some refreshing new challenges in Ezio’s world, just don’t expect a revamping of the familiar formula.
+ A whopping nine new assassination missions
+ More enemies and need for stealth increases difficulty and challenge
+ New area of Florence to explore
– Springboard jump is more or less useless
– Why no stealth mechanic?
– Templar lairs not worth the extra $2 for special edition
* We reviewed Assassin’s Creed 2: Bonfire of the Vanities on the Xbox 360. Assassin’s Creed 2 and its DLC packages were developed by Ubisoft Montreal and it was published by Ubisoft. The full game is available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and the DLC is available via Xbox LIVE and PSN.