MSRP: $59.99 (on sale for $39.99)
A lot of people complained about the first Assassin's Creed title, mostly due to the repetitive nature and the science fiction storyline that kept pulling people out of the Middle East and into the modern day. Assassin's Creed 2 puts players back in the role of Desmond and one of his ancestors in the battle of Assassin's vs. Templars, this time taking the majority of the game to the Renaissance period in Italy.
While it takes a little while for the game to ramp up, Assassin's Creed 2 is ripe with a rich story of Desmond's ancestor Ezio and his struggle to cope with loss and revenge. Right from the first moment you set foot in Italy you'll be greeted with absolutely stunning visuals and a richly detailed world. The character model for Ezio may be one of the best looking heroes to date in a game and the variety of pedestrians on the streets make the world come alive. Little details like background chatter, and people performing tasks only add to the experience as you leap from roof top to roof top.
The biggest change you'll find in Assassins' Creed 2 are the missions themselves, and while you'll still have a main target to kill for most of them, there's plenty of variety in the how you get there to make each mission feel distinct. On top of these are sub goals: there's viewpoints, roof races, feather gathering, treasure collecting, and a bizarre set of mini games centered around the Animus and a previous subject. There's also an entire base of operations which you can upgrade and keep track of your progress throughout the game. By the time you finish the game you'll return home to a lovely palace full of everything you collected.
Of course all of these things are sort of the game's downside as well, as getting from Point A to Point B is never a straight line because of constant distractions. It's a curse and blessing all at the same time. All those distractions means quite the variety in play time, for me, it took almost 20 hours till I saw the end credits roll. Along the way I was pulled into the lore deeper and deeper, found numerous assassinations extremely satisfying (the double blade to the throats are amazing), and eventually realized I'd need to play a third game in the series to really understand what was going on. All told it was a wild ride from beginning to end, and while it was better than the original game from a mechanical perspective - I can't help but feel some of the changes made broke some of the story elements.
If you were holding off on playing the second game in the series because of past reservations after playing Assassin's Creed 1 - forget it, do yourself a favor, and go play AC2 right now.