[Warning: Early Game Spoilers]
Assassin's Creed II is great - but at six hours in, I'm never going to play it again.
I came to this decision just recently - having picked it up again and played it tonight for an hour or so tonight, I've finally found it in me to reject a solid, fun gameplay experience.
If you feel confused, don't worry - I am too. I've enjoyed the majority of the time that I've spent with the game, and I feel like the experience is going to be as good as it has been (if not better) all the way through. Thinking of certain elements of that game (the Assassin's Tomb platforming, the assassination missions), I feel compelled to go back. But I can't. Because I don't care.
I was trying to figure out the root of my indifference toward the game, and to the events that occur within it. Initially what came to mind was Michael Abbott's analysis of Demon's Soul's environments vs. AC2's, but although I tend to agree with his points, it's not the root cause of the issue.
I must admit that, compared to other gamers, I'm probably more focused on story, dialogue and characters within the games that I play. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that it is that hook that is missing for me - I don't care about Ezio, I don't care about Desmond, or Lucy, or even poor Leonardo Da Vinci. I didn't care about the deaths in Ezio's family, and I don't care about his uncle, his friends or his grieving mother.
Because I don't know them.
I don't know who Desmond is, other than that he sounds like Nathan Drake and enjoys lying around all day playing virtual reality video games. I don't know who Ezio is, other than what could be summarized in a dry, emotionless paragraph or two in a game design document somewhere. I was never properly introduced to his father, so it didn't matter when he died - there was perhaps the subtlest glimpse that there was something there other than a stuffed catalyst waiting to be strung up, but that's only if I'm reaching. Half the characters I don't even know by name. The other half I do, briefly, until I kill them.
I guess what I'm getting at is that I feel the game is a complete missed opportunity for interesting characterization and an interesting plot, because it never allows itself to dwell on any particular character or story. The cast is gigantic, and each character is only allowed a criminally small amount of screen time (and what time they do get is filled up with talking about you, Ezio, and gives you zero insight into their character).
And as soon as the assassinations are over and Ezio meets someone new that he will interact with for a bit and learn about, the game instantly breaks, and flashes forward to when Ezio and the aformentioned character have skipped all the interesting parts of their relationship, and are now best buds (or worst enemies).
The pacing in that game is relentless. Gameplay-wise, it's improved greatly since the first Assassin's Creed, but the storytelling is lagging far behind. After meeting Leonardo da Vinci, I want to spend some time with the man! I want to find out what he was like (or, and this is still interesting, what some creative person who has researched him thinks he was like). It's fine for him to become the source of upgrades - after all, we are playing a game - but if that is all he becomes, you're reducing him and his life to being a cheery numbskull who helps out this crazy assassin, even though he really has no idea about who Ezio is or what he's doing.
I understand that the game cannot be focused solely on the things that I would find interesting, and I feel like some people on the development team were definitely pushing in that direction - the fact that you can buy paintings in the game from the different cities is cool, and the way they've interwoven the in-game character histories with actual history is novel and works pretty well. But by throwing me these completely one dimensional characters in a game that feels totally constructed and contrived, they've turned me off enough to warrant me not playing any more, even though I enjoy the gameplay.
It may just be a personal incompatibility, but I do believe that these are serious issues that would affect most people who tried to emotionally connect with AC2 or its characters. I'm curious to hear if anyone else has similar issues - and I'd like to hear from people who loved the story and characters, because before playing I'd heard praise.
Anyway, that's where I'm at at the moment. Finally got around to purchasing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, so I might give that a whirl tomorrow, if I'm not working on Shadow Field. Peace out!