In 1497, the priest and leader of Florence, Girolamo Savonarola carried out the Bonfire of the Vanities. In an act of open hostility towards the Renaissance, Father Savonarola and his acolytes collected objects such as books, art, cosmetics or anything that fell under the category of ‘immoral excesses’ and burned them in bonfires across the city. Had it not been for Ezio Auditore, the golden age of Italian art, culture and architecture would have been lost.
Mixing historical events and fiction with incredible finesse, the downloadable episode that serves as the thirteenth memory block of Assassin’s Creed 2 picks up immediately after the Battle of Forli. Ezio returns to Florence to retrieve the Apple of Eden from Father Savonarola. But the good priest is in control of the city and has his lieutenants (by choice or coerced) running the city. Needless to say, these are dark times for Florence, and if the premise wasn’t bleak enough to get through to the player, the city has a perpetual cloud cover giving it a washed out look to underscore the point.
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Across its fairly decent length, the player gets twelve missions and a new segment of Florence to explore. Most of the missions are assassinations, where Ezio goes around the city eliminating key members of the Savonarola regime to drive the populace into a revolt against him. This translates into gameplay that can be best described as a highlight reel of what Assassin’s Creed has to offer. Every assassination offers a unique challenge, which requires a fair bit of planning and usage of all the tools at Ezio’s disposal. For example, while one may involve chasing down the target across rooftops, another may require the player to blend in and carry out the assassination undetected. Variations in each scenario make each assassination in this episode unique, and the joy of completing one in style is unparalleled.
These missions aren’t different from what the player would have done at some point or the other in the main game, but coming back to the game for this episode after having completed it before is a lot of fun, especially because you get to play the best parts of the game jam packed into one and a half to two hours. The story also happens to be more cohesive than the earlier episode, whose excessive combat in the first half comes off as a bit jarring. Bonfire of the Vanities ends with a resolution to this particular part of the story, and it is all the better for that.
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While Bonfire of the Vanities may have hit the bull’s eye in terms of offering meaningful downloadable content, its exclusion (and that of Battle of Forli) from the retail release does take away a bit from Assassin’s Creed 2. Had these two episodes been included on disc, the story of Assassin’s Creed 2 wouldn’t have come across as lopsided towards Ezio’s personal quest for vengeance. Both the downloadable episodes focus on what’s really at stake in the battle between the assassins and templars, making sequence fourteen a much more compelling experience in light of these events.
For anyone who is yet to play Assassin’s Creed 2, we would suggest splurging a bit extra and experience its epic story in its entirety. At a reasonable price of $3.99, it’s well worth it. For those who have already finished the game, this downloadable episode is a great reminder of everything that is awesome about the series.
(+) Fun and varied missions
(+) Fairly decent length
(+) Drives the latter half of the Assassin’s Creed 2 story
(-) Nothing you haven’t already done in the main game
Title: Assassin’s Creed 2: Bonfire of the Vanities
Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox 360 via Xbox LIVE (320 MS Points), PS3 via PSN Store ($3.99)
Reviewed on: PS3, Xbox 360