I still remember how excited I got back in the day when it was announced that the follow-up to one of my favorite games, Assassin’s Creed II, was going to launch with a competitive multiplayer mode. I was baffled as to how it would actually feel to play but wanted so badly to find out. Along with a base game that stands out to this day as a phenomenal Roman romp, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood actually delivered a chaotic cat-and-mouse multiplayer format that was fun against all odds, and despite being abandoned, remains one of the best multiplayer modes ever. With the narrative framing that you and the other combatants are Templar agents virtually maiming each other in the name of training, you were let loose in the memories of old Templars to start leveling up and trying all the different modes out.
The multiplayer was at its best for me when playing the free-for-all Wanted mode, where you’d have to try and track down another player to kill while keeping an eye out for your own hunter. Before abilities and other chaos came into play, the translation of the parkour and different types of kills from single-player to this new type of arena was very satisfying. You basically got style points for pulling off the coolest possible kills while also not showing your hand. Being able to get an incognito aerial kill because you spotted your mark at the perfect time never got old, but there was a constant balance since you could get snuck up on just as easily. The addition of a compass, which shows how close your target is, whether they’re above or below you, and lights up when you’re in direct eye line, is a big help for map navigation, but also takes your attention away from potential dangers walking up to you in the crowd.
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Along with hunters giving themselves away by suddenly sprinting or hanging from a wall, there are some clever design hints that help targets out too. Subtle whispers will fade in when enemies are getting close, so you can try to run, or get a humiliating stun punch in on your pursuer if you react quickly enough. But you can only evade death for so long. More players will be assigned your contract as you reach high rankings in the game, so you can have up to three hunters plotting your fall from first place. Even if you end up in a chase with three people that eventually ends with your painful death, you at least get the satisfaction of knowing that your killer didn’t get nearly as many points as they could have with a stealthy kill. Even though I definitely had my salty moments when I ranked low in these games, they never dragged on long enough to prolong frustration. I could usually step back and realize I was playing like an idiot and exposing myself too readily a lot of the time.
Not only were these games tense and thrilling, but they could also be hilarious. I couldn’t help but guffaw when a murder spree suddenly broke out in the middle of a square as several contracts converged, or a first-place target managed to perfectly time a smoke bomb throw to neutralize several attackers. My favorite gag was using the Morph ability to turn an entire group into your character all chatting in a circle, and seeing hunters walk by in confusion trying to pick you out of the crowd. There are abilities like the firecracker that can turn you into a sitting duck as your clones duck in cover and your screen whites out, but it was still worth it for the occasional stun I pulled off with this move.
Sure, there was a pretty noticeable imbalance between abilities you have early on and later gadgets like the throwing knives, which can immobilize both attackers and targets, and the poison which pretty much dooms you if your attacker just walks by you once when it’s not on cooldown. I definitely felt cool when I eventually got to make some deadly builds, but I still personally get pretty exhausted after too much time on the seemingly endless multiplayer grinding hamster wheel. Even though I was definitely sometimes preoccupied with the new perks and kill streak buffs increasingly further ahead, the base modes in the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer were just fun to replay, and all abilities could be used in cool, expressive ways at different times.
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The maps were heroes of the multiplayer fun as well, with just enough variety to keep you on your toes and shift up your playstyle depending on how you navigate them. They were sized perfectly, and I never felt like I was helplessly looking for targets the whole game, and the addition of elements like doors that would slam shut after you or platforms that fell when you jumped across them were fun wrinkles to throw in for chases. While slinking over rooftops in crowded urban environments was the classic experience, I also loved the Castel Gandolfo map, which was mostly interior and saw you ducking around corners and hiding in crowds, risking being exposed if you jumped through a window in the crowded, multileveled castle.
Ubisoft sunsetted the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer in the Fall 2022, with the only version of this mode still up and running appearing on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I checked on the multiplayer occasionally when I played the other games past Brotherhood but never got as sucked in as I did with that first incarnation. Even though I still miss playing it and would love to see a fresh take on this chaos, it’s hard to see a version of this mode that would be unaffected by the worst inclinations and expectations of live-service multiplayer if it came out today. Just like a firecracker going off in your face, the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer experience was stunning flash-in-the-pan that dazzled tons of fans, and I’ll always look back fondly on my times skulking through the streets of Firenze as a murderous plague doctor.
In advance of the next installment in the franchise, check out when Assassin’s Creed Mirage takes place in the series’ timeline.