There are still hiding places like bales of hay and roof gardens in Assassin’s Creed II. They act as sort of “safe zones” that break a pursuers line of site. Ezio can even dive underwater for a limited time to hide from his enemies. But a more satisfying approach to dealing with foes is to divert them with hired help. Thieves, mercenaries and whores can be hired for a fee and directed at targets as living tools of distraction. Players can also toss money into a crowd to cause a small riot amongst the peasantry. This sandbox approach to stealth requires a bit of practice and it won’t always result in success, but when it does come together, it’s very rewarding.
If you choose to fight instead of hide, another plethora of options opens up. On the weapon selection wheel, there are swords, daggers, smoke bombs, throwing knives the dual assassin blades, and a surprise weapon I won’t spoil. Each weapon has its benefits in terms of strength and speed along with its own slick set of animations.
New weapons can be permanently purchased through shops, or temporarily stolen from an adversary in the heat of battle. Weapon variation has done a lot to improve the variety of combat; late in Assassin’s Creed II you’ll be looking for a fight instead of turning tail.
Even without sword, the way you engage an enemy has depth. A notoriety meter and enemy awareness indicators being clearly marked on the screen give players fair warning over what sets off the guards. Once engaged, there are sidesteps, special combat moves (like throwing sand in someone’s face), and grapples. Novice players will fall back on slamming a single attack button, which quickly becomes repetitive, but experts can turn combat into an art.