The Bonfire of the Vanities is the second DLC for Assassin’s Creed II, based loosely around the historical burning of “sinful materials” and woven neatly into the Assassin’s Creed storyline.
Where the previous DLC was lacking in any real weight (i.e. it was very short and felt like it was over just as it was getting started) this addition provided more game play, introduced a couple of new fun mechanics and felt like a more worthwhile investment of time and money.
This segment of the story (or memory sequence, to use the game’s terminology) is set between Ezio losing the Apple and the final battle with Rodrigo Borgia. We are introduced to a few insignificant new characters and to the “Mad Monk” Fra Savonarola. Historically, Savonarola was a Dominican priest who was ridiculed and ousted from Florence before becoming a ‘master of studies’ in Bologna before returning to Florence. On his return the ‘Mad Monk’ began preaching about the ‘end of days’ and was a fierce opponent to Rodrigo Borgia. Ubisoft’s portrayal of Fra Savonarola fits him nicely into Ezio’s story.
On your return to your home town you notice straight away that the city is under a much more oppressive régime than last time you were here; there are no courtesans on the streets and no thieves or bands of warriors to hire, but there are plenty of guards. As the story continues, you discover some of Borgia’s men in a pile on the street, as well as ongoing battles between the local guard and the Borgia’s men. This is a double edged sword to the player; on the one hand you now have TWO sets of guards to battle, but on the other, the guards are often too pre-occupied with their own battles to pay you much attention.
In contrast to the previous DLC’s additional story elements and lack of real battles, The Bonfire of the Vanities has very little story to get distracted by and is simply battle/assassination after battle/assassination. There are nine of the Mad Monk’s lieutenants to kill before confronting and assassinating Savonarola himself. The reasoning behind this, according to Paula and Machiavelli, is that each of the monk’s followers is serving to oppress the peoples of their own part of the city; dispatching each of these followers encourages that section of the city to rise up against their oppressors. Once done, you find that the thieves and courtesans return.
There are also two new notable mechanisms in the game; the first – which I have dubbed “The Changing of the Guard” – is the ability to plan your mission around sunup/sundown when the guards are changing shifts; this, by all accounts, is intended to make the assassinations that much easier, but in reality doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. The second of the new mechanisms had even less point to it, but was great fun. Around some of the rooftops are, what can only be described as flexible flag poles, sprinting at these will catapult Ezio across streets, further than he can normally leap.
The actual assassination missions are more varied than throughout the full game. There are missions that you must complete undetected (one of which made me desynchronise more times than I did through the whole of the full game!) and others that you can execute in a wild button-bashing frenzy as well as the familiar “chase-down” style assassinations. This variation is the key to this DLC, in my opinion; nine “run here, stab him” missions would have quickly gotten very boring.
We are also treated to a new quarter of Florence, but aside from the beautiful Pallazo that Savonarola is using as his stronghold, it’s pretty much the same as we’ve already seen. There are more eagle towers to scale and more back-streets to run into during battles, but nothing overly exciting – more’s the pity.
I couldn’t finish this review without noting the technical problems with this add-on. There were various occasions when I noticed that the dialogue had simply stopped; for example, one of the assassinations occurs in the docks where your target is spouting his dogma quite vehemently to his guards; however, once I’d assassinated the closest guard the dialogue disappeared until I’d approached the next. This was an annoyance but pales into insignificance in comparison to the final cut scene. All I will say about this is that I could render better fire effects myself and that the video ground down to a measly few frames per second, marring my pride in the franchise with a distinct feeling that the product was rushed.
Lost Gamer Verdict: 7/10