Save the Cat! is a plotting device that spans across all mediums of story-telling, from movies, novels, and videogames. Assassin’s Creed II is a game that has inspired my writing over the past 11 years! I still remember the first time I plopped the disc into my PlayStation 3 and instantly became enthralled with the world and protagonist of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze.
Today I want to look at the plot of Assassin’s Creed II, and how Save the Cat! drives Ezio’s transformation and manipulates me, the viewer, into caring.
Disclaimer: There will be HEAVY SPOILERS for the videogame Assassin’s Creed II. If you do not wish to be spoiled: play the game and come back here for my analysis.
Ezio Auditore is on a bridge in Florence, Italy, ready to fight his rival Vieri D’ Pazzi. There is a little back and forth banter showing Ezio’s personality. This moment sets up our charismatic, carefree, reckless Assassin. We get the faintest glimpse into who is this character we will be following for the next 10-12 hours.
As a teen, I loved this scene. It perfectly sets up the mood/tone of the game, and you know you’re getting into an adventure. It presents that Ezio lives the life he wants, in a way that he wants.
Ezio, and his brother Federico, win the fight against Vieri. The brothers’ race to the top of a church where they have a brief conversation. Federico says, “This is a good life we live; may it never change.”
“May it never change us,” Ezio adds. The theme is stated, and the title card appears, signaling two things, 1. It foreshadows that their lives will indeed change and 2. It shows what Ezio needs to learn by the end of the game – he isn’t aware of it himself, however. I want to draw particular attention to Ezio’s line, “may it never change us.” Remember that while reading.
Hearing those lines, and seeing the title card over the landscape of Florence draws me in every time. I instantly feel connected to these two characters as if invited to join them in their misadventures. The foreshadowing makes me question how their lives will change, and it cues that the change is coming.
The setup spans the first two or so hours of gameplay and includes the scenes we have already talked about. We see Ezio’s status quo life – we meet his lover, family, and see what a typical day is in Ezio’s life. Ezio gives importance to his family, running errands for his dad, helping his mom, and completing favors for his siblings. We learn Ezio’s father is apart of a trial against the Pazzi.
These first hours were critical for my attachment to the game; I felt as if I was living in renaissance Italy and felt a connection to these characters.
We see Ezio lives a happy life, but it wouldn’t be a story without problems. Ezio’s father and brothers get arrested, and Ezio is tasked to deliver evidence of their innocence to Uberto, a family friend met during Ezio’s errands.
The setup drives an emotional response to this moment. Ezio is worried and frantic, and I too get worried for Ezio. I, too, hope Ezio’s family will be cleared. Still, every story needs a catalyst to push its character to become a better person.
Ezio’s status quo life is turned upside down. His father and brothers are up for execution, and Uberto conveniently never got any evidence to clear the Auditore name. Ezio witnesses the murder and betrayal of his kin.
This is the change the theme stated foreshadows and is the moment the whole story revolves around.
I remember being shocked when I first saw this scene. I was in disbelief. Ezio is hopeless at this moment, and the game projects that helplessness on the player by not allowing them to do anything but run away.After this moment, there is no return for Ezio to his status quo life. Things can never go back as they were.
Ezio is taken in by a family friend and learns stealth and the basics of killing. He kills Uberto for betraying his family and uncovers a list of names involved in his family’s murder.
The debate is figuring out what to do next. He takes his mother and sister out of Florence. He doesn’t have a clear plan or knows where they will go.
Florence wants him for the murder of one of its noblemen, and his whole world is shaken up in front of him. This scene is chilling as there is no music while you try to escape Florence, and guards are looking for you. Your sister is asking questions, and they don’t even know the rest of the family is dead.
Break into 2:
Ezio is traveling with his mother and sister when Vieri D’ Pazzi ambushes them. Ezio is at the edge of being defeated when his Uncle Mario saves the day and takes them to his villa. Mario teaches fighting skills and tells Ezio of his father’s assassin heritage – urging Ezio to pick up where his father left off. Ezio refuses, wanting to take his remaining family to Spain.
The Break into 2 here sets up the Assassins vs. Templars world of Act 2. Little does Ezio know it gives him a place to seek vengeance for his lost family. I felt Ezio’s turmoil here as he wants his remaining family safe, but wants to know the truth behind his father.
Ezio knows Vieri troubles, Mario, because of him, so he elects to join his uncle in assassinating Vieri. When Ezio kills Vieri, a rush of anger swells inside, and he takes it out on his rival’s body. Mario teaches Ezio to respect the dead – a lesson Ezio takes with him until the very end.
They get a codex page off of Vieri’s body, and the B-story begins. The codex pages refer to a hidden vault that only a prophet can open. To Ezio, it is only an old man’s wise tale and nothing more. For gameplay, it is an excuse to have us collect things, but it is what helps Ezio realize the real lesson he will need to learn, not letting life change him.
Fun & Games:
This is where a good chunk of the gameplay takes place. Ezio goes down his list, killing templars, trying to find out more about the conspiracy that leads to his family’s death. He is sent all across Italy in search of the truth, saves the Medici family, and practically rids the world of the Pazzi family.
The more he kills, the further he feels he understands the truth.
Ezio is getting further down his list, and becoming a master assassin, a hero of Firenze even. Still, he hasn’t learned the lesson he needs to be his best self. He is fighting with a vengeance in his heart.He can’t fully heal until he confronts that vengeance.
Ezio has gone down his list, killed many templars, and the trail leads to Jacapo D’ Pazzi. He infiltrates a Templar meeting where a Spaniard, Rodrigo Borgia, kills Jacapo for his incompetence in dealing with Ezio and ambushes Ezio at the meeting.
The trail goes deeper than Ezio initially thought, there are more templars, and they are headed to Venice.
Ezio has a false defeat here. He believes his trail has run cold, and Rodrigo leaves him to die. All assassinations lead to this point, and he is further from understanding why his family had to die. The stakes rise, and his search deepens.
Bad Guys Close In:
Templars are in Venice trying to seize control – Emilio Barbarigo is blocking trade and commerce and the Templars plan to kill the doge of Venice. Ezio kills Emilio gaining trust with the resistance in Venice but fails to save the Doge. Marco Barbarigo becomes the new Doge and Ezio kills him in a brilliant display of skill, becoming the Hero of Venice.
In these scenes, we see Ezio struggle with his own want for vengeance and realizing the good he is doing for the people around him.
Things are mostly going up in this beat for our hero. Which makes it hurt more when things fall.
All is Lost:
The assassins have a new doge ready to step into place: Agostino Barbarigo. However, Silvio Barbarigo has occupied the military district of Venice, blocking Agostino from swearing-in. Ezio kills Silvio and his helper Dante to find out it is all a farce, Templars are leaving Italy all together for a secret mission, and Ezio is at a dead end. Nothing can move forward until that ship with the templars comes back.
All is lost for Ezio, any chance at revenge, any chance of uncovering the conspiracy of his family, it’s gone on that ship. In his eyes, he has failed.
Dark Night of the Soul:
Ten years have passed since Ezio witnessed his brothers and father die and he feels he is no closer to understanding what it was all for, then he was on that day. The boat that got away is scheduled to come back and his best friend Leonardo comes with news about the Codex pages. They decode into a message stating “When two pieces arrive in the floating city, the prophet will arrive.”
Ezio gets his A-ha moment, or Dark Night Epiphany and realizes the templars are after the vault his Uncle spoke of so many years before. He realizes that the boat has a piece of Eden. Ezio now knows why his family had to die and where the templars are going to be, it is time for him to move into the final act.
Break into 3:
Rodrigo Borgia is in Venice to collect the piece of Eden. Ezio takes this opportunity to impersonate one of Borgia’s men and steal the piece of Eden and confront Rodrigo. All of the people Ezio has met and helped along the way show up and help fight Rodrigo but he gets away. With the piece of Eden, Ezio is revealed to be the prophet and inducted into the order of assassins.
Thus begins Act three. The assassins are gathered and Ezio is just about ready to confront Rodrigo one last time. Ezio has learned to put aside his vengeance and fight for the greater good – or has he?
Eleven years pass and Rodrigo has become the pope of Rome. In that time the assassins recover the remaining codex pages revealing the location of the vault which happens to be in Rome. Rodrigo, being pope, has access to the vault; It is time for Ezio to gather the team (Mario and himself) and Storm the Castle (break into the Sistine Chapel).
Ezio goes to assassinate Rodrigo and lets his lust for vengeance take over while he fights. Rodrigo gets the upper hand and stabs Ezio before they have their final fight inside the vault. After removing all weapons and fighting fist to fist Ezio emerges victorious.
In this finale we see Ezio embrace who he is, as the prophet, and confront his biggest enemy. He has all the tools, but the lesson is finally about to hit him.
In the theme stated section, Federico points out that it is a good life they live, hoping that it never changes, and Ezio adds “May it never change us.” The lesson came out of Ezio’s mouth in the very beginning and now Ezio has the upper hand and can let out his lust for revenge, killing Rodrigo.
However, in this final moment, Ezio spares Rodrigo, knowing it won’t bring back his family. He lets his lust for revenge go, and doesn’t let the life he now lives change him.
He has grown and finally developed the acceptance he needed to become the man his father would be proud of.
After analyzing Assassin’s Creed II, I better see how Save the Cat! fits into storytelling. It works for more than just novels, it’s in videogames and movies as well. It is a great plotting device to build an emotional connection to your characters and make sure they hit all the major beats to have an emotionally impactful transformation.
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C. D. Baron
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