Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share to Linkedin
Assassin’s Creed Origins
We have mercifully moved out of the brief phase where for a few years, Ubisoft thought they could turn Assassin’s Creed into an annualized franchise in the vein of Call of Duty, but that resulted in the burnout of both fans and the developers alike. Instead, the franchise has taken some time to regroup and come up with a new installment that will hopefully get people talking the game reverently the way they used to, before it slowly descended into becoming a mediocre meme factory.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is a return to form, that much is clear. I’m still trying to puzzle out whether it could top AC2 or Black Flag, but even if it’s in third place behind those, it’s a solid third. Ubisoft got a lot right here, from simplifying systems that had grown unwieldy over the past few years, to learning lessons from other leaders in the genre. The Witcher 3’s influence in particular is noticeable in Assassin’s Creed Origins, though I would stop short of saying the two are of comparable quality. Still, ACO does many, many things right, and feels like the type of game fans will welcome with open arms, especially in an age when dedicated single player experiences are on somewhat shaky ground.
The story of Assassin’s Creed Origins follows Bayek, a Siwa warrior and guardian of his little Egyptian village, who suffers a horrific tragedy at the hands of “The Order,” a mysterious group of masked influence-wielders who we see from the outset, already have their hands on an Apple of Eden and are beginning to understand what it can be used for.
This is before the Assassins and Templars, as “Origins” implies, so Bayek and his warrior wife Aya are motivated purely by revenge, hunting down members of The Order who are all given cryptic codenames like The Scarab and The Hyena before their identities are revealed.
To do this, Bayek explores a frankly astonishingly large map of Egypt, going from enormous ancient cities like Alexandria to tiny remote villages like his own. From the great pyramids of Giza (hiding skill points, if you read ancient tablets within them) to hidden caves that lead to expansive ruins.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
This is, without question, one of the most impressive open world maps I’ve ever seen. The beauty of Egypt here is stunning, and the scale is mind-boggling. This is the magic of an Assassin’s Creed game when it using its time-traveling, globe-hopping abilities to the fullest. After 40 or so hours there are still a number of sections of the map that remain blank and unexplored for me, not revealed by vision towers (which are now used purely as fast travel points instead), but by actually exploring them yourself.
The sheer amount of stuff to do in Assassin’s Creed Origins is almost overwhelming, but nearly all the activities are engaging and rewarding, which is rarely true of games in this genre. You can raid tombs, as I mentioned, but also take over forts by assassinating commanders in silence, or mowing down the entire garrison. Packs of wild animals have alphas that need to be dispatched. Museums or warehouses have loot to be stolen. Riddles point to secrets in the desert that you will have to find with the aid of no map markers, but puzzle-solving and exploration alone.
My favorite activity has probably been bounty hunter-hunting. Early in the story, you will piss off the wrong authority figure who will then send “Phylakes” after you, powerful, named bounty hunters who roam the map and will kill you on sight. Cause too much of a ruckus in one area, and they’ll be there soon enough. But you can turn the tables on them, track them stealthily with the aid of your eagle (who scouts everything in the game for you with its X-ray vision). You set traps for the Phylakes, ambush them with a rain of arrows or a drive-by horseback slashing or a streetside brawl, and if you manage to survive, walk away holding their legendary weapon.
But all those are side activities. The focus on the game is on a nearly endless number of quests and side-quests. The main story is well-told, and Bayek is one of the more likable leads this series has had to date. The actual missions range from executing an unguarded Order member as they shuffle around a temple, to epic boss fights against a furious, fire-arrow-wielding woman with three trained hyenas trying to tear your apart in the middle of a sandstorm. It’s quite a range, and there continued to be diverse encounters throughout the course of the entire game.
It’s the side-missions I found curious, as it’s where the influence of The Witcher 3 is obvious. Every side mission, and there are a zillion, is careful to have at least some semblance of a story attached to it. No two are the same, and even if they share components (rescue X person from this fort), they use them in unique ways. For example, I might be trying to get information about a nearby target, but this poor merchant can’t concentrate until I find his horse that’s wandered off. Instead, I find his horse has been taken by bandits inside a fortified camp, and after I trample over a dozen bodies and return it to him, I find out it wasn’t his horse after all, and I literally just stole it on his behalf. Kind of hilarious, and you meet a lot of quirky characters like that in these quests, like a young girl trying to sell me forged artifacts from my own hometown, and an over-the-hill gladiator who can’t find work that doesn’t involve cracking skulls. Even the way you get these quests can be creative, like when I tried to approach one marker which ceased to be stationary as I immediately had to catch a thieving child, chasing him across half the city in order for the quest to start.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
I see The Witcher in some of these, though there is no “Bloody Baron” equivalent, even if a few of these are multi-stage and continue on over the course of the game. Another big difference is that you, as Bayek, are never asked to make any difficult choices, and there are almost never repercussions for your actions. Tax collector harassing a poor family? Murder him. End of story. No bargaining with him, no framing him for a crime. Mostly just lots and lots of murder all around, and without the weight of any sort of decision making, many of these quests don’t feel that impactful the way you might see in narrative-branching RPGs where you’re constantly questioning whether or not you did the right thing or sided with the right party.
So while there are some decently major story and activity questions, there are also some significant changes to combat and gameplay. Gone is much of the clutter of games past. No crafting your own custom grenades or hiring a Brotherhood to assassinate an entire battalion once you whistle. Just you, a collection of weapons and skills, and a lot of guys to kill.
Open combat has adopted a modified approach to the past games which eventually devolved to “counter-kill 30 guards surrounding you one at a time.” It’s a bit of The Witcher blended with Dark Souls but more simplistic than either. A simple block break and a well-timed dodge will get you past pretty much all but the toughest of enemies. You can build up an adrenaline bar that turns into either a massive one-hit blow, or supercharges larger weapons, depending on what you’re using. There’s nothing super innovative here, and I felt like I was still missing some the nuances by the end, but I’d say it’s a marked improvement over past games.
The bow selection took a while to get used to, but once you figure out the use for each type (rapid-fire, sniper, shotgun blast multi-arrow), it may turn into your go-to for many encounters. I also really, really like the new rarity system that has the traditional rare, epic, legendary structure that makes hunting for gear rewarding, like when you’re pulling Legendaries from dead commanders or bounty hunters. You feel like you earned those weapons, and even if their modifiers are simple (fire damage, increased critical hit), you can really feel the power differential when you get them. And if you like one, you don’t have to worry about out-leveling it as blacksmiths will let you bring any piece of gear up to your current level (for a hefty price).
But that’s open combat, what about stealth? There are some pretty big changes there too, but not in the ways you might think.
Stealth is now both easier and harder. Tools have been reduced in effectiveness somewhat, as you can’t just shoot a guy with a poison or rage dart from afar, you have to get up close and personal. Stealth archery is not terribly viable, and there’s not even a “kill two enemies standing next to each other” assassination anymore though, you can chain two stealth kills together with a throwing knife.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
But stealth is easier in that the game is much more forgiving about attracting enemy attention. Simply put, enemies almost never raise a ruckus or sound the alarm unless you’re in an all-out brawl in the middle of a fortress, and even then, you can pretty easily flee and return to the shadows unseen to start picking people off once more. Enemies will only rarely find dead bodies, not spotting them from halfway across the map, and when they do, they don’t sprint for help, they just start creeping around and you can usually kill them easily. And in larger areas, you can screw up and openly engage one or two enemies and it won’t rile the rest of the camp if no one is in direct proximity to the fight. I think we all remember how crazy AC games would get where you would have literally four dozen guards chasing you mercilessly through the streets if you screwed up a stealth kill. In Assassin’s Creed Origins, that rarely happens, allowing you to not be caught as easily and to recover when you are. Usually this leads to more stealth gameplay and more successful attempts, even if stealth tools have been scaled back a bit.
In short, Assassin’s Creed Origins feels like it’s stripped down systems that had gotten too complicated, and bolstered the game’s weak points with more involved side-quests and areas that you will actually be curious to explore. After the game’s main story is finished, the map is still covered in question marks and uncompleted quests. I…genuinely want to do them, rather than set this game down and immediately move on. That’s quite an accomplishment for a game I’ve already sunk 40 hours into.
And yet I do wonder if the size is a bit much. I have started to clear so many forts and caves they’re all starting to blur together. And the main story felt like it was going to end about four different times only to have another few targets to hunt down. I thought I had hit the game’s ending when I was promised as “you can’t turn back now” moment, and played a 90 minute mission sequence that led to…yet even more open world gameplay, another lengthy act still on the horizon. At a certain point, it’s Return of the King syndrome, where it may be good but it’s just time for it to end already.
Finally, the microtransactions. We weren’t going to get through a major AAA release without mentioning them, but fortunately, there’s little to say. You can technically buy loot boxes, because you can buy gold, which then buys loot boxes, but there’s no reason to do that because you can buy everything in the game with real life money. Literally everything from gold to skill points to map reveals to specific legendary weapons, outfits and mounts that you can otherwise earn in game. It’s the clearest example of literally paying for cheat codes I’ve ever seen in a game and for that reason it’s almost…harmless? You can skip the microtransactions altogether and not feel like you’re missing anything at all, and the store is not directly integrated into the core of the game like we see in Shadow of War, so it’s not even in your face taunting you. As systems like this go, even for as much as it offers, this one is pretty toothless, and I like it for that.
Assassin’s Creed Origins improves from its past few installments in almost every way, yet it never quite reaches the heights of the games it tries to emulate. Its combat isn’t Dark Souls level. Its quests aren’t The Witcher 3 level. Its open world isn’t…well honestly, this might actually be one of the most impressive virtual spaces I’ve ever seen, so credit where it’s due there. I do have to imagine that if you ever have loved a game in the Assassin’s Creed series that you’ll enjoy what Origins does here, but also if you don’t have 60+ hours to sink into a game as absolutely massive as this one, I don’t blame you either. But I enjoyed my time with it, more so than I was even expecting, having thought I had burned out on this franchise for good.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2017
Score: 9.25 out of 10
(Review code provided by Ubisoft)
Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.