After two Watchdogs, four Far Cry and nine Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft Montreal are back after a year off with Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the tenth in the franchise and the only game where you play as a character in the future travelling to the past as a woman inside the mind of a man… and well it all gets a bit confusing so let’s walk like an Egyptian and break it down.
• Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
• Publisher: Ubisoft
• Reviewed on: Xbox One
• Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
First and foremost the game throws you straight into the action, as Bayek – a Medjay (read: warrior scout) of Egypt but makes a massive assumption that based on the Assassin’s Creed zeitgeist and prior games, the player probably knows that they are not actually in Egypt and that these are memories relived by some unknown other. This idea of a war between Templars and Assassins, played out across time, has always been the hook in an otherwise meandering series and, at least since the original story arc concluded in Assassin’s Creed III, the highlights of the game have always been leaving the Matrix-like animus and seeing what is happening in the current day, realising that the predominant character you are forced to play as is long dead and then sprinkling on top of it some proto-human/forerunner alien goodness.
Back in Egypt though, these proto humanoid aliens play a much larger role than before and finally with the mix of myths and Egyptian Gods, temples and pyramids, Ubisoft seems to have found their grounding for the whole series. True to form, Bayek, as the unwilling assassin, starts out avenging the death of his son which quickly escalates into being co-opted by the sultry Cleopatra VII to take out the “Order of Ancients”, or in other words, a hit list of Egyptian animal-based bad guys trying to commune with our alien ancestors under the sands all leading up to the young King Ptolomy XIII who ruled in Egypt between 51 BCE – 41 BCE
As history would have it, Julius Ceasar is also rolling around at this point in time and the story does a good job of mixing in Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and just a subtle hint of Persia. To complicate things further Bayek’s lover/wife joins him as he traverses Egypt and it is through her story that you will spend the most time with Caesar as she and Bayek break off, building on previous Assassin Creed titles that introduced more than one Assassin at a time for players to enjoy.
If this all sounds convoluted and confusing, it may be, for the un-initiated, but after so many titles it is hard to not feel some level of familiarity or comfort in the way Ubisoft present their plot. And while in prior titles it could feel like a large number of surface level pieces that didn’t quite gel, the Egyptian story is so well realized and well researched it counterbalances any of the more outrageous fictional elements. The quality of the gameplay is far more of a draw than the substantive story though so if your eyes glaze over the player can always simply approach the story as – kill the guys at the bottom to get to the guy at the top, rinse and repeat. Therein lies the rub.
Whether it’s Far Cry, previous Assassin’s games or the newer Watchdog series Ubisoft has established a formula that, like it or lump it, works. For gameplay that means a generally large map divided into regions that is slowly revealed and an ever increasing number of side quests collectibles and hidden treasures. This time around though, the entire thing has been opened up and stripped back. Leaning heavily on the aforementioned games Ubisoft has opted for a single open world map that can be explored at once end to end and a much more action adventure focus over the slower sneaky cues of prior titles.
If you enjoyed hiding in crowds, walking slowly in cities to avoid guards, sitting on benches to blend in and generally being chased across rooftops because you shouldn’t be there – this is not the game for you. If you enjoyed Assassin’s Creed III or Red Dead Redemption: lazily riding across an expansive desert, hunting animals with bows for skinning, rushing through townships with impunity and generally popping into fortifications, dropping onto bad guys from above and running out again unseen then Assassin Creed: Origin has you sorted.
There is for the most part a large variety of things to do in Egypt including racing at the Hippodrome, fighting in the arena, finding caches of treasure in fortifications, star gazing, exploring tombs and killing hordes of animals for their body parts. These are just singular activities and not tied to the main narrative of the game. A map filled with ? and ! marks a litany of tick boxes and things to check off. Case in point: one of the funner things to do is find dens of animals, such as hyenas, which may have a higher level (read: boss) animal in there. Kill them all and the quest is complete but that boss animal only exists in that instant and cannot be found naturally throughout the rest of the game.
About half way through the game, it can become a grind as there are only so many generic Roman fortifications you can liberate, only so many animal hideouts to clear before they start to look the same. In the simplest sense Ubisoft has ensured that every single thing you do gives you some XP. That levels you up but then later as you become even a few levels underpowered you will want to grind through other activities just to crack the next level and hopefully not get killed.
Thus Assassin’s Creed: Origins is wholly unbalanced. At the time of writing I was level 30 with a max of 40 and still using the level 13 sword that I got for free through the Ubisoft Club. Doing a large amount of poison damage and as a legendary item it was almost better than any other weapon. A role playing game this is not.
Yes, Ubisoft have attempted in the simplest form to add some RPG elements to the gameplay. It is both refreshing to see but also not as deep as games like Darksiders or Zelda where the game drops an abundance of legendary weapons and shields out of the gate. The blue regular sets are almost not worth it and can be broken down into materials to upgrade your Assassins blade, melee damage, damage resistance or arrows & tools. The emphasis here is on a minimal, clean and simplified experience, where there are rare and legendary clothes and mounts to find but with no distinction or stats or really any gameplay usefulness besides the cosmetic.
Ubisoft has opted to shift the game more towards the Far Cry style, zoning most enemies into fortified areas rather than free roaming and locking some of the bigger and badder animals behind quest events or in very specific locations. Because you can now change between night and day on the fly and use legendary gear from the get go the game is overly easy, fun but never too challenging. All the chests that used to dominate and drown out the Assassin’s Creed map have now been moved into these Roman forts and so eventually it becomes a simple task of – making it night time, watching everyone sleep, get the one or two treasures, kill the captain and get out, rinse and repeat. Bosses can be downed easily from above with a single hit as long as you are at least 2 levels above their current level.
Oh and to top it all off, there is Sinu the ever present hawk that can see literally everything, tag all enemies on the fly indefinitely and also locate any treasures or notable items. No one attacks him and he is available from the start of the game with all abilities.
The biggest draw for long time Assassins fans is the Egyptian setting and the updated graphics and while it still smacks of the same engine Ubisoft has been touting for years, the extra year off has added the much needed polish that pulls it over the line and makes walking through miles of sand a beautiful thing.
The Egyptian setting evokes strong nostalgia to some of Ubisoft’s earliest games as this is as close to a new Prince of Persia game sans assassin that gamers have had in a long time. A lot of the outfits for Bayek are based on Persian stylings. Being able to ride both a camel or a horse is enough to make you think “why don’t other games have camels!”
At this point, you are either invested and used to Ubisoft games or not. The color pallet is still wholly too colorful for my own tastes, the character models not detailed enough and after so many entries the engine is starting to really show its age, feeling at best beautiful with long draw distances and soft physics but at worst cartoony and childish in its execution of people like Cleopatra and Caesar.
The completely open world and ‘realistic’ map of Egypt from the waters of Memphis to the town of Siewah is a joy to explore and never before has it been so fun to seamlessly run across riverbanks and mud flats, through creeks and reeds and then dive into a lake to explore lost temples and ship wrecks. Ubisoft have doubled down on their ‘grass physics’ this time with entire fields of flowers, grass or anything else such as reeds acting as natural hiding spots to seamlessly run and crouch through
The highest points in the map are truly epic, being able to scale to the top of any given pyramid to view the entire map end to end and then travel down into the pyramid underneath. The townships are smaller this time around but are built seamlessly into the landscape with plenty of mountains, caves and bandit camps in-between.
Although it is Egypt, it would have been nice to see some rain or other weather effects and while the sand storms are novel, it’s odd that different parts of the map have different sky boxes and ‘weather’ exclusive to that region. It never naturally transitions between night and day unless you make it so.
There are so many others things I could say about a game with this kind of scope. Listing them all though is ultimately not going to change players mind when it comes to whether they want want to play the game or not.
There are a ton of incidental mechanics in the game that Ubisoft really could have fleshed out and explained, like petting cats, but more so than any other Assassin’s Creed game, this is a definitive Ubisoft game; a merging of all their best mechanics and everything they have learnt over the last decade developing their open world franchises.
There are plans for two massive expansions in 2018 adding another 20+ hours to the game, extending the story into slightly more ludicrous and fantastical areas and as of the time of writing the “seasonal” Challenge of the Gods event, against Anubis, has been added as well.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a massive, beautiful game about one man’s journey through the afterlife that is chock full of gameplay and hours of content. It is refined and polished and well worth the full price of admission to the animus. Come for the Egyptian themed goodness, stay for the aliens under the pyramids.