I’ve beaten all nine previous (main series) Assassin’s Creed games. It was exhausting. They’ve all kind of blurred into one, to the point that I can’t even remember the plot of the last one, and I only vaguely recall the one before that. It was the really buggy one right? The lead was a French guy with an English accent? My point, is that after the release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (a fantastic entry in the series), I’d kind of had my fill. I was just getting bored of the Ezio ‘trilogy’, Connor’s story was seriously lack-lustre, Edward Kenway brought a new lease of life with the introduction of maritime warfare, but this feature was immediately dropped in the following games. Given that Ubisoft have released a new Creed game every year since 2008, meaning that there was little anticipation built up for the new instalments and not nearly enough time for the developer to really introduce anything new into the mix, its surprising that Assassin’s Creed isn’t already a dead franchise by now.
Ubisoft clearly understood this too, that’s why they’ve waited 2 whole years to release Origins. Not only that, they’ve also entrusted this instalment to the same team that made Black Flag. And boy was it the right decision. The controls have had a complete overhaul on console (unsure how much has change on PC), no longer are there silly context-specific controls mapped to the face buttons. Instead, combat is relocated to the triggers/bumpers, allowing for a seamless transition between melee and ranged attacks. It’s as responsive as you could hope for, making it easy to headshot an enemy with an arrow, just seconds after countering another with your sword.
Free running has be simplified too, Bayek can climb any object that one would likely be able to climb in real life and the controls couldn’t be simpler, one button for up, one for down. It’s perhaps not as challenging as previous entries in the franchise, but it was rare that I found myself jumping in completely the wrong direction and falling to my death, which had previously been a staple of Assassin’s Creed games.
The other most notable, and likely controversial, change is the introduction of RPG elements. I personally like RPG’s, they’re my favourite ‘genre’ out there. BUT, I like RPG’s that encourage levelling up, and yet don’t prevent me from progressing along with the story. Bethesda’s Fallout and Elder Scrolls games are perfect examples of this. What I don’t like from RPG’s is having to grind away doing mundane task after mundane task in order to get to commence the next story mission (I have PTSD from all the red lyrium collecting Dragon Age: Inquisition had me do). Regrettably, there is definitely a lot of grinding to be done in Origins. Fortunately, the side quests are well written, and enjoyable enough. They tie in well with Bayek’s duty to help the people of Egypt, and rarely drag on for too long. Speaking of Bayek’s duty, it occurs to me that I am yet to inform on the protagonist or plot.
Origins puts us squarely in the middle of both the Egyptian AND Roman civil wars, Cleopatra trying to take down her brother to become ruler of Egypt, and Caesar practically crushing the Roman Republic. As per usual, we play a bit-part in the annals of history. Bayek, a ‘Medjay’, tasked with protecting the Pharaoh’s interests and the interests of their citizens. Bayek is out for revenge from the very beginning, but it isn’t until about 3 hours into the game when we find out why. This can make the opening hours feel a little meaningless as the player has no purpose for hunting down the individuals we are tasked with assassinating. However, it isn’t long until Bayek’s personal vendetta drags him into the interests of those aforementioned historical figures.
As a character, Bayek is likeable enough. He’s charming, though not as much as Edward/Ezio, but he’s also a bit too righteous, though nowhere near as bad as Connor. Bayek is a protagonist that will be neither loved nor hated by Creed fans. What will be loved, are the locations.
Unity and Syndicate struggled with this. Yes, mid-revolution Paris and Victorian London were both extremely beautiful, but there wasn’t really anything fresh. Most of those buildings still exist, and the cities are certainly still recognisable today. Ancient Egypt is far from being a recognisable environment.
Ubisoft has always made exceptionally detailed worlds, but Egypt is a notable step above. Ancient vessels float lazily through the water, with children running, and hiding from each other in market places where merchants haggle at their stalls. Sandstorms come from seemingly nowhere, making navigation particularly difficult. Egypt feels more alive, if a little less busy, than previous Assassin’s Creed games. NPC’s have real lives, they interact with one and other, they go to sleep when it gets late, everything just feels more believable. It’s a world that is truly worth exploring. And this is something Ubisoft are more than aware of.
Origins will mark Ubisofts first attempt at a virtual history lesson with the introduction of a ‘Discovery Tour’ mode. Discovery Tour will turn off combat and story missions in the open world and will offer players a number of guided tours curated by historians and Egyptologists, each with a focus on a different aspect of Ptolemaic Egypt, from the Great Pyramids, to mummification, to the life of Cleopatra. I hope this is a success, and I hope it encourages other developers to do the same. I can quite easily imagine a particularly trendy teacher bringing in a PlayStation or Xbox and letting the students explore these ancient civilisations, before writing up a short report on their findings.
The game is not free from bugs, there is currently a picture of an alligator texture taking human form doing the rounds online, though I’ve only experienced the occasional drop in frame rate, and nothing so bad that it has detracted from the overall experience. All in all, Assassin’s Creed Origins is possibly the best entry to date, its a remarkable recreation of Ancient Egypt, a living, breathing, world with genuine characters and enough new mechanics to keep even those tiring of the franchise around for another installment.
Feature image is a screen shot by the author taken during game play of Assassin’s Creed Origins developed by Ubisoft Montreal, and published by Ubisoft.