Assassin’s Creed Origins review code supplied by Ubisoft
There was a time when the Assassin’s Creed franchise was one of those things you could predict on happening each year. Sort of like death, taxes, or the inevitable disappointment of the Great British Summer. Since 2009, Ubisoft’s historical stab-happy franchise has released annually alongside heavyweights like FIFA and Call of Duty, with each new game incrementally improving upon on the base formula established with the inaugural 2007 outing. Some have worked more than others, although franchise fatigue was invariably setting in—something had to give.
And give it did. 2016 was the first time in seven years that a mainline Assassin’s Creed game wasn’t competing for your hard-earned cash. Instead, Ubisoft used the down time to polish up its flagship series, giving the Creed paradigm perhaps its biggest shakeup to date — and for the most part, it’s worked wonders.
Set in ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic reign, Origins focuses on the exploits of Bayek, a type of medieval copper known as a Medjay who is responsible for the welfare of the Egyptian people. Following a series of tragic events however, Bayek becomes embroiled in a quest of revenge that inexorably leads him to unearthing a greater conspiracy ripe with political tension and power struggles throughout the region.
Bayek himself is a great leading man. Lacking the rambunctious nature of predecessors Edward Kenway and Jacob Frye, Bayek is cut from the same cloth as Altair; his blood runs with a stoicism that enables him to be the cold-hard killer his mission requires, but is punctuated by measures of dry humor and emotion. Yes, he’s a hardened killer, but there’s elements of vulnerability and raw emotion that pepper his story, making him perhaps one of the most well-rounded characters Assassin’s Creed has seen to date.
While the core gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Origins remains unchanged — you have main missions and side quests to tackle at your leisure — everything you do is underlined by an extensive RPG component. Weapons and gear now have levels attributed to them, and come in regular, Legendary, and Rare flavors. As with Syndicate, your character levels up too, which rewards you with points that can be spent on sprucing up Bayek across three major skill trees.
As such, you can tailor the Medjay to your specific playstyle. If you favor combat and health, then you can pour points into improving his fighting prowess. On the other hand, you can further his proficiency in ranged combat or laying traps and other devices. There’s plenty of perks to progressing in each skill tree, and you never feel like the game forces you down a road you don’t want to commit to — play as you see fit.
Of course, this does mean that some missions, enemies, and weapons will inevitably be locked behind levels until you grind your way up. While this is an intrinsic part of any RPG, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when a single enemy (this could be anything from a regular soldier to a Hyena) clobbers you in just a few blows just because you are a couple of levels below your opponent, as opposed to it being based on your skill in combat. Similarly, being locked out of progressing through the story and having to increase your level can prove equally annoying.
Despite these frustrations, Origins does a great job at compelling you to level up, even if you don’t need to at the time. Side quests are often lengthy and contain their own, standalone narrative that makes them feel like mini-adventures more than anything, giving you ample opportunity to discover new regions and delve into the characters that populate the stunning landscapes. By eschewing many of the five-minute ‘fetch quests’ and obnoxious eavesdropping missions of previous games, Ubisoft has created a far more believable and rewarding sandbox that is simply begging to be explored.
The main quest line also presents plenty of chances to stretch your parkour-powered muscles, with plenty of unique assassination opportunities available. Yes, there’s the usual trek across miles of game map, but the instant travel system and facilitates this nicely; you’ll also want to travel by horseback anyway, as it’s at treat uncovering new locations.
Getting into fights is also a better experience thanks to an overhauled combat system. Unlike before where you pretty much waited for an enemy to attack and then counter them, you now have complete control over how battles play out. Combat is far more strategic than before, with timing paramount to your survival; hit boxes mean you’ll need to time your blows carefully, and you’ll need to be on the defense by shielding or parrying blows as your enemies come at you with brutal tenacity. It’s a far more satisfying and rewarding system, marred only by the wonky camera and dodgy lock-on system that has problems keeping up with multiple enemies. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but spoils an otherwise competent and refreshing gameplay system.
Ubisoft’s also polished up the navigation system. Bayek now commands his trusty Eagle companion, Senu, which is used to scout out areas to mark hidden treasures, enemies, and crafting materials, the latter used to upgrade your damage, health, and other attributes. Unlike previous games which featured mini-maps obfuscated by countless icons, Origins plumps for a cleaner, Skyrim-esque interface that ensures you aren’t bogged down by too much clutter on-screen.
It’s a good job too, as Assassin’s Creed Origins has more than its fair share of distractions. From meticulously-crafted tombs that hold hidden treasures, to cryptic puzzles that reward powerful gear, the Egyptian sandbox is peppered with things to see and do beyond the main/side quest lines. Indeed, some of Origins’ best experiences can happen at random; escaping from guards and running into an epic ruck between a Hippo and a Croc, to watching the townsfolk deal with pugnacious wildlife in the middle of a bustling market, all work to form a cohesive, believable game world that’s brimming with life and activity.
As for Egypt itself, Ubisoft has done a tremendous job at creating this iconic time period. Regions bustle with life as citizens go about their daily business; market folk chatter vociferously selling their wares, children play in the streets in dusty shantytowns, and the wealthy soak up the lavish lifestyle of the palaces and temples dotted throughout the land.
Visually, Origins ranks as unequivocally the prettiest Creed to date, with sweeping vistas, sumptuous architecture, and stunning water and sand effects creating a jaw-dropping world to explore. Yes, some NPCs look like they’ve stumbled in drunk from an early-era PS3 game, and there’s still some annoying bugs rearing their head – my horse getting stuck on the scenery and one quest giver refusing to appear in the schedule location being the most egregious examples – but overall, any technical quibbles are fortunately kept to a minimum.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is proof that the brand needed taking back to the drawing board. By revamping the core gameplay systems, Ubisoft has created a far more enjoyable stab-happy adventure, and one that encourages exploration and compels you to tackle its myriad of side quests and collectibles. Yes, it’s still bogged down by some annoying bugs and a few weak moments, but overall, Origins paints a very auspicious picture for the series’ future.