After many years of annual releases, and even a double release year, Ubisoft took its own leap of faith by taking a break between Assassin’s Creed games. Starting in the middle east during the crusades and eventually ending up in London during the Industrial Revolution, we have been able to travel to all sorts of places throughout history, hidden blade in tow. With small details being refined and reworked along the way, Assassin’s Creed has been through a lot in terms of mechanics and story beats. And now, after a year with no games, players can journey to ancient Egypt, in a time where Assassins and Templars have yet to be established. While this new entry does delve into these eponymous Origins, newcomers may still be left baffled as the game continues the modern day through-line established a decade ago.
Fighting Nature Itself
Throughout the Assassin’s Creed franchise combat has remained much the same with only little tweaks in each new entry, with III adding simpler controls and the likes of Unity adding various weapon types. For Origins, however, the team has effectively thrown the old system out the window in favor of a newer, more deliberate style of combat. You no longer have a counter button that allows you to kill an enemy with one push of the button; everything and everyone you fight is much more complex. Instead you must unlock the ability to parry, with your main skills being a light attack and a heavy attack, mapped to R1 and R2 respectively. These can combo together to deal damage to a singular enemy or to attack an area. This system makes you really think about who you are attacking and when – if an enemy is larger or is holding a shield, do you break their stance or dodge their blows to sneak in a few hits of your own?
As fights progress, you will fill up your adrenaline meter. When the gauge is full, you can unleash a stronger attack that changes depending on the type of weapon you are using. A regular sword will allow you to lunge at an enemy dealing massive damage, whereas a sickle will allow you to attack enemies faster for a short period of time. Each weapon type has a unique move that will let you deal a ton of damage.
Since we are exploring ancient Egypt, guns are definitely not an option here, but Bayek is a skilled wielder of many bows. If you’re used to having multiple options in third person shooters, there is likely a bow that fills a similar purpose to your favorite gun. For example, there is a type of bow that allows you to shoot multiple arrows at once. If this spread shot isn’t to your liking, maybe seek out the bow that allows for you to shoot many arrows in rapid succession. Of course sniping is always an option too, with Predator bows offering a longer range. The variety of weapons is nice to have, and it’s very easy to find a type that suits your play-style best.
We have been accustomed to fighting Templars and anyone else standing in our way throughout the Assassin’s Creed series, with only a couple of the games letting you go toe-to-toe with the local fauna. In Origins, though, you will be fighting everything from hippos to lions across Egypt for all sorts of reasons. Sometime you will release a ferocious beast so it can terrorize an enemy base, but eventually you’ll more than likely have to deal with it yourself. Other times you just need some crafting materials in order to upgrade equipment. Crafting more armor or a bigger quiver for your arrows is pretty standard, but it’s now also possible to upgrade the hidden blade. In previous games, the handy wrist-mounted device was a quick way to dispatch enemies of all shapes and sizes. Now, the hidden blade has a damage value that can be upgraded, which means you can’t just stroll into the highest level areas and kill everything so long as you’re sneaky. This adds a new level of planning that the stealth systems in Assassin’s Creed sorely needed.
Exploring Egypt in its Ancient Glory
Assassin’s Creed has never been a frontrunner when it comes to graphical and technological leaps forward, but Assassin’s Creed Origins truly looks gorgeous. It is a new color pallet that the series hasn’t been able to explore in such detail in the past, but it all flows together very well. From the rolling desert dunes to the greens of the Alexandria’s Royal Garden, the world looks and feels natural. The game seems to manage a full 1080p on the base PS4 and it runs even better on the Pro, so you can put any HD display to work. However, on a standard PS4 the game has some performance problems in the cities, particularly when on horse or camel back. In these moments the framerate can drop below the standard 30fps to the low 20s at times. Thankfully, it is really only heavily present in the more populated areas of the game, and as soon as you head away from the busy city centers you will find the framerate begin to stabilize.
Assassin’s Creed Origins also features a photo mode, enabled by default. List almost every modern game these days, you can take in Egypt’s beauty while playing and show it to others with all the filters and focus changes you want. These even pop up on the world map for other players to admire.
The First Assassin
In recent games, Assassin’s Creed really hasn’t given us too many strong characters. I think the last “deep” character we really got time with was the troubled pirate Edward Kenway from Black Flag. Going in, I didn’t know how Bayek would stack up compared to Kenway, but Ubisoft Montreal succeeded in giving us a main character who, above everything else, is human. Past games have struggled with this, with Unity’s Arno Victor Dorian coming across as a very flat and boring character with little motivation and almost no development throughout his game. Syndicate’s Frye twins, meanwhile, were a good idea but they suffered from many of the same things that Arno did; flat personalities and little development. Jacob wanted a gang, and Evie, well Evie wanted to take back London. The oft-overlooked Assassin’s Creed Rogue perhaps came the closest with the complicated Shay Cormac, but with Origins’ Bayek it feels like Ubisoft has finally done it.
From the outset we see and feel Bayek’s pain, eventually coming to understand his clear motivation. Not only that but his interactions with other characters sound like normal conversation, not plot contrivances. Bayek is a compelling character, making you want to know more about him through the adventure.
That said, while we see his anguish early on, the story doesn’t start on a high note. After a few heavy cutscenes with little context the narrative is undeniably confusing. It takes a couple of hours for things to fall into place and become more clear and compelling. At the beginning, I had my reservations for the story, instead just wanting to play around in the world using the new combat system. But, as the game progressed, I began to stick close to story missions because I wanted to see how things play out. However, there are still some issues as the game progresses. Out of animus gameplay returns and, as always, can throw a wrench in the progression of the historical narrative. The current day story of Assassin’s Creed hasn’t been very engaging since the end of Assassin’s Creed III and it still feels very disjointed. Whenever I was thrown out of the main game, I would rush through the modern day setting just so I could go back to where the fun lies. That said, I did enjoy learning more about an Abstergo CCO and his interaction with a familiar assassin-like vigilante from Chicago.
Paying Above and Beyond
As we had learned pre-launch, microtransactions are in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Many of them are cosmetic, but the other types are “time savers” and maps. The former basically allow you to buy more materials for crafting so that you don’t need to take the time to go out and hunt some animals. At no point while playing did I have to really grind out materials; from what I can tell, they are mostly there for those who want to play through the story and do almost nothing else. As for the maps, they are there if you get sick of searching for collectables or stone circles. Ultimately, none of these real-world purchases are required to complete the game in a timely fashion.
Assassins and the New World
Assassin’s Creed is a series that, even if you haven’t delved into the convoluted web that is its world and lore, you’ve likely heard the name before. The beginning of the series solidified it as a powerhouse in Ubisoft’s lineup, but eventually it needed some big changes to stay relevant. Assassin’s Creed Origins is that revamp. It is not a perfect game by any means, but it is a great entry for those that have been wanting more out of the series.
If you are a long-time fan and were pensive about what the series would be like after the break, Origins is a fantastic way to get excited about the series again. While out of the animus activities can be frustrating, ancient Egypt is a great setting and Bayek is one of the best characters in a long while. Assassin’s Creed Origins is an ode to fans who have been faithful since the beginning, as well as those who dropped off a while ago.
Disclaimer: A review copy for this game was provided by Ubisoft