Assassin’s Creed Origins – Review
PC, Xbox One, PS4
“The players will tell us.” Those were the words of Ubisoft Montreal head Yannis Mallat in 2013 as the release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag approached. The comments, as well as similar declarations from others big-wigs within Ubisoft were in response to the growing concern from fans and media outlets that the Assassin’s Creed franchise was on the brink of franchise fatigue. As it turned out, it wasn’t until the release of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate in 2015 before the moment finally arrived; Ubisoft decided that it was time for the franchise to go on a brief hiatus. Many rightly figured that it wouldn’t be long-lived, so the surprise was minimal when in June Ubisoft pulled back the curtain on Assassin’s Creed Origins. Ubisoft made some lofty promises about the future of Assassin’s Creed, and with new gameplay systems, and a new engine, all in addition to a host of other refinements, Origins ensures that the hubris was warranted.
The Assassin’s Creed storyline is fairly well documented, with the ongoing war between the Assassin’s and the Templars raging in both the past and the current day. While the focus on this battle is not centre stage in Origins, students of the franchise will notice a few loose threads that connect to the overall narrative, but for the most part, Origins stands alone as a tale of conflict between warring factions. You assume the role of Bayek, an Egyptian Medjay who finds himself immersed in a war with a secretive group responsible for the death of Bayek’s own son. The journey for vengeance will not be a short one; Bayek’s adventure will see you cross the great deserts and rocky outcrops of Egypt, while you’ll also explore the bustling cities of Alexandria and Memphis, and the quieter dens of Siwa and Faiyum. While pacing can be an issue (an issue to be in more detail discussed shortly), the plot of Origins is an engaging one, and watching on as various narrative webs begin to crossover and intersect is a joy for fans, both old and new.
It is, of course, the gameplay loop that is what tends to most capture the interest of players, and one of the primary complaints about the Assassin’s Creed franchise over the recent years has been about the mission structure. I personally considered the greatest strength of many of the older Assassin’s Creed games to be the open-ended approach to assassinations. Having the ability to choose how you wish to eliminate your target ensured that each player had their own unique story to tell, but as the likes of Rogue, Unity and Syndicate all released, that broad range of choice disappeared. Origins, save for a select few scenarios, thrusts the door of choice wide open again. Want to go in all guns blazing? Go for it. What about a more stealthy approach? Please do. There’s an enormous number of options available to you, granting you the agency to make mission-critical decisions on the fly based upon the way you wish to play and not upon a prescribed mission structure.
The systems that work behind the scenes have also received some work, the traversal systems have been vastly improved, making for a significantly more fluid experience. Few things thrilled me more than sprinting from a chasing band of assailants, calling my horse, and leaping onto its back without losing stride, suddenly breaking away from my pursuers. This is only one example of how improved this system is; and when added to the numerous RPG systems, including skill trees, craftable weapons and armour amongst much more and you’ve got a deeper gameplay experience in Origins than in any Assassin’s Creed to date. Travel by water has returned, much to the delight of many, and while we’re not getting the wide open seas that we traversed in Black Flag, the ability is there to leverage the Nile and several other Egyptian creeks and rivers to quickly navigate your way throughout the world.
In recent Assassin’s Creed games (and now Origins) you’ve had the ability to explore tombs. These small, elaborately designed enclosures have previously given players the opportunity to toy with some simple platforming puzzles before discovering an all-important treasure at the end. In the case of Origins, the tombs are less about tricky platforming and puzzles and more about observation and orientation. As you would perhaps expect from an Egyptian tomb existing under the base of a pyramid, secret passages are everywhere, and only careful explorers will make the necessary discoveries need to progress further through the pyramid. While in most cases, I feel I was switched on enough to make the discoveries myself, there were a small handful of scenarios where my frustration lead to disorientation and only at that point did I stumble upon the pathway I needed. The pathway is often right there in your face, but without a keen eye, it’s easy to breeze by the secrets and find yourself ensnared by the stony prison, but with a significant number of tombs to explore, there are many opportunities to learn your lessons and return later and have some success.
None of the inclusions in Origins are particularly original, many have been trialled and refined in other IP, but they’re expertly implemented and have been integrated into the Assassin’s Creed experience seamlessly. Fans of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will feel quite at home, the way the game plays as well as the look, feel and sound of Origins immediately strike the same chord that Geralt’s latest adventure did. There is a degree of imbalance in the games pacing though, with the number of side-missions necessary to complete before being a high enough level to partake in the next main mission, being simply too high, with the flow of the storytelling being the primary victim.
There’s plenty to do in Egypt, from the primary missions to the side and time sensitive missions of varying levels of consequence. Mission requirements are typically only dependent upon the region itself and Bayek’s level, while select others only emerge following the completion of a particular action. On top of that, there are a tonne of viewpoints to scale, people to save, and discoveries to make, so you will rarely find yourself starved of something to do. Add this breadth of content to a simple but evocative musical score, powerful acting and a breathtaking world that has been incredibly realised and Assassin’s Creed Origins becomes a force to be reckoned with. Even the modern-day segments carry some weight and meaning (whilst not outstaying their welcome) once again, perhaps in the first sign that Ubisoft is eager to dip their toes back into the story of the modern conflict between Assassins and Templars.
The choice to step back, and re-evaluate the Assassin’s Creed franchise has proven to be a successful one with it clear that Ubisoft has peered outside of their four walls, and noted the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise, whilst comparing it to those other IP that have been extremely successful over the generation. You can detect traces of The Witcher, their own work on Far Cry and even most recently, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the DNA of Origins, and with all these concoctions merged with the established Assassin’s Creed formula you end with a masterful piece of work. Origins sets a new benchmark for the franchise and has hopefully quelled the sceptical conversation about the future of the Assassin’s Creed IP – at least for now.