Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Hands-On Preview

Assassin's Creed Mirage: Hands-On Preview

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has had numerous phases throughout its nearly 16 years in the market. Assassin’s Creed came from humble beginnings but rapidly fans were admidst a phase of oversaturation paired with extreme growth. While some games were undoubtedly better than others, and not everything was a GOTY contender, the trajectory of the IP remained positive until 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity was slammed for poor performance, and a range of short-lived facial animation issues. From there, the follow-up, Syndicate paid the reputational price for Unity’s flaws, and all of a sudden the IP went on hiatus. Following a 24-month break, Assassin’s Creed returned in a new form, and beginning with 2017’s Origins, the heavily RPG-inspired phase began. It was by the third entry, 2020’s Valhalla that fans grew tired of frequency of new entries, combined with their enormous size, and so here we are again, and a junction point for the franchise, and this time, Assassin’s Creed is going back to its roots. 

With thanks to Ubisoft Australia, I had the opportunity to go to Sydney and try out the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the Iraq-set new chapter in the franchise that features both a familiar, modern face, the franchise’s gorgeous modern visuals, it’s many mechanical improvements with a dollop of the past layered atop it. For those who’ve been longing for a return to what they first loved in Assassin’s Creed, Mirage seems set to be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

I was fortuitous enough to spend close to four hours with Mirage, which saw me explore three vertical slices of the full experience, which showed off three phases of Basim’s journey, and it all began with a sequence called “The Call” where we meet a younger Basim, who is, at the time we’re introduced to him, a young street thief, demonstrating all the base competencies to one day become a master assassin. This early chapter gives us a chance to learn a lot about Basim, his early life, and even some of the key figures from those years, including close friend Nehal. Nehal is an excellent guiding hand in this tutorial arc and the relationship the pair have is superbly established in this short period before Basim’s destiny is reshaped suddenly. Stealth is the primary focus of this period as players are shown all the base maneuvers that Basim can perform as he attempts to steal a much-needed ledger. From blending into crowds to using basic distraction tools, sneaking through tall grass, and studying the scouting paths of those who would mean to stop you, Basim demonstrates all of the necessary proficiencies to be a prime candidate for the Assassin’s Order.

In the second playable sequence that Ubisoft titled “The Initiation” we see Basim’s ascent through the Assassin’s ranks, while the the gameplay focus of this tutorial section shifts to combat. By this stage, Basim has joined the order and is working with a mentor, Roshan, as he builds his skills as an assassin. In this sequence many familiar franchise pillars are introduced to the player, from the ‘Leap of Faith’, to combat. After obtaining your gear and arms, players are thrust into a tutorial fight with Roshan as you learn several key aspects of combat, from locking onto targets to attacking, parrying, and dodging. Each of these elements feel good enough to execute, though I certainly have some concerns about the input mapping – I’m not sure that the exact arrangement of A/B/X/Y inputs currently feels conducive to efficient gameplay. Even after my entire session with the game, I still found myself instinctively using buttons that would work for any other game, that performed a different function in Mirage. In time, it may feel more natural, but currently, the inputs for dodging, parrying and more feel counter-intuitive. 

As you find your feet against Roshan, your skills will soon be tested by an attack on camp that you need to play a significant part in responding to. Once that threat has been squashed, and a little time-skip takes place, the player will be granted their first skill point which can be attributed to skills under one of three skill trees, ‘Phantom’, ‘Trickster’, and ‘Predator’, which unlocks skills like ‘Kick Back’, ‘Auto-collect’, and ‘Pathfinder’ respectively each designed to enhance Basim’s skillset in different ways. From here it is time for Basim to receive his hidden blade and be inducted formally into the Assassin’s Order in a way that long-time fans know all-to-well at this point. 

This takes us to the final section of the demo, “The Ascent” where I could now finally be thrown into the world, without shackles to take down a target. The objective began with me placed in a bazaar of the Karkh district of Baghdad, but the world was my oyster giving me opportunity to engage with the world and learn more about the notoriety system, explore the world, and the many side-quests available, unlock more viewpoints, and more. I quickly found that the more aggressive approach I was able to successfully apply to more recent Assassin’s Creed titles was detrimental in Mirage. Much like early entries in the franchise, local law enforcement would quickly tire of your antics, and would get incredibly aggressive in response to your own violent acts. I quickly re-learned the art of restraint that I’d built through the first few games in the franchise, and applied a stealthier approach to most subsequent scenarios. There is still a place for aggression, and in some scenarios you may feel like you have no other choice, but if you choose to brute-force your way through, the game can go with you. The combat, even when you’ve found yourself in a seemingly overwhelming situation feels balanced, and success does not feel unattainable, though perhaps still unlikely in some instances. 

Recent Assassin’s Creed entries, Odyssey and Valhalla have employed a Mercenaries system that chronicled the various threats of the world, some core plot targets, while many others were optional, but excellent challenges. The Mercenaries model has become the Investigation Board in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, and its structure made the pursuit of my primary target in this Ascent section of the demo all the more engaging. A range of smaller objectives, from eavesdropping on conversations to assisting the locals in exchange for information, all help you to triangulate an area and hone in on your target. Once you’ve done so, the open-ended process of finding and assassinating the target begins. The investigation in the bazaar was a fascinating one as I came to learn of the various machinations of the environment, the political levers that were being pulled behind the scenes, and eventually, who that key player was. When the time comes to finally launch your attack, elements of the old Assassin’s Creed titles came to the fore. I had the chance to isolate and kill my target, however I observed others who were completing the demo alongside me go about it in vastly different ways, finding the target well before I did and felling them, or going in all guns blazing, laying waste to all. 

Assassin’s Creed Mirage feels like a sweet spot for the franchise, one that embraces many of the modern accoutrements found in Origins-Valhalla and blends those superbly with traditional gameplay systems that players have sorely been missing. Millions of players already have a strong established relationship with Basim, but Mirage is going to be a fantastic opportunity to learn more about an already amazing, engaging character, before he found his way to Eivor during Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

Time Until Launch (October 5, 2023)


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