Assassin's Creed Mirage Co-op Review - Everything That's Old Is New Again
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is the latest in Ubisoft’s long-running franchise but it comes at a time when interest in the series is waning a little. Touted as a return to the franchise’s roots as opposed to the massive RPG opuses of the last few games, Ubisoft hopes Mirage can remind everyone what they like about the franchise and renew the gaming population’s faith. Matt Hewson and Jess Zammit have both been playing it and are here to report if that is really the case or if it is just another entry that does little to differentiate itself from what came before.
Matt Hewson: Well, the first thing I will say is this. Mirage is certainly a throwback to the Ezio and Altiair eras of the franchise. There is an immediate emphasis on stealth that hasn’t been present in the last few games. In fact, I would say that while it wouldn’t be impossible, it would be extremely difficult to play Mirage with a focus on front-on combat as opposed to silently stabbing someone from the bushes. Not only are all the setpieces clearly designed to be tackled as quietly as possible, but the combat is, if I am honest, a bit rough and nowhere near as much fun as it was in Origins, Odyssey or Valhalla. Is that what you found Jess?
Jess Zammit: It definitely felt like a game designed to be played stealthily – especially at the beginning, when the protagonist Basim is just starting out on his journey to becoming an assassin. He’s a street thief first, assassin second – so it makes sense that he’s more comfortable in the shadows. As you progress further, you’re also given a host of tools that are clearly meant to encourage you to stay in the shadows and pick off enemies, or disappear in a (sometimes literal) puff of smoke. Let’s just say Basim… doesn’t do well against groups of enemies, and the game clearly pushes you to run away from them. For me, the combat was really inconsistent. There were moments when I’d get on a roll of perfect parries and it would feel awesome, only to be followed by moments of frustration when Basim simply didn’t respond the way I wanted him to. I felt the same about the parkour. For better and for worse, Mirage feels very much like the early games – including bringing back those moments of frustration of running up an unscalable wall when trying to climb a ladder, or accidentally bumping into someone on the street and triggering combat at horribly inopportune times. I think playing this kind of made me realise that I’m just not nostalgic for those older games like apparently many are. How about you?
Matt: For sure, the parkour feels like it has been ripped straight from Black Flag for better or worse, with little to no improvement. This means it is often inaccurate and frustrating, especially when trying to escape from a group of enemies. It would have been nice if Ubisoft had focused on improving those things that were always issues in the older games, namely the parkour and combat, before trying to head back to that style of experience, but alas it wasn’t to be. That said, I was happy to go back to it for this shorter experience, had it been longer though it would have worn out its welcome. Speaking of shorter experience, this was honestly my favourite part of the game, how short it was. I played a chunk of side stuff at the start of the game and rolled credits at 18 hours or so. Compare that to my 100+ hour saves in Valhalla and Odyssey and honestly, I can’t help but smile. I like a big epic RPG as much as the next bloke but not every game needs to take that long.
Jess: Agreed. Basim’s story is very neatly packaged, and it was refreshing to go back to that more linear storytelling. I’ve really enjoyed the last few games, and there have been some welcome additions to the formula, but it’s also nice to play an Assassin’s Creed game that has such a clearly defined hero and a clearly defined story – and that doesn’t distract me with side quest and collectible icons every two seconds. There’s still enough of that extra content to keep you interested, and I enjoyed the Tales of Baghdad as a way to learn more about the city and the people, but it doesn’t overload you. That said – I did find some of the quest items a little tricky to see at times. The game would tell me to explore an area to find my objective, and it would take a chunk of time spent walking around and constantly activating Eagle Vision before I could see what it wanted me to find – and even then it would often be hard to distinguish from a random chest that could be looted, or even an enemy. When you have to plan every move so that you can remain undetected, it’s a little frustrating to be running around a highly guarded area trying to see what you’re even aiming for.
Matt: I think that once again, this is a remnant of the past games that Mirage is so desperately trying to emulate. But it isn’t all about the old, some of the new elements from the recent games have crept into things. The skill tree will look very familiar for anyone who played Origins or Odyssey and the various assassin’s tools all have some new and interesting ways to upgrade them. Another thing that has carried over from the recent games is the desire to treat history with respect. I loved all the little historical tidbits that could be discovered, outlining what life was actually like in Baghdad during this time period. I honestly think it is wonderful that despite my main goal being to stab people through the neck, I can still learn a thing or two, especially about a region like this which is often forgotten by Australian high school history teachers. But for me the best thing about the game was the story. It was focused, entertaining and wonderfully acted by all of the voice actors. Basim was a character I could get behind and while he didn’t have the charisma of Ezio, Edward or Kassandra he was a likeable sod in his own way. I loved how his story played out and knowing who he becomes in AC Valhalla made the end so much sweeter.
Jess: Basim is a bit of a tortured soul, and watching him try to understand and confront his demons was deeply compelling – and honestly, at times, a little creepy. When I spoke to Narrative Director Sarah Beaulieu about the game last week, she mentioned that the story was heavily inspired by Shakespearean tragedies, and I think that really shows in the themes it tackles. Basim is also surrounded by some great supporting characters, namely his mentor Roshan, who absolutely suffers no fools. I don’t feel like we’ve really seen a character like her in an Assassin’s Creed game before (or in many games, really), and she’s genuinely awesome. The story and the worldbuilding are definitely the highlights of Mirage. I’d also like to highlight another thing that has made an important return – it is still possible to pet the street cats.
Matt: I think one thing certainly worth mentioning is the performance of the game. We were both playing on an Xbox Series X and it suffered from framerate drops on a regular basis. They never lasted long or ever got in the way of things but they were certainly there. I did have the game hard crash on me at one point and it seemed to be really pushing the fans on my console to the limit at times. Of course, we were playing before the day one patch which will more than likely fix these issues but I wanted to mention it in case they don’t. So I guess we are coming to the end here Jess, final thoughts on this more intimate Assassin’s Creed adventure?
Jess: For me, those framerate drops were at their worst toggling in and out of Eagle Vision, and luckily I didn’t have any hard crashes – but you’re right, there are some issues that it would be nice to see ironed out. Overall, I think Mirage achieves its goal of harkening back to the origins of the series, in the best and worst ways. The story is tight and the game never outstays its welcome, but some of the annoying gameplay bugbears that have been noticeably absent in the last few entries have crept back into the fold. Fans who are nostalgic for the ‘good old early days’ of Assassin’s Creed will likely find a lot to love here, but those who joined the series late will find it to be a much more stripped-back experience than they’re used to. For me, it was a refreshing reminder of how it all began – I had a good time parkouring through the streets as Basim.
Matt: For me, Mirage was a wonderful palette cleanser. It reminded me of the series’ roots and reinvigorated me for the bigger, more complicated entries. It is a shame that Ubisoft didn’t see this as an opportunity to perfect the older style formula, but in all I had fun. I hope that this trend continues, a smaller game followed by a bigger one, it suits the franchise perfectly and should ensure that IP fatigue is minimalised. In all, Mirage is a good, but not outstanding game in a franchise that has some massive highs and some shocking lows. With that in mind, I am sure fans will get a lot out of it, but it might not be a breakout hit with the general gaming population.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Ubisoft Australia.