Game reviewed before finishing The Hidden Ones DLC.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins redeemed my faith in the franchise following several iterative but enjoyable releases.
I went into this game with low expectations as I had been let down by the two prior games Unity and Syndicate especially. Origins changes a great amount of exactly what defines Assassin’s Creed and; in the wake of a movie, a sidescroller spin-off and a remaster collection, Origins innovated where it absolutely had to in order to keep the franchise alive.
It’s an RPG now and plays similarly to something akin to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and, while the obvious inspirations are clear, I believe that Origins does a lot of what Wild Hunt does better, this is mostly because of the benefit of time and Ubisoft’s much bigger studio and budget.
Sequences are gone and the modern story is all but non-existent. Throughout this experience missions can be tackled in any order that the player sees fit. This is where a major strength and weakness rears up, leveling. As stated previously; It’s an RPG, and with it comes all the trimmings and limitations of such a game type. On one hand, now your level actually matters (unlike in Syndicate or Unity) which makes the feeling of progression all the more noticeable. Throughout the game as you upgrade your health, armour, hidden blade and so on, you feel Bayek growing stronger and you grow with him as a player. It’s a welcome change.
That’s also where the major weakness truly comes into full force. Grinding is now a requirement in order to get your level up to participate in main story quests and in order to have a fighting chance in more advanced, and mostly more interesting side missions. I usually despise side missions in any open world game be it Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed or what have you and choose to ignore them 90% of the time. However, the grind of Origins was made all the more pleasant by the core gameplay loop being almost impossible to put down, everything plays so slick and smooth that the essential time-wasting you have to do honestly doesn’t feel like a chore, and here’s why.
They built everything from the ground up, the team behind the highly praised Assassin’s Creed IV : Black Flag poured everything they had time and resource wise into creating a truly unique experience. Individually the sum of its parts seem iterative of other properties, and that’s largely because they are, but it’s how it all comes together that makes everything so blissful. The combat, now completely redone, and sharing a lot in common with From Software’s Dark Souls. This time around; you have your two main selectable weapons and you have a light/heavy attack (mapped to the right trigger/bumper) as well as a drag step/slide/roll (dodge) button and a parry. Much like in Dark Souls, the shield functions much of the same way with blocking and parrying. The weapon selection this time around is plentiful and diverse more akin to the likes of Unity than the bare bones bore of Syndicate with; regular swords, sickle swords, dual swords, maces, two handed swords, spears and more. The combat takes a while to get used to and to some feels floaty and unfinished. In my opinion, from watching the combat you would probably think that too, it’s really something that you would have to play to properly grasp. More on that later.
Instead of the bombs of Revelations or the revolvers of Syndicate, this time around Bayek sports a whole fleet of varied bows as his main projectile weapon, and they work perfectly. You have a whole slew of differing types, which for the sake of time I will generalise in a modern context; Warrior bow (Fires four arrows at once, it’s basically a shotgun), Predator bow (one bolt-like arrow that is used like a sniper) Light bow (the rapid-fire sub-machine gun option) and your standard bow types. All are incredibly situational and fun to use.
Another major change to the formula this time around is in the scope of the game world. Black Flag was monumental upon its release and allowed you to travel massive distances across the Caribbean, Origins gives you the majority of Egypt to roam in and it is immense. Egypt’s game world is monolithic in a multitude of ways from the varied geographical differences you’ll encounter; crossing entire deserts, swamps, oceans, forests to the many civilisied towns you’ll find on your vast journey. It’s a very impressive technological feat for one, and the practicality of the game world as a whole makes exploring never feel pointless. If you’re not on horseback travelling to a mission, then you’re hunting wildlife for gear upgrades, diving below the water for sunken treasure, deep below a tomb discovering lost secrets of ancient times etc. It is a marvel to behold.
That’s everything Origins does differently, but what about what it keeps the same? Well we have a likable male protagonist who befalls tragedy which sends him on a revenge mission where he ultimately becomes something much bigger than himself. Sounds familiar right? It’s essentially the exact same setup that sets the stage for Ezio Auditore, Arno Dorian and arguably Connor Kenway.
That’s the major weakness of having a game of this size and scope with the approach to non-linear mission progression. Because everything isn’t in order, we just don’t get a story which is very evenly connected and as a result, we get a conclusion which will be lent over to DLC in order to properly conclude. As a narrative goes; It is simple and servicable but it’s frankly too disjointed to ever fully get engaged in, this is mostly due to the lack of direction and flow that work in tandem with gameplay and story, they just don’t gel well together. While I really like Bayek, Aya and the main cast of characters, there was little really keeping me invested in what exactly the story was.
In my mind, I had a set of targets to go after and kill. They were the highlight of the game, the assassination targets were more memorable than any of the cutscenes I sat through concluding the task. I remember the events leading up to a climatic battle with The Hyena, the satisfying victory over The Lion and the swift death of The Crocodile a lot more than I do the long and drawn out conversations with Cleopatra and Caeser.
That’s my main point really; It’s all in the gameplay this time around. If you have come for a satisfying story then you may leave empty handed and yet while the narrative may only be servicable at best, it’s the core gameplay loop that will keep you playing. Is that a bad thing in an AC game? I don’t think so. With that kind of scope, with this kind of world, it would be crazy to expect the same kind of narrative tightness that held Ezio’s three game linear journey together, especially as the gameplay of the older games faultered a lot more than it does now.
With all that said, that’s why this game has consumed so much of my life in recent weeks, because I am also finding new things to explore, missions I haven’t yet touched yet and competing in events such as finishing off the elite gladiator challenges or chariot races. I’m in love with how the game plays and it’s left me with a hunger for more as I get closer to finishing off The Hidden Ones DLC and begin looking forward to what’s promised with The Curse of the Pharaohs a little later in the year.
It’s really difficult to exactly nail down why I love this game so much, and I feel like you could do all the reading in the world about it, you watch every story cutscene on the internet and yet come away knowing little to nothing about the experience until you actually play through it yourself, and I encourage each and every person to. It’s a game you won’t soon forget, it won’t remain in your memory for the same reasons as the Ezio games but It is a great standalone RPG, a fantastic RPG and a bold leap forward for Assassin’s Creed, and in a direction that I hope they continue to innovate on in the future.
*All images used were taken in-game by me via Steam Cloud’s screenshot uploader.*