In 2007, Ubisoft debuted the original Assassin’s Creed. A video game that revolutionised the action-adventure genre with an engaging narrative, unforgettable character, and a first-of-its-kind gameplay mechanic: the ability to climb and parkour over almost anything. The franchise has exploded in popularity since that first adventure, and has spawned 19 video games (on a variety of platforms), a successful book series, a film and even an upcoming anime.
Despite the continued popularity of the franchise, the reality is that Assassin’s Creed fatigue has set in for many gamers, myself included. Ubisoft has, after all, released a new title in the main series of games annually since 2009 – each featuring a new setting, but most still using the same ageing gameplay controls and mechanics that debuted in Assassin’s Creed II. For this reason, and a few others, Ubisoft announced that the next instalment in the series would take a much needed ‘hiatus’ in order for the studio to reevaluate the franchise. A decision, I might add, that has allowed the team to create one of, if not, the best entries in the series to date.
Revenge is best served with a hidden blade [Story]
In Assassin’s Creed Origins players take control of a character named Bayek. He is an Egyptian medjay, a member of an elite group of soldiers who act as sworn guardians of the Pharaoh and the Egyptian nation. Since the game takes place during a time of widespread upheaval under the Egyptian reign of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII, there is a lot that Bayek needs to contend with. Especially since the young Pharaoh wants to expand his empire, but is struggling to keep his rule in the process. At the same time Ptolemy’s sister, the recently outcast Cleopatra, is planning a coup against him. All whilst the Roman Republic, under the leadership of Julius Ceaser, is making militaristic advances to capture Egypt. Predictably, the chaos and strife in the region is happening for a reason.
Behind the scenes are a series of secretive forces who are manipulating these unruly events. For what purpose or reason is a mystery to Bayek. His attempts to uphold justice and protect the ones he loves, however, unintentionally embroil him in a conspiracy that causes Bayek to suffer a deep personal tragedy. One that not only has severely far reaching consequences for those involved, but also for his personal relationship with his love, and wife, Aya.
Simply put, Bayek’s story begins under the guise of revenge before slowly being moulded into one about justice. Not just justice for himself and his family, but also for the people of Egypt. As such, Bayek and Aya set out to ensure that those who have wronged their family, members of a secret society known as The Order, will pay for their crimes against Egypt.
One of the absolute best, and eventually heartbreaking, aspects of the story is Bayek’s relationship with Aya. It is not very often that video games stray into the territory of natural, believable and engaging relationships. Yet here, in Assassin’s Creed Origins, players are treated to a woefully beautiful story of love, passion, betrayal and death. The narrative is crafted in such an engaging way that it is almost impossible to not become invested in the motives, successes and failures of the main characters; right from the start through to the end of the main campaign.
Bayek and Aya’s story aside, the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins is filled with an incredulous amount of side quests and missions. Many of which actually enhance the main campaign’s story. In fact, there are certain side quests that play out like full on campaign missions, complete with stories that have a beginning, middle and conclusion. One of the most memorable side narratives was that of Shadya of Euhemeria and her family. I will not spoil what happens, but I will say that it is a story I will never forget because of how shocking it was. It was also the first time I fully felt like I could appreciate Bayek’s pain. Naturally, this enhanced my drive towards destroying everything The Order stood for. It is the strength of these emotionally engaging narrative moments that truly place Assassin’s Creed Origins at the top of the open-world action-adventure pile; right up there with Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3.
Assassin’s Creed Origins also does a fantastic job of illustrating how the Assassin’s Creed guild formed, as well as shedding light on The Order’s roots and their eventual evolution into the Templars. There are also some really great Easter eggs for players who make it all the way through the campaign, like showing how the Assassin’s Creed symbol came to be. Despite these interesting and satisfying revelations, there is an overarching story element that is almost completely absent from the main storyline. That of the Isu.
Anyone who has played through Assassin’s Creed I, II, Brotherhood, Revelations and III, will be familiar with Desmond Miles. You should also be aware of The First Civilisation, the Apple of Eden, as well as Isu characters such as Juno, Minerva and Jupiter. In essence, there was an overarching ‘real world’ story about Desmond saving the world in 2012 through the use of the Apple of Eden and with the help of Isu contructs, Minerva and Juno. Personally, I am a huge fan of the lore of the Isu civilisation and I was really hoping that Assassin’s Creed Origins would shed more light on this unique and abstract narrative. Alas, this is not the case at all in Assassin’s Creed Origins. There is almost no connection to the previous games, save for one revelation towards the end of the game. In terms of the Isu, their only mention comes in the form of mechanical tablets in select tombs littered throughout the massive game world. Tombs that feature cryptic messages of yet another impending ‘doomsday event’.
Given the nature of Assassin’s Creed Origins and how the title is supposed to show the start of the creed (which it does, and fairly well too), I really feel that excluding The First Civilisation within the main campaign was a lost opportunity. I personally think it would have been fantastic to learn more about the precursor race, their motives, downfall and genetic lineage. It would have been great to obtain clarity on, among many other things, how modern assassins have access to the “seventh” Isu sense (eagle vision), or perhaps how they were the true architects of the pyramids?! Nevertheless, this does not take away from the fact that the main campaign, and the myriad of side quests, are fantastically done in Assassin’s Creed Origins. It is a story that is well worth the 40 – 50 hours needed to complete it.
Egypt’s ancient beauty [Visuals & Setting]
The emotional investment in the main campaign story is enhanced even further with the superb animation that takes place during in-game cutscenes. From the way that Bayek’s eyes light up whenever he sees Aya, through to the way that Aya tenderly touches Bayek’s face in moments of need; Ubisoft Montreal have done a superb job of making the characters feel real. Although this level of cinematic detail does take a bit of a drop in quality for side-quests, they are still decent enough to be enjoyable. Cut scenes aside, the game, on the whole, is breathtaking.
The world of Assassin’s Creed Origins takes place in Egypt, and it is utterly gorgeous. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful video games I have had the pleasure of losing myself within. Sitting atop a pyramid, for example, and watching the sunset in the distance, with an unforgettable heat haze over the dessert and the golden fire of the sun igniting the ancient structure with its aura, is just incredible. The game features a full day and night cycle, as well as a weather system that includes events for sandstorms, storm clouds, high winds and more. Lighting is also handled in a superb manner, with god rays peeking out from any item that crosses paths with the sun’s rays, through to specular highlights and mapping in, on and under water – which looks different depending on whether the water is fresh, salty or sullied with blood or soot (yes, the detail is insanely good). Almost everything in the game is also self-shadowed, offering some truly realistic and eye popping shadow play on non-playable characters (NPC), buildings and other surrounding elements. Every vista is created with an astounding level of detail, which is truly remarkable given that the game is an open-world title. From deserts and unique rock scapes, through to lush green areas and coastal resorts, there is never a dull visual. The visuals, coupled with the game’s built in ‘photo mode’, allow for some truly gorgeous photographs to be taken (all photos in this review were taken in game).
Better still, and one of my favourite parts of the game, is how cities in Assassin’s Creed Origins truly feel alive. From the way NPC characters move and go about their daily chores (they have sleep patterns, work schedules, take time to relax after working and more), to the way animals react, hunt and breed; the game is just a wonder to observe and enjoy – which I did on numerous occasions. Since the game is so immersive, side quests do not feel like chores. Rather, they are opportunities to continue exploring the world at large (I normally forgo side quests in favour of the main storyline, but I felt compelled to pursue them in Assassin’s Creed Origins). This alone gives the game a level of charm that even single-player linear adventures are not able to achieve. As such, it really is unbelievable that so much detail has been included in an open-world game, and clearly shows that Assassin’s Creed Origins is a true labour of love for Ubisoft Montreal.
There is simply so much detail in the game (water marks on rocks, how fire reacts realistically, plants move when crossed, being able to pet cats, feeding Senu, and on and on) that I could spend thousands of words writing about just how phenomenally detailed the game world is (it really is that good)! Visuals aside, I must also commend Ubisoft on the decadent use of sound within Assassin’s Creed Origins.
I am happy to say that the same level of attention that has been paid to the visuals, has also been poured into the audio production. Assassin’s Creed Origins features a goose bump inducing soundtrack, that melds thematic tunes from games of old with an entirely new sound that is lavish to the ears, whilst being instantly recognisable as forming part of the long running franchise.
Accompanying the music is a copious amount of unbelievable auditory effects work. Almost every visual item in the game appears to have an associated sound. Wind causes the leaves in trees and plants to rustle. Fire pops, crackles and hisses as it burns. Bodies of water sound unique and different, depending on their size, location and source (ocean or river). Rocks can be heard tumbling in caverns, and the voices of foes and friends swell in and out depending on your proximity to them. The sound design is on par with the visual aesthetic, and it truly helps make the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins feel alive.
With all of that said, the visuals, audio and setting of a game are only one aspect of an overall package. Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed Origins continues to impress.
Smoother than a desert snake [Gameplay]
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is well known for allowing players to assume the guise of a character who is able to manoeuvre through open and closed spaces with great dexterity and nimble aplomb. Although the variations in movement have become more complex and refined with each new release, the control scheme has remained relatively unchanged since the franchise’s debut in 2009. Thankfully, Ubisoft went back to the drawing board for their Egyptian adventure.
Easily the biggest and most welcome change to the franchise is the brand new control scheme employed in Assassin’s Creed Origins. In previous games, players were in manual control of whether the character would climb obstacles. From hopping over a crate on the ground or attempting to climb up a wall, the button presses were the same: hold in this trigger or button to allow the character to perform the desired action. Unfortunately, that original system was always prone to causing characters to veer off course or to simply not perform as instructed or intended. Thankfully, controlling Bayek is a complete breeze because the entire movement system has been reworked.
Most of the basic movements that Bayek can perform are now seemingly automatic in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Whether that is vaulting over a bale of hay or jumping across small gaps; simply pointing Bayek in the right direction will get him to do what you expect him to. More elaborate movements, like jumping between structures or making Bayek climb a designated surface, requires a single button press. Thereafter, he will continue to do as requested. The change is a small one, but it makes a world of difference in terms of how agile and easy Bayek is to use.
Combat has also been completely redefined in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Instead of the pre-defined dance from previous games, whereby you enact a motion and must wait for it to complete, Bayek now uses a ‘hitbox’ system. Basically, it means that Bayek can thrash about, weapons and all, whether enemies are nearby or not. As such, predefined movements no longer hinder the way the character is able to fight, leading to far more fluid and organic battles.
With a new fighting style, comes an entirely updated progression system for Bayek’s abilities and weapons. In fact, it is a system that is more inline with roleplaying games than it is action adventures. Nevertheless, it works extremely well and is easy to understand. Essentially, players have three skill trees from which to choose in order to upgrade Bayek, namely Warrior, Seer and Hunter. Warrior is for those who like to run into battle, weapons drawn. It is focussed on weapons and hand to hand combat. Seer is for those who prefer a stealthier gameplay mechanic, and offers abilities like Smoke Screen or Poison Dart to take down enemies silently and with grace. Hunter is a mix of both, but has a much larger focus on using a bow and arrow. All three skill sets are essentially intertwined, and the game does a great job of allowing players to choose which skills to focus on at the start, before they eventually merge to make Bayek a truly formidable opponent.
To go along with Bayek’s abilities, are a series of weapons and other accessories. At any one time, Bayek can have a bow and arrow equipped, along with either a shield and single handed melee weapon or a two handed heavy weapon (sans shield). Whichever you choose, movements are fluid, easy to handle, and makes fighting interesting, fun and challenging (especially when aiming to perform ‘combo’ actions).
Much like in previous games, Bayek is still able to make use of his latent Isu gift: that of eagle vision. This time, however, it takes the form of a literal eagle by the same of Senu. She is an enigmatic creature whose mind can be ‘warped’ into by Bayek, in order to allow him to identify enemy units and to survey the surrounding areas. It sounds strange at first, but I can honestly say that Senu quickly became one of my favourite parts of the game. Not only is she an asset that can be used in battle, but she offers players the ability to ‘take a break’ and fly around the wonderfully realised ancient Egypt that Ubisoft has created. The ability to soar above the lavish landscapes and cities is nothing short of awe inspiring.
In terms of performance, I had the pleasure of playing the game, start to finish, on an Xbox One X and a 4K television with HDR; and I can honestly say that it has been sublime. The game only loads once (unless you fast travel), and no matter how busy the scene, or intense the battle, the game maintained a solid 30 frames per second.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is a masterpiece [Conclusion]
Very few games have managed to captured my attention and awe as much as Assassin’s Creed Origins. Despite having spent more than 80 hours in the game (40 to 50 of those spent only on the campaign), I am still inexplicably drawn back to the incredibly well realised ancient Egypt that the game provides.
Simply put, the unforgettable and enigmatic ancient Egyptian setting is wonderfully brought to life through outstanding auditory and visual design. Coupled with solid, fluid and fun gameplay; and tied together beautifully with a captivating story arc and copious amounts of interesting and fun side quests; makes Assassin’s Creed Origins the best entry yet in the long running franchise.
|Time to Complete
|Review copy courtesy of Megarom Games
Owner, founder and editor-in-chief at Vamers, Hans has a vested interest in geek culture and the interactive entertainment industry. With a Masters degree in Communications and Ludology, he is well read and versed in matters relating to video games and communication media, among many other topics of interest.