I remember being 11 years old when the first Assassin’s Creed game hit shelves. I wasn’t able to buy it for myself, but I remember watching other people play it, and there was just something so genuinely cool about it. Maybe it was the old world setting, or maybe it was the intense focus on stealth and moving elegantly, yet unnoticed. These were concepts I had yet to experience in video games, but even back then I knew that this particular title was something special.
As the years progressed, I played each of the game’s sequels. While some were better than others, most of the games succeeded in some aspect, building on the formula that the first AC game laid before them. But after Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, something felt a bit off for the series as a whole. Not that the games that followed were flat out bad in any way, (I had fun with Unity and Syndicate, and some of the side entries in the franchise had decent concepts) but the style of the series began to become stale.
The innovation that had been so revolutionary for the series seemed to dissipate, and it ended up feeling like a genuine drag to get through the later games. The annual release schedule for the games had caused a lot of repetition, causing the desire for a new AC game to become non-existent after Syndicate. Even after taking the year off in 2016, when the trailers for Assassin’s Creed Origins premiered, I was still questioning if we really needed another AC game this soon. The only way to answer that question was to dive headfirst into the game and find out for myself.
Released on October 27, 2017, Assassin’s Creed: Origins transports you back to the cradle of civilization: Ancient Egypt. As we come to find out, Egypt is also the canon location of the birth of the Assassins. Right off the bat, it’s clear that the development team at Ubisoft took their time learning not only the landscape of this ancient civilization but, also its rich culture.
Each area of the map is drenched in detailed environments that not only represent the climate of the region, but also immerse you in Egyptian society and religion. Beautiful temples and rustic statues line the lush swamps and dry deserts of the game world. You can walk through each town and find people conversing in various languages, you can find them farming in the fields, or performing ceremonial rituals of various Egyptian deities.
The world feels truly alive, like the NPCs aren’t just there to fill in space, but like they’re meant to be an active part of the experience. Looking at the game world as a whole, Assassin’s Creed: Origins has one of the most breathtaking in-game worlds I’ve seen in a long time. Ubisoft’s AnvilNext 2.0 engine really helps the game visually pop, which in turn, helps to immerse you into the game and it’s story even more.
Speaking of story, let’s talk plot. Your journey sees you playing as Medjay Bayek, a protector of Egypt. For brief periods in the late parts of the game, you also play as his wife, Aya. After being betrayed by Egyptian leadership, leading to the death of his son, Bayek sets off to find and dispose of those responsible. The campaign of this game is really full of emotion, which makes it a lot easier to feel invested in Bayek’s journey.
That journey leads you across a gorgeous and vast section of Egypt. You’ll travel everywhere from the Pyramids of Giza, to the gritty arena in Krokodilopolis, and to Alexandria, a melting pot of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman cultures. Assassin’s Creed: Origins does a fantastic job of fleshing out characters just enough so that you feel like you know everything you need about the main cast of characters, while still leaving room for twists and turns along the way. Without getting into spoiler territory, your journey with Bayek, while satisfying in some ways, definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth at times.
This isn’t due to poor storytelling, as the writing itself is very well executed. It’s simply that some of the ways that particular story threads are ended aren’t what you expect, and it leaves a feeling of disappointment hanging over the otherwise incredible journey. On the flip side, however, the game’s DLCs, specifically The Hidden Ones, do an incredible job of expanding Bayek’s world and the overall lore of the Assassins.
The gameplay elements of Assassin’s Creed: Origins can really be boiled down to a simple formula: Something old, something new, and something borrowed. For veterans of the series, the main stealth, traversal and assassination elements will feel refreshingly familiar. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Origins takes the features that made the series a staple in the first place, and brushes through them with a fine tooth comb.
Free running and stealth actions feel more refined and smooth, and assassinations are brutal and leave an impact on you. It’s small refinements like these that give the old Assassin’s Creed cliches a breath of fresh air. More than any AC game before it, Origins feels like it fits in the RPG genre. This is exemplified best by the new skill tree and crafting upgrades. Crafting using the world’s various materials becomes essential later in the game, as you will need to upgrade your bow, your hidden blade, and your armor in order to be successful at taking down some of the game’s tougher enemies and bosses. Most of those materials will be found easily through your natural playthrough of the game, but even those that require a bit more of a hunt aren’t too difficult to get your hands on.
The skill tree is a wonderful addition to Assassin’s Creed, as it allows you to make a more creative choice over how your version of Bayek plays. There are 3 main branches to the skill tree: Seer, which focuses on some stealth elements, as well as things like taming animals and your lung capacity underwater. Strength, which is fairly straightforward, and will give you the brute force you need to take down any and all who stand in your way. And finally, the hunter tree, which focuses on giving priority to your bow work. While aiming to master one branch of the tree is fun, what’s great is if you play Origins enough to continuously level up, you’ll be able to blend techniques from all three branches to become a master assassin. This doesn’t feel like a slog either, as AC: Origins provides ample mission and exploration activities to keep you busy for hours.
Now, as far as gameplay elements go, the biggest surprise (and enjoyment) for me was the Origins combat system. While possible overpowering can lead to some hack and slash during parts of the game, particularly against basic enemies and animals, the combat absolutely thrives in the arenas and boss battles. The arena waves feel like they were pulled straight from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham game. Your variety of weapons gives you plenty of ways to take down foes, and the enemy variants provide a constant challenge as you need to remember what types of attacks and weapons work best against which baddies.
The boss battles, on the other hand, feel much more of a personal experience. I hesitate to say this because of the hardcore gaming nature it conjures, but there’s a Dark Souls element to these fights. Most of them take place in close quarters, and you have to be vigilant.
Not only with regards to your enemy, but your surroundings as well. Timing is also a major factor in these fights, as you will need to memorize patterns, knowing when to dodge, to parry, and to strike. One wrong move, and you may end up on on the receiving end of a flurry you can’t escape. In all, the combat in Origins may borrow concepts from other titles, but in combination with the rest of the game’s features, it helps elevate Origins into a top-tier experience.
Before I can move onto my final thoughts, there’s a couple of issues with this game we need to talk about. As great as Origins is, its ambition can only take it so far before some things get repetitive. You will find yourself hunting through the same types of camps and enemy types as you complete locations and although the side quests all have unique stories to tell, the actions performed in them can sometimes trigger deja vu. These are issues that flog any major “open world triple-A” game though, and it’s almost come to be expected in games from Ubisoft, who tend to use that formula often.
My other main gripe with Origins comes from the mounts. As convenient as they are for helping traverse the map, especially when you haven’t unlocked every location’s fast travel points, they aren’t always the most consistent or reliable. There were plenty of times in my playthrough when my mounts wouldn’t control properly or would disappear entirely.
The mounts also lack a sensible point of where they can’t be used to climb. On one mountain they may fly up the terrain nearly vertical, while on others they would refuse to climb altogether. The best personal experience I had with failing mounts had to be when I would call for my mount, only to find it flailing in the water 30 feet from me, unable to make it to shore and barely keeping its head out of the depths. It’s not a game breaker, just more of a hindrance at times to the overall experience.
At the beginning of this review, I was questioning whether or not we needed another Assassin’s Creed game at this point in time. Without question, I can say that Assassin’s Creed: Origins has shown me that there is still a place for the series in this day and age.
From revitalizing a classic formula and making it refreshing to adding new features, to building on a gaming legacy that spans over a decade now, Origins is carrying the AC banner into a new era; one that will please both older fans, as well as open up the series to new players. While it does suffer from many of the same odd bugs and small patches of repetition that many open-world games do nowadays, it more than makes up for it with its successes in both gameplay and storytelling.
Will Ubisoft be able to carry that formula over into future Assassin’s Creed titles? Only time will tell. But if they can put forth the same effort and care that they put into Origins, then I have no doubt they’ll succeed the same way.