Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
The Assassin’s Creed series has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the last few years, with gamers growing tired of the same old gameplay formula that never really evolved between each yearly release. Personally, I’ve always held the series in high regard and thoroughly enjoyed each new entry that came along – I even managed to enjoy the widely-disliked Unity, though that might come down to the fact that I was lucky enough not to suffer through any of the bugs and glitches that plagued the experience for other gamers.
Still, it was easy to see that the game was running out of ideas, and there’s only so much a different setting could really bring to each new entry. Ubisoft made the smart decision to give the series a year break though, giving the development team the chance to really put their all into the latest entry. It’s paid off too; not only does Assassin’s Creed Origins have one of the most fascinating worlds that I’ve explored in any video game, but it also re-invents the series’ trademark gameplay with an array of fantastic new features.
Admittedly, it took me a little while to get into the story of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I’ve always been invested in the series’ lore, but the fact that I was thrown into the deep end immediately with protagonist Bayek already on his quest for vengeance meant my initial couple of hours with the game was spent wondering what exactly was going on. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate that some stories need to build up, but the opening lacked the clarity I needed to invest myself in immediately.
Fortunately, you do start to learn a lot more about Bayek, be it through his relationship with his wife, his troubled past, or the revenge he so desperately seeks for a personal tragedy. You’ll also find out more about a shady group known as the Order of Ancients, who’re desperately seeking an artefact known as the ‘Apple of Eden’ – that might sound familiar to anyone who is already a fan of the series, and is a natural root to one of the main organisations of the series. It isn’t called Assassin’s Creed Origins for nothing, you know.
In all though, there’s a decent little tale to be told in Assassin’s Creed Origins that’ll certainly keep you intrigued throughout your lengthy journey. Bayek is a likable character and a great companion to the tale, whilst the numerous key historical figures of Egyptian history that you get to encounter certainly add their own spark to the tale too. It certainly offers one of the better narratives of the series and you’ll be hooked in right until the end.
The one thing that really blew me away in Assassin’s Creed Origins was the setting, with Ancient Egypt not only being fantastic to explore from a gameplay perspective but also looking absolutely stunning too. Whilst the series has thrust gamers into open-environments outside of cities in the past, none have ever felt as fascinating as it does here. Naturally, when you think of Egypt you think of things like the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx, huge sandy dunes and canyons, or huge temples; Assassin’s Creed Origins delivers all of these in a marvellous fashion, allowing gamers to be blown away by both their impressive exteriors as well as their finely crafted interiors.
The world is absolutely huge too and full to the brim with a wide range of different environments to explore, as well as plenty of sprawling creatures and exotic plantlife. It really feels like a world that is alive and you’ll rarely venture through it without seeing SOMETHING going on, be it a scuffle between animals or just an interaction with one of Egypt’s many inhabitants. Honestly, the world is just staggering and whilst the sheer size of it might feel intimidating at first, it’s so full to the brim with little details and things to do that exploring just feels like a delight.
Of course, an all-new setting is barely an evolution, no matter how fascinating it might be to explore. It’s through the gameplay mechanics itself that Assassin’s Creed Origins truly raises it game, with enhancements offered in almost all elements of its design.
Take combat for example. Previous entries in the series felt almost Arkham-esque, with simple button mashing elements and quick-reactions being all that was required to take down your opponents. It was simple and for the most part effective, but it never really pushed the player and quickly got tiresome during each game’s later sections.
Now, you have to mix together a combination of light attacks, heavy attacks, dashes, and blocking techniques as you take on each foe – you can’t just mash a button and hope for the best, but instead have a genuine encounter with each enemy. It actually threw me a bit to begin with, especially since I’ve been so used to simply timing a button press in order to take enemies down in previous games. You’ve got to manually target each enemy too, which slows down combat scenarios but makes them a lot more refined and precise in the process. It could take some getting used to, so you can expect to suffer a few annoying deaths to begin with.
It actually felt a bit like Dark Souls in some ways, though it was a lot more forgiving; whilst encounters can certainly be tricky, I never found them too punishing. It was a lot more enjoyable than what we’ve been used to in the series though and made toppling a foe all the more satisfying. You can use a wide variety of weapons that each feel completely different too, so there’s a lot more depth on offer for those who like to experiment with their equipment set. It just all worked really well and adds this level of excitement to combat that I’d never realised was missing in previous entries. I think going back to them after thoroughly enjoying Assassin’s Creed Origins’ combat would be difficult now, so hopefully this has set a new precedent for future entries in the series.
Interestingly, enemies actually have levels this time, so if you’re underpowered you’ll find yourself quickly meeting your death time and time again when facing off against powerful foes. Thankfully, an improved levelling up system is in place that applies to not only your equipment but Bayek too.
Levelling up weapons is vital when taking on some of the tougher enemies of the game, especially since you’ll do close to no damage to them with an under-powered arsenal. Fortunately, all it takes is a bit of coin and a blacksmith to improve your weapons, so you shouldn’t find yourself at a disadvantage for too long. There are a wide variety of different weapons on offer throughout the game that each offer different traits, so it’s easy to find yourself attached to one quite early on and not wanting to give it up; the fact you can easily upgrade them ensures you’re not forced into a situation where you absolutely have to use a specific weapon that’s of a higher calibre though, so you’ll never feel restricted in how you have to play the game.
Of course, it isn’t just your choice of weapon that’ll need upgrading, with Bayek himself getting in on the action through a variety of different skill trees. The series hasn’t really offered a definitive way to improve your character’s abilities before, so the fact you’re able to in Assassin’s Creed Origins actually felt quite refreshing and allows players to mould Bayek’s skillset into one that suits their playstyle. You’ll need a good balance of them all if you really want to succeed in the game, though the fact that you’re able to decide exactly what you get is great.
There are three main skill trees on offer: ‘Warrior’, ‘Seer’, and ‘Hunter’. The Warrior skill tree will see enhancements made to Bayek’s combat capabilities, so those who prefer to get up close and personal with enemies will certainly find themselves investing themselves here. Those who prefer taking the stealth approach will want to pay attention to the Seer skill tree though, especially since it offers the abilities required to get through areas completely unnoticed. The Hunter skill tree doesn’t affect play styles quite as much as the other two, but is still vital; it’s here that you’ll be able to improve your skills with a bow, as well as improve those of your eagle companion Senu.
Gamers would’ve been used to using the famous Assassin’s ‘Eagle Vision’ in previous games to scout out areas and the world around them, but Assassin’s Creed Origins takes the whole system a lot more literally by giving Bayek an eagle companion named Senu. Senu can be used to fly over environments and pinpoint any targets you’re looking for, or even listen in on conversations that are taking place (which was one of the more annoying things players would have to manually do in previous games). Once you’ve levelled up Senu’s abilities, you’ll even be able to use him to attack enemies or pinpoint the exact path they’re going to take.
Using Senu adds an interesting twist on a system that has been popular in the series from the very start, but it also shows how far the developers have gone in making enhancements to the series. It’d have been easy for them to simply introduce new combat mechanics and a more RPG-driven experience with the levelling up system, but the creativity involved in having the player use Senu to scope out areas rather than simply pressing an analogue stick to get a quick over-stylised look at the world around them through Eagle Vision was a nice little touch.
Outside of Assassin’s Creed Origins’ main missions, there are plenty of side missions to partake in as well as a wide range of activities including the likes of Chariot Racing, taming wild animals to help you out, or even just hunting down loot. The side missions were a bit of a mixed bag; whilst some would offer an enriched little narrative of their own that actually had you invested in what you were doing, others were simply fetch quests or basic assassinations with very little on offer to motivate you to complete them. There are a ridiculous amount for you to complete though, so you won’t run out of things to do even after you’ve seen the main narrative through to its conclusion – just don’t expect a lot of consistency in the quality of them all.
Whilst for the most part Assassin’s Creed Origins is both a visual and a technical marvel, I did come across a few issues during my adventure through Ancient Egypt. There was a lot of clipping with character models and the environment, some textures would take a while to load in, whilst seeing a citizen randomly floating in the air was always possible. These issues weren’t awfully common, so they’re nothing to worry about too much.
I did suffer a hard crash on a couple of occasions though, whilst another time the sound randomly started to sound distorted and needed a reset of the Playstation 4 to work properly again. I have no idea what caused these issues, so it’s hard to say if a definite fix is coming or if they’ll occur for you. It’s worth mentioning that none of the issues are really game breaking and they were mostly a rarity throughout my forty-odd hours with the game, but I figure they’re worth pointing out.
Another thing that’s worth pointing out is that the game features micro-transactions; something that is considered a big no-no in single player experiences for gamers these days. Much like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War before it though, these are just an optional shortcut for gamers to take if they’d rather invest money instead of time into their gaming experience. None of the micro-transactions felt compulsory, nor did they ever feel like they had a bearing on how the game played out; they were just there for anyone who wanted to purchase them. After finishing Assassin’s Creed Origins and the majority of its side quests though, I can confirm you won’t have to spend an extra dime to have an amazing time with the game.
I had pretty high expectations for Assassin’s Creed Origins following its year out, but thankfully Ubisoft have managed to deliver what I personally think is the best entry in the series so far. The Ancient Egypt setting looks beautiful and is absolutely fascinating to explore, the refined combat mechanics make each showdown with enemies a lot more enjoyable, whilst the newly introduced skill trees and focus on differing equipment allows gamers to build Bayek to suit their playstyle perfectly. You can see that Ubisoft have taken the criticism the series has received over the years on board and made the improvements that some gamers have been so desperately waiting for.
Besides a few dull side quests and some technical hiccups, there’s not much I can criticise about Assassin’s Creed Origins. My personal favourite adventure within the franchise had always been with Black Flag, but I think Bayek’s fantastic journey has managed to top it – Assassin’s Creed Origins isn’t just the best entry in the series so far, but it’s also one of the best games of 2017.