I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve got a pretty rocky love/hate relationship with the Creed. It’s a franchise that when good, it’s really really good, but when it’s bad it’s just not worth thinking about. Even as an avid fan of the franchise I can admit that it’s not always been the best it could be, and considering that it’s been an annual churner for most of its tenure, it’s not uncommon for myself and fellow fans to be a little pessimistic about each upcoming adventure. Last year we were treated to a break from tradition, instead being teased for 12 months to an extra special historic romp to celebrate the franchise’s 10th anniversary. Considering the team behind this entry, that boastful statement could very well be pure fact, so for the first time in years I’m genuinely excited about playing an Assassisn Creed game, however for the first time ever I’m incomprehensibly terrified.
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and directed by Ashraf Ismail, the director of Assassins Creed IV Black Flag, Assassins Creed Origins gracefully dives onto PC and all major consoles. Gone are the industrial eyesores, gone are the suffocating cobbled streets of modern civilisation, Origins turns the franchise on its head by welcoming you into its most astonishing landscape yet, Ancient Egypt. Rife with treacherous tombs, helpless townsfolk and ferocious wildlife, Assassins Creed Origins truly brings the country and period to life, ironically delivering a refreshing, mouth-watering experience to the Middle Eastern Desert. Our hero and ancient relative this time round is Bayek, a Medjay for the Egyptian Brotherhood, an honourable chap chomping at the bit to vanquish ancient corruption and lay down the foundations for the Assassins Order that we know today. Throughout this punishing land you’ll be required to stylishly assassinate evil, so nothing new there, however unlike your past narratives you’ll now get to tell your story in whatever way you wish as the game takes a page out of Action RPG 101. It was inevitable that for a 10 year old franchise we were going to get an ‘Origins’ storyline at some point, but is this one worth telling? Considering how lacklustre it’s been in the past, can this narrative stand strong, shoulder to shoulder alongside its beautiful landscapes and vigorously reinvented gameplay?
Bayek it’s good!
Ancient Egypt is simply stunning. It’s rich in life, both literally and figuratively, as this is the most amazing environment I’ve assassinated in and easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever explored. Egypt is unlike any other landscape you’ve taken an Assassin before, notably because of how flat, barren, deadly and bloody huge it is. With little monuments and tall buildings to scarper up of, finding a high and easy means of escape is now almost impossible. The glorious towns and sands of Ancient Egypt can leave you completely out in the open, making stealthy assassination genuinely something to calculate and plan, going in unprepared is just going to get you killed. Much like what you’ve grown to love and adore from Bioware and Bethesda, Ubisoft have still yet to perfect the humble human being, so anyone outside of the main cast still looks a little dated and sketchy, but when the star of the show is Egypt itself it really doesn’t matter, because that looks beautiful and it’s what you’ll be looking at for 98% of the time anyway. Luscious green palm trees, crystal blue waters, golden sands, everything that Egypt throws at you is majestic and magical to behold, making it an absolute pleasure to spend every waking hour in.
It’s not just the terrain that has steered away from comfortable tradition, but every aspect of the Creed’s gameplay has been brought back from the brink of death to offer a completely new and invigorating play. Gone are the days of following a mini map and passing time merely by finding and fetching, this is so much more and so much better. Perhaps taking a few pages out of the Witcher’s Grimoire, Assassins Creed Origins now features a huge collection of unique and action packed quests that allow the players to dive even deeper into the world of the Brotherhood, a feat which in the past has only been carried out in the most tedious and predictable way possible. Imagine you’re on route to a main story quest marker and you stumble across an Egyptian Native in need of assistance on the way, offering you treasures and great riches for killing a few crocodiles, simply put your quest on hold, go kill the villainous beasts who have swallowed his son, reap your rewards, then continue to your original destination with a new legendary weapon. Up until now every world within the Assassins Creed games have been, for lack of a better word, soulless, and now thanks to the genuine encouragement for exploration, being an Assassin no longer feels scripted and claustrophobic. Steering from the beaten track (to arguably a more beaten path) will often net you a wealth of ancient treasures and rich back-story, or if you’re lucky, an arsenal of terrorising weaponry; this is where Origins really steps up. It may be common place in other games, but even the most basic of RPG elements makes Origins a literal game changer. Avoiding the main story and completing side quests and community challenges will grant you magnificent treasures of sweet kick-assery, rare and even legendary items that are only obtainable to those who seek their own adventure, making avoiding those cheeky question marks on the map terribly difficult to resist, especially when they hold the key to conquering all of Egypt, XP. Every quest, location and kill rewards you with XP, which in time levels you up and makes you stronger, so not only will exploration reward you with lit gear, but also health and offense, encouraging you to play the game for as long as possible to uncover everything the Middle East has to offer, with actual rewards to boot. Levelling up will also bestow upon you ability points, that can be spent to improve your presence in 1 of 3 ways, Hunter, Warrior and Seer. Spending these points will have a variety of essential and delectable abilities from improving your bow skills to boobytrapping corpses with flesh eating poisons, each branch will determine your status on the sand, but the only way to become a legend is to seek out adventure.
Once upon a time Ezio, Edward and even the Frye Siblings could disarm and dismember a dozen foes at once with a mere counter attack, an action that required the player to press 1 button as often as you’d like, a strategy that even the simplest amongst us (Arno) could dominate. Finally, after years of pleading, our prayers for a combat system that requires a handful of brain cells have been answered, revolutionising what it means to assassinate your foes. Following further in the footsteps of our Witcher brethren, to become an invincible monster in the heat of battle will require more than simply swinging your weapon like a maniac. For the first time in the franchise’s history, enemies are now individually levelled and won’t be brushed aside so easily, they can (and often will) be far stronger than you if you’re unprepared. Each weapon class will feature its own pros, a sickle sword can scoop enemies to the ground, a swinging spear will cover an unrivalled attack radius and a heavy axe will easily break an enemy’s shield and footing. It’s not simply a case of picking the most powerful weapon, but mastering a particular weapon style and building your strength through tactical knowledge and experience. Attacking like a rabid animal will result in being overpowered, knocked to the ground or having your attacks countered, so learning an enemies attack pattern, precise parrying and focusing on more than just the foe in front of you will turn the tides of a losing battle. The only gripe I have with the combat is the targeting system, which in times of wild panic can do more harm than good, what with the camera moving erratically behind you and making it difficult to see and avoid surrounding enemies; however, despite that it’s an essential tool to use with the more persistent singular enemy or boss. Again, this all sounds like basic elements to your standard RPG, but every single one of these basic elements breathes so much life into the stagnant franchise, so much so that I honestly believe that scrapping this in future instalments will be the death of the Creed.
Perhaps the most surprising adjustments to your approach to combat are your hidden blades, the all new day/night cycle and your winged feathered friend called Senu. You may be shocked, apprehensive even to know that your hidden blade may not kill an enemy in one stab, regardless of your position and level. You could very well be the camel’s bollocks on the sandy plains, but if you attempt to assassinate a high levelled captain without crafting and developing your hidden blade, you’ll find yourself face to face with Anubis himself. Crafting plays a huge part in defining your legendary status, so killing anything that moves and taking its pelt is the most important advice I can offer, as not only will equipment increase your health and melee damage, but your ability to effectively assassinate, which makes for a much more perilous and challenging adventure. W.E Hickson once said “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”, however 2000 years ago that would have gotten you killed, so what I say is “If at first you don’t succeed, try doing it at night when there’s less guards around”; it may not roll off the tongue as nicely, but it’s integral knowledge that will get you out alive, with treasures and blood in hand. If you’re struggling to overthrow a fort or assassinate a target in broad daylight, then speed time up and try tackling it at night as chances are most guards and even your target may be down for the count. In a time before magic X-ray vision, Assassins had to rely on their other senses to ‘sniff’ out danger, or in Bayek’s case, befriend a giant bird to see things for you. Swapping Eagle Vision for actual Eagle Vision, players can send Senu into the air to target enemies, loot boxes and crafting materials, he’ll even peck some eyes out if you spend your ability points. Up until now we’ve relied on high points to reveal, or synchronise, the landscape, however in Origins, Ancient Egypt will reveal itself to you if you go out and seek it, the synchronised points are for Senu, who’s perception will be increased with every landmark you climb up. What each of these features does so well is taking you out of that familiar and safe comfort zone you’ve gotten used to dwelling in over the past 10 years, and reinvents them in a way that pushes your limits as both a literal player and a figurative assassin, and I want to see this happen more often.
Even as a huge fan of the franchise, lore and tales of some of History’s greatest creations, I must admit that the past few stories told from within the Animus have been pretty tame and dull. Right from the start, Origins isn’t either of those things. Without spoiling too much of the ancient Narrative, you control Bayek, a once powerful and noble Medjay for the land’s nobility, however after witnessing the death of his only son, he and his wife Aya set out on a dark path of vengeance to kill all those responsible. You begin the game 1 year since the tragic event, a man tied to no one but his wife, who plays by no rules but his own, and who takes his own path and killing those that merely look at him the wrong way. This is the kind of character the series has been crying out for. It’s been a while since we’ve controlled a barbaric, yet plausible and weirdly relatable Assassin doing all that he can to carry out revenge on those who wronged him, and this blood soaked narrative barely stands down to let you catch your breath, and when it does we truly get to see Bayek develop further as a character through his adversaries, friends and his wife Aya, who is just as tough and ballsy as her husband; it’s also delightful to play as a happily married couple, something rare in TV never mind video games. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Assassins Creed game if we didn’t have to rifle through the modern era, and honestly if you’re one of those folk who hate this aspect of the game then you’re just going to continue hating it, however those that want to maximise their AC experience with additional reading and some light exploration, it continues to be a deeply thought out jigsaw puzzle in need of solving. Assassins Creed Origin’s narrative is beautiful, tragic and exhilarating, words I’ve never used to describe the franchise before.