Bringin’ Stabbin’ Back
HIGH Baghdad was both an excellent and inspired pick for a new Assassin’s Creed setting.
LOW They went from too long to too short.
WTF Every reviewer who writes “Back to the series’ roots” should be tarred & feathered.
Before getting into the review itself, let me take a moment to discuss how I detest the narrative around Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. I can’t stand the phrase “taking the series back to its roots”, and I want to emphatically say that is not something Mirage does. The team at Ubisoft certainly attempted this, but the superficial way in which they did makes its issues as a standalone game all the more apparent.
Mirage serves as an origin (pun fully intended) story for Basim Ibn Ishaq, who played a large part in the overall narrative of Assassins Creed: Valhalla. In fact, it’s possible to make the argument he’s one of the most important characters in the entire franchise given all the bonkers stuff that happens in that game, so I was excited to step into his shoes and learn more about one of Valhalla‘s most fascinating aspects. Unfortunately, Mirage boils down to a Basim training montage as he learns his new trade of hunting Order members in Baghdad, featuring a plot that never feels particularly important to the overarching AC narrative.
The RPG elements so prevalent in recent AC installments have also been significantly toned back. Enemies no longer have levels, so there’s no worry of running into a over-leveled commander that takes six minutes to kill. Each enemy is a similar level of damage sponge, and Basim’s trusty hidden blade can one-hit nearly every enemy, just like in the good old days. There is a system where players get points to invest in a skill tree, but this is now a more simple endeavor. It works well enough, and the ‘grinding’ aspect of the previous trilogy has been practically eliminated, which will make some readers happy.
Basim is not the same type of superhero that Bayek, Kassandra, or Eivor are. For example, he can’t hack ‘n slash his way through encounters as easily as the previous three AC protagonists could — fighting three enemies at once is dangerous. He can’t unleash flurries of risk-free death, and parrying and dodging are key to his success. He doesn’t have superhuman jumping and climbing abilities. Basim has to actually find crevices and protruding architecture to climb structures, which is a big departure from the automatic climbing of the last few entries. In other words, Basim plays more like a mortal man, and must use stealth and wits to survive.
Stealth was an option in the last three titles, but it took a backseat to combat. This was due more to level design than actual mechanics, but Mirage is designed as a stealth game. Players are encouraged to plan their route, use their environment, blend in, pay merchants and debutantes for assistance, and stick to the shadows. The problem is that these mechanics are nowhere as developed as they felt in previous entries, and when the opportunities to use these skills come up, it feels less like a mechanic and more like Ubisoft attempting to force feed me memberberries.
The best stealth games feel natural and organic in movement, and those aspects of Mirage underwhelm because it has the controls of an Action-RPG. There’s a real lack of finesse in Basim’s movements, and the way the game attempts to compensate for this is by making the enemy AI even more profoundly stupid than they were in the past three entries. Overall, there are more enhancements to combat than to stealth, and at the end of the day it feels like I’m playing Valhalla, except that death comes easier. This is a stealth game made with tools not designed for it, and it shows.
With the changes in its overall design, Mirage tries its damndest to make one feel nostalgic for the older Assassin’s Creed titles, but instead it feels like a modern Assassin’s Creed game with scaled-back options and limited level design.
Issues with the game’s ANVIL engine also plague the world of Mirage, which is mostly a lovingly-rendered depiction of 9th century Baghdad. There’s more detail and a better overall design compared to other cities featured in the last three AC-RPG titles, but one of the things I loved about the original games was the large size of crowds and the feeling of maneuvering around a real, functional community. Mirage is simply not equipped to do that — it’s hard to feel like the player is in a vibrant city when there are about eight people walking around at any given time. The engine is also starting to show its age graphically, and Mirage doesn’t look much better than Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which Mirage shares many assets with.
While I was expecting Mirage to be on a smaller scale compared to the absolutely massive previous three titles, it’s still over rather quickly. I don’t imagine the main story will last most players above fourteen hours, and while one could string it out to around 30 hours, the side content is rather uninteresting. There’s a wanted board at the main base that has side missions players can do to earn materials and gain favor with various factions — which is great — but these side missions almost always boil down to collect-a-thons or smaller-scale, less interesting versions of what one might do in the main campaign.
This brings us to the question of value. Originally I thought Mirage‘s asking price of $50 was reasonable given that the publisher stated it wasn’t the next “full” Assassin’s Creed game, but apparently Assassins Creed: Mirage started life as an expansion pack for Valhalla, and its origins as DLC are pretty apparent. The value proposition becomes worse when one actually compares it to the DLC for Valhalla, as its Dawn of the Ragnarok add-on features about the same amount of content as Mirage, while being more interesting, more narratively daring, offering more variety in locations and enemies, and it was $10 cheaper than Mirage to boot.
If it feels like I’m spending a lot of time comparing Mirage to other AC titles, it’s because the game does so little to differentiate itself from the franchise it spawned from, and it also happens to be worse at what it strives to do when compared to decade-old titles that came before it.
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is just kinda there. It makes some nice nods to earlier installments, but the stealth isn’t as slick as it needs to be. It features a lovingly-rendered Baghdad, but doesn’t have enough interesting things going on in it. The narrative it offers is largely unnecessary, and considering who Basim is in the overall mythology of the series, that is tremendously disappointing. The only thing Mirage excels at is reminding long-time Assassin’s Creed fans of days gone by.
RATING: 5.5 Out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Ubisoft Bordeaux and published by Ubisoft. It is currently available on XBox One, XBox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, PC, iOS, and Amazon Luna. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBox Series X. Approximately 19 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M For Mature and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. While the majority of Mirage is a rather tame affair with minimal blood effects and a reserved script, there are some moments of extreme depravity in certain cutscenes, including one scene early on involving dead children being strung up on posts. The violence in general is ramped up significantly in cutscenes compared to the main game.
Colorblind Modes: There are three colorblind modes present: Tritanopia, Deuteranopia, and Protanopia.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/or resized. Gameplay-based subtitles are detailed, and there are no necessary audio cues. There’s also an option to boost dialogue audio. I’d say this is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls are completely remappable on consoles. A full controller layout is available in the options menu as well. Further, Mirage actually has a truly impressive assortment of accessibility options. Check out this article for more information.