Stalk Like An Egyptian
HIGH Egypt is breathtakingly beautiful.
LOW Small glitches and issues constantly remind me I’m playing a game.
WTF Did Ubisoft confirm a shared universe with another game?
Assassin’s Creed: Origins rousts the series from its slump and delivers what is arguably its best entry yet.
New protagonists Bayek and Aya are on a quest for vengeance that takes these lovers across one of the most stunning open worlds I’ve seen. Ancient Egypt is packed with stories of loss, grief, anger, faith, racism, and resistance, and there are plenty of there are lost tombs to be explored, commanders to be eliminated, and dens of dangerous wildlife to be cleared out. There’s plenty of content, and plenty left even after the 35 (or so) hours it took me to finish the main quest. It’s just a shame that bugs, performance issues, and glitches continually pulled me out of a world that’s been so lovingly crafted.
Origins takes place before the Brotherhood, before Abstergo, even before the Templars proper. While newcomers to the series might be confused as to what’s going on during the brief segments set in modern day or with any mentions of the technologically-advanced Ancients, there’s still plenty to enjoy. As for long-standing fans, explanations for some of the Brotherhood’s more esoteric traditions such as the importance of eagles or the removal of the left ring finger will be delightful callouts.
While most of the campaign will see players controlling Bayek, Aya has a place in some of the campaign’s more surprising moments. Unlike Syndicate where the Frye twins could be switched between (nearly) at will, Aya only takes the lead in a few essential missions. I can’t detail them here because their mention would be spoilers, but they do bring back an element from a previous Creed that’s been sorely missed.
The gameplay in Origins is a radical departure from other Assassin’s Creed games. Gone are the “puppeteer” controls and the idea of high/low profile stances. Instead, everything feels streamlined to focus more on action than stealth. Gone is the idea of hiding in a crowd or melting into the shadows. In its place is a greater emphasis on combat with dodges, blocks, parries, and a lock-on system that allows Bayek to be a more effective brawler than previous protagonists. That’s not to say that the game won’t let me sneak into a temple, kill my mark without anyone noticing and slip out again. Stealth is still a viable option, but it’s been stripped down to give players more choice overall in how they want to tackle obstacles. It sounds like blasphemy for a franchise like this, but the controls work better in Origins than they ever have.
In fact, part of the refocus is that the skill tree is redesigned, and lets players focus their talents in whatever way they wish. The Hunter branch revolves around long-range combat and buffs to stealth assassinations. The Warrior line is all about melee with perks for health regeneration in combat, as well as improvements to combo-powered finishing moves. Finally, The Seer is where an assassin’s dirty tricks are — fire and smoke bombs, sleep darts, and deadly poisons.
The most important item in Bayek’s catalog, however, is his faithful eagle companion Senu. This raptor almost always flies close above and can be taken control of at almost any time. Not only does give a literal bird’s eye view of the map, but he’ll tag anything of note including enemies, chests, captains, targets, prisoners, and underground entrances.
Another noticeable change in Origins are the numerous RPG elements. Bayek levels up with experience, giving him more health and damage overall, and this system acts as a ‘soft gatekeeper’ to several parts of the map. Each region in Egypt is broken down by a recommended level range and exploring them underpowered is not suggested — enemies become exceedingly difficult if they’re about three levels higher than Bayek, and become nigh-impossible to kill even with a stealth assassination. Unfortunately, this means some grinding is involved in order to attempt tough missions. While the main quest gives out a decent amount of experience, some of the sidequests must also be accomplished in order to progress the plot.
While these sidequests are just variations on ‘kill a commander’ or ‘rescue a prisoner’, they all have unique stories that make them worth doing. Some even turn into multi-part ordeals. A few of my favorites involved helping a rebel leader track down the soldiers that killed his father and exposing a priest who was faking curses so he could “cure” them. While nothing here meets the level of storytelling in something like The Witcher 3, they weren’t boring.
In addition to experience and sidequests, there’s also a new randomized loot mechanic. Quest rewards will often be listed as “Rare Shield” or “Legendary Weapon”, and nearly all of the treasure boxes peppered about the land have some sort of gear inside. While the weapons are broken into either bow or melee categories, there’s a wide degree of variety to suit any playstyle.On the other hand, the randomization made it frustrating to acquire the perfect build i wanted. Thankfully, I could bring any weapon up to my current level for a fee at the blacksmith, but there was never enough Drachma to afford everything.
Speaking of Drachma, this brings us to the microtransactions. There’s an in-game store to buy more Drachma, mount upgrades, resources, and more with real-world cash. It’s always just a few clicks away, although it wasn’t fully up and running at the time of this review. Mercifully, after taking a quick look to confirm what was in there, I never returned nor felt forced to buy anything during my playthrough. I never found Origins to be kneecapped for the sake of making in-game sales.
While microtransactions weren’t an issue, what was a problem were the myriad of glitches, bugs, and performance issues that consistently popped up throughout. While nothing was as nightmarish as the infamous skinless head from Unity, Origins is fickle when it comes to larger cities.
Framerate drops and pop-in increased in frequency when exploring the massive metropolis of Alexandra. Load times switching between Senu and Bayek also increase dramatically near any major city. Moving quickly via horse down crowded streets would lead to occasional split-second freezes, making me think I accidentally entered Origin’s photo mode. Characters would sometimes get stuck climbing over waist-high obstacles. None of these would be a huge issue on their own, but with the range of technical hiccups and the frequency at which I encountered them were effective in taking me out of the experience.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins breathes new life into this ten-year old series, culling the parts which didn’t work while branching out and growing beyond what it once was. It successfully maintains the heart of the franchise and smartly dumps unnecessary baggage while opening it up to more kinds of players. Technical issues keep it from being a masterpiece at the moment, but there’s no doubt that patches are incoming. Overall, if this is the future of Assassin’s Creed, it’s a bright one.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It is currently available on PS4, PC, and XBO This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 35 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the main quest was completed, although there were many side quests still left to finish.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Sand, Drug References, More Sand, Intense Violence, Even More Sand, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, and Sand. While there is an option to turn the blood off, this game is about hunting down people and killing them. There’s no way around that. It isn’t what I would consider a gory game, but the subject matter is very mature, such as dealing with a child’s death and coping with it. While there is no overt nudity, there are overt sexual situations.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is subtitled with each speaker’s name attached to what is being said. However, there are a few instances of characters speaking over one another and text can scroll by very quickly.
Remappable Controls: On the PS4, there are two pre-set control schemes. The buttons are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.