As a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed series, I was shocked when Ubisoft finally decided to wait a year between installments. This is something many wanted since the quality of each annual release fluctuated wildly. Taking a year off has worked wonders for the newly released Assassin’s Creed: Origins. It is not only the best game the series has seen since Black Flag, but it is also another stellar 2017 title.
Taking place in Ancient Egypt, Assassin’s Creed: Origins focuses on how the series’ assassin order formed. Though it takes place in ancient times, the story follows the structure of previous entries. The Order of Ancients is the precursor to the Templars. Like the Templars, this society wishes to bring peace by taking away people’s freedom. As a proto-assassin, it is your job to stop their evil plans and ensure freedom prevails. Like Ezio before him (or rather, after him), protagonist Bayek seeks revenge on his enemies after they murder a family member. Along the way, the player encounters historical figures that either help or impede them.
Like the story, the gameplay in Assassin’s Creed: Origins is fundamentally the same as previous installments; albeit with some notable alterations. Aside from the pyramids in Giza or the Lighthouse of Alexandria, there aren’t many tall man-made structures in the world. You can easily climb up most buildings in seconds, and you’ll do very little rooftop hopping since buildings are more spread out. When not within a city, you can travel by riding horses and camels. You can also travel across the Nile river via small boats.
In previous installments, you had something called “eagle vision” to help you see things in the environment others couldn’t. This time, you use an actual eagle to see the unseen. Senu is perfect for spotting enemies and treasures within strongholds. She can also see crafting resources from miles away. Senu can also aid in battle by attacking guards you specify. Sometimes she’ll attack random enemies while you’re surrounded. Senu is easily one of the most useful animals in the series and I hope to see more eagle companions in future entries.
As you would expect, there is a great deal of combat in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. If you were expecting to simply chain-kill your way to victory like before, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. Now, you’ll mostly have to dispatch enemies one at a time using the game’s various weapons (swords, spears, dual-blades, hammers, etc). Furthermore, you’ll have to defend yourself with a shield. It’s a very different way of fighting, but I feel it is more rewarding since you need to be aware of you and your enemies’ positions at all times. Once you master the game’s combat, you will feel unstoppable. Well… at least when facing off against human opponents.
Fighting animals is nothing like fighting humans. Hippos, Lions, Alligators, and Hyenas have unpredictable attack patterns and they almost always attack at once. During these encounters, blocking and especially dodging are crucial. You may only be able to land a hit or two before you need to evade. Most times, you can scare animals away by throwing a smoke bomb. However, you’re going to want to face off against beasts in order to use their skins or furs as components for crafting.
Like most games these days, you’ll have to craft certain items. You can upgrade your armor, hidden blade, and weapons. Weapons are the easiest to upgrade; requiring you to visit the local blacksmith. For armor, you’ll need specific items like animal hides, iron, wood, and bronze. Partaking in the game’s various (and plentiful) sidequests ensures you’ll never be short of supplies. If you want to upgrade faster, you can either buy crafting materials from vendors or have your trusty hawk, Senu, find them for you. I’m not a huge fan of crafting in games, but I found the crafting in Origins to be mostly unobtrusive.
The main story should take average gamers around 10-15 hours to complete. Of course, your playtime will likely be four to five times longer than that due to the abundance of side missions in the world. Like The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is constantly tossing new missions at you. These sidequests are always interesting because they help immerse players in the world of Ancient Egypt. There are also a great number of treasures to find and enemy strongholds to take over. I found these side activities extremely addictive and led to me staying up until ungodly hours in an endless cycle of “just one more mission.”
The world of Ancient Egypt is expertly brought to life thanks to the upgraded graphics engine. Assassin’s Creed games have always featured top-notch visuals but Origins takes things to a whole other level. Because of the setting, the environment has a decidedly earthly tone to it. Everything from gargantuan mountains, vast deserts, dense forests, and the mighty Nile river are fully rendered in exacting detail. This is a showcase title no matter what system you play it on. If you’re like me, expect to spend a significant amount of time taking and editing pictures through photo mode.
There aren’t many flaws to be found, but I do have two things I want to nitpick. Though nowhere close to the level of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Origins does have its share of bugs. There was one instance I experienced with a character weirdly vibrating during an entire cutscene. There were also a few times when I had to restart missions because the objectives mysteriously disappeared from the map. These cases were few and far between, but they did happen regardless.
My other gripe is that there are no codexes. One of the things I love about Assassin’s Creed is how it teaches players about history while tying real-world events into the narrative. This was mostly done via detailed in-game codex entries. There is nothing of the sort here. My guess is that codexes are being saved for the upcoming Discovery Tour DLC. Discovery Tour lets players learn about Ancient Egypt without having to do missions or engage in combat. That’s fine, but I don’t see why proper codexes couldn’t still be in the main game. This is a problem that will be rectified later, but I did honestly miss reading about the places and people I discovered while playing.
It gives me great pleasure to say the Assassin’s Creed franchise is officially back and better than ever. Assassin’s Creed: Origins signals a new beginning for the series and should hopefully lead to a string of amazing games in the future. Let’s hope Ubisoft has learned from this experience and will now release follow up titles every two to three years. Greatness can’t be rushed, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins is proof of that. This is truly is one of 2017’s best.
This review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins is based on a digital code for the PS4 provided by Ubisoft.