[Editor’s note: We were lucky enough that Paul Davies was able to attend a hands-on session with Assassin’s Creed Origins in the northern hemisphere.]
Present day role-playing trends play straight into the hand of Ubisoft’s latest protagonist from the past, redefining the Assassin’s Creed universe with future potential.
Even the most dedicated fans are agreed that the Assassin’s Creed series was in need of a time-out. The annual instalments, though lavish, took their toll with Assassin’s Creed Unity in 2014 which sadly harmed the reputation of the excellent 2015 follow-up Syndicate. Both mechanically and thematically, Ubisoft’s flagship franchise was losing sight of its vitality.
With Assassin’s Creed Origins, the opportunity has been taken to rebuild the concept almost entirely from the ground up. Familiar pillars of combat, stealth, navigation and exploration remain intact but are significantly revised to successfully re-establish the experience.
While we didn’t observe anything as ground-breaking in Origins as the first Assassin’s Creed during our hands-on time, it is fair to say Ubisoft has blazed so many trails since 2007 that we almost take the studio’s best ideas for granted. Through Bayek, the warrior destined to become the founder of the Brotherhood, we see so much of the iconic series founder hero Altaïr’s potential reach the fruition that series fans have been longing for.
In essence, Assassin’s Creed Origins combines the quest-based structure established long ago by the likes of Dragon Quest, greatly expanded via MMOs such as World of Warcraft, and common to everything from Grand Theft Auto through shared-world shooter Destiny. Its open world is now vast and seamless, providing breathtaking vistas while allowing our hero Bayek to travel freely between every location. This allows Bayek to pursue numerous side-quests, placing his main mission on hold to assist needy NPCs or indulge his curiosity. Almost every action Bayek takes gains experience points to boost his core capabilities and the usefulness of the tools at his disposal. In other words, Origins emerges as an AC RPG.
The core gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Origins is characteristically locked to spectacular parkour and thrilling combat, balanced with stealthier sections that benefit from plans made ahead. How everything transpires though is refreshingly unrestrained.
Not a great deal has changed in terms of environment traversal; any structure is there to be climbed, and almost all buildings present their interiors to explore. Combat, meanwhile, is hugely improved owing to Bayek’s attacks becoming physics-based, allowing various weapon types to behave more realistically, especially when dealing with multiple foes.
A large sword, for example, may strike several opponents if swung in an arc. Previously, damage was only dealt to a single target even if one among many. Timing now plays a more important part in countering attacks, where again it is necessary to consider the type of weapon used against Bayek to seize that split-second window of opportunity.
To complement this new, more extensive combat system Ubisoft has adopted three robust features for added depth. Primarily, Bayek has a skill tree to evolve, spending experience points earned to learn and improve upon techniques such as smoke-screen or shield smash to expand his options. This noticeably transforms Bayek’s prowess throughout the game, based on gameplay preference, requiring some careful thought before unlocking each node. The second, neutral but nevertheless impactful feature is the ability to build and upgrade weapons and tools based on usage and available crafting items. We wish we had more time to explore the crafting element, but let’s just say that it is extensive… and grind related!
Origin’s last, clearly new and different though still appropriate change to Assassins Creed, is this grind for greatness over time, related to impressive loot which you endeavour to own. Specific NPC targets carry certain items that not only look sweet but enhance Bayek’s power considerably. Bayek’s current level, however, may not be high enough to equip this super new thing, pushing him back into the fray to acquire the experience needed. This has led to the inclusion of some less attractive side quests to slay beasts such as crocs and hippos, and this rather detracts from the heroism enjoyed on the main path. That said, it is kinda fun to land headshots on hippos and discover cunning ways to lure pesky vultures to their doom.
Overall, this near-complete overhaul has left Assassin’s Creed Origins feeling as innovative as the 2007 original, ambitious as AC III and potentially as satisfying as the legendary AC II.
Seriously, we can’t wait.