Assassin’s Creed Origins was a big surprise. Ubisoft breathed life into what was a tired, stale franchise using strong characters to drive a meaningful narrative that showed the humble beginnings of the assassins we have been playing as for so long. Besides Bayek’s character a big part of what makes Origins work is a dedication to world building and bringing Egypt alive as a living world with its own culture and religion. While we got to see a little of the mythology of the time, it felt like a fairly unexplored section of the game, considering how often Bayek and those around him mention gods, rituals and the like. The Curse of the Pharaohs changes that.
A piece of Eden
The second DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins reminds me a lot of the main game: a strong story with multiple quests all coming together for a single narrative. Only this time the targets you must kill are already dead and unless you can lift the curse, they just come back. For some reason the old Pharaohs walk the Earth once more, coming out of their tombs in the Valley of the Kings. It is up to Bayek to discover why the dead walk and he suspects only one thing is powerful enough to cause this to happen: another relic must be found and hidden forever.
Going further up the Nile to Thebes is a treat. After the previous expansion took us to the biggest quarry in Egypt it is time to see a city built almost expressly devoted to the gods. Thebes stretches out on the side of the Nile, massive temple complexes dwarfing anything you have seen previously in the game. One temple is by my estimate 500 metres long. That is a lot of temple. The temples here are all based on death, the afterlife, looking after the dead and the Pharaohs of old, with the famous Valley of the Kings on the other side of the Nile. This barren piece of land was turned into a land of crypts and burial chambers, with the hope that having all them in one place with guards and threats of curses would keep the tombs intact. Sadly this didn’t work out well and most of the tombs there have been raided multiple times over the years, but some secrets are still hiding inside.
Bayek has to discover who has a new relic and how it fits into the mythology and history of Ancient Egypt. Who was a god and who just used a relic? Did the mighty rulers of ancient times use the relic to achieve their amazing results, and why did it disappear for thousands of years only to come back now? The new DLC gives you six new regions to explore and increases the level cap by 10. Besides gaining more powerful weapons, Bayek can also upgrade his bracers and armour with star metal that he finds hidden away in temples and where meteors hit the ground. I would say where they hit the Earth, but there are a few locations that don’t seem to be of this world and you will have to fight the soldiers of Anubis himself this time around.
Beyond the veil
Without spoiling too much, Bayek ends up going through the veil to the afterlife, seeing the places where souls go when they make their journey after death. With a polytheistic belief system there is more than one place to go (with each the size of a quest region) and exploring these duats and doing quests there is satisfying thanks to the attention to detail and absolute otherworldly nature of these places. The first place you visit is surrounded by fields of golden wheat and triremes sail through this wheat from place to place. An eclipse happens fairly regularly here, but the sky doesn’t darken, it just shines some of the nicest god rays you have ever seen. It looks fantastical but still grounded in Egyptian values and their reality with normal buildings sitting in this place where Anubian soldiers oversee people making bread and giant scorpions wander the outskirts.
Where Curse of the Pharaohs falls flat though, is the boss fights. While the combat in ACO is stellar, fighting the undead former rulers of the kingdoms is a royal pain. You can’t use your stealth and are stuck in a one on one arena fight with enemies with massive health bars that can almost kill you with a single hit. Sure many other games have boss fights like this, but it feels out of place after you have had so many fights that can be circumvented with stealth. It reminds me of the fights with the glitch events or the elephants where you spend most of your time hitting with ranged attacks, kiting out of the way while trying to set them on fire and build up your overpower gauge to do some damage. Some might enjoy the challenge but I found that even with max level armour the enemies treat you like you are made of wet tissue paper. It is probably the weakest part of the DLC and I wish these fights were done so that you could use stealth skills and fall back or something else than dodging a lot and shooting a hundred arrows into a big meaty cushion.
Where Curse of the Pharaohs falls flat though, is the boss fights. While the combat in ACO is stellar, fighting the undead former rulers of the kingdoms is a royal pain.
Bayek’s journey through Thebes, seeing the Valley of the Kings for the first time and exploring some massive temples and guarded complexes stand out well above the boss fights though, and the characters you meet show that there is more afoot in the world than just Templar and Assassin action and that sometimes people just do things because they can or they feel they must. In games that are focussed so heavily on protagonist and antagonist groups, it feels good to see some free agents in the world and not everything fitting into some grand conspiracy plot. It feels like a reminder that Assassin’s Creed is growing up and Origins wasn’t just a fluke. If you like the idea of a bit of mystery, some otherworldly adventures and exploring the resting place of some of Egypt’s finest rulers, you shouldn’t miss out on this. Or just spend more time with Bayek, I signed up for that without hesitation.