Assassin’s Creed is back. No, I don’t mean that in reference to the year break we had from the franchise, I mean that this is the return to glory you have been hoping for. With fans and critics complaining about a paint by numbers feel to the later AC games, a lack of polish and worlds full of clutter, AC needed a break. It seems that it paid off.
One of the defining differences between having clutter or an interesting busy world is that in the former there is often a lot of stuff you have to do. In Assassin’s Creed Origins there is so much that you want to do.
One of the defining differences between having clutter or an interesting busy world is that in the former there is often a lot of stuff you have to do. In Assassin’s Creed Origins there is so much that you want to do. Everything from the big assassination targets to just clearing out a military encampment is worth your while and offers something juicy to keep you heading toward the next one. Be it a great vista, a moving quest about a child missing his father, spelunking in ancient tombs or sneaking around a military outpost slowly dropping soldiers while filling your pockets, Origins is satisfying. I no longer climb up to a high point to synchronise because I have to, I do it because the amazing view, fast travel point and upgrading Senu’s perception ability are compelling enough reasons to do so.
Quests for assassinations are a lot more interesting than some of the paint by numbers options we saw before in Assassin’s Creed. As a Medjay, a protector of the people, you spend a lot of time with the people who are suffering under the oppressive evil that has gripped Egypt. Bayek spends time with those who cannot fight their own way out, in their homes, with their children. His large heart goes out to these people and he tries to make things better for them, rather than just cutting a bloody swathe wherever he goes. Well, he still does that, but when he isn’t killing bandits, tyrants, corrupt priests and poisonous merchants, he is playing games with children, helping someone pass into the afterlife with dignity or investigating crime scenes or things the locals believe to be cursed by the gods. Bayek feels like a father figure to almost everyone, sure of his abilities, good with children but stern when needed. His grin flashes as often as his steel and following his story has been a treat to experience.
Bayek works to uncover some very unsavoury people who are profiting off of oppressed Egyptians. Many of these people work in secret, using an alias and a mask to hide their identities. Sometimes these foes have underlings that can be tracked down to learn more or weaken a stranglehold, while other times it is the information you glean from investigations that eventually reveals the enemy lurking in the shadows. There are often side quests to try stop or heal some of the damage done to a town or city, but you don’t really need to sit and do them if you don’t want to. As long as you are high enough level to take on the quest, you can skip these if you want, but often the quest itself is worth doing. They offer insight into the lives of ancient Egyptians, their customs, religion and way of life. They also give you more time to see Bayek be a protector and he wears that role like he was born to it.
A full-blown RPG
Origins opted for the full RPG route, introducing a complete inventory of weapons with stats as well as a levelling system. Every weapon you pick up has a level, stats, rarity and some special modifiers to how it behaves in combat, making finding the perfect weapon a game long process. Rarer equipment offers extra modifiers, like shields that improve your resistance to damage from ranged attacks, or a spear that gives you extra adrenaline. Exploring the map now has a layer of interest thanks to the way your level is tied to your health and damage dealt. Find an outpost with people three levels above you? Well, I have bad news for you, you are about to die if you get spotted. Chances are your assassinations will become stealth attacks, taking a good chunk of health from a foe, but not killing them, at which point they will chop you up as if you are made of wet papyrus.
If you find a weapon you really like because it suits your combat style or just looks so badass when Bayek brutally kills someone, then you can hang onto it. Blacksmiths can upgrade weapons up to your current level for a sum of gold, meaning no piece of gear that you find is worthless, even when exploring areas that you have levelled above and beyond. With higher rarity weapons this can drain your drachma balance pretty quickly, so the quest to find better loot continues as you raid every camp, every outpost for loot chests.
While the game introduces a lot to get a handle on, many of the systems are without clutter. Yes, you have to upgrade your armour and hidden blade with resources you find in the world, but unlike the systems of Far Cry, materials fall into broader categories. Hyenas and buck all drop light leather, while crocodiles and hippos have hardened leather and all the big cats drop pelts. These upgrades are vital, as they improve your health, damage, carrying capacity and the amount of damage your hidden blade does. Nothing hurts more than trying to assassinate someone and only hurting them really badly.
Speaking of assassinations and changes, the biggest change is in how the game handles combat. Gone is the system where enemies queue up to fight you one on one of previous Assassin’s Creed games. These enemies fight to win and some of them fight dirty. Enemies on horseback will dart out of range and pepper you with arrows and the enemy has no qualms about ganging up on you. Combat takes a long time to master and being outnumbered is a great way to die quickly, especially when the heavily shielded enemies come out to overpower you. This means the more enemies you can kill while being stealthy, or quickly dispatching a smaller group before the alarm is raised, the better your chances of taking down an entire fort. Changing the weapons to a physics-based combat system means that weapons that attack in large arcs will hit multiple enemies, but you might leave yourself open to attacks. Bayek can fight with a variety of two-handers, dual-wielding knives, a spear, swords, sceptre and a shield. Each weapon has its pros and cons, its moment to shine or be put away and discovering their myriad uses is part of the fun. As is watching all the brutal ways that Bayek eviscerates his opponents. He is a whirling dervish of death, impaling, crushing and slicing his foes with cruel efficiency.
Even though the story is set in Ancient Egypt, it is easy to forget how old Egypt really is. Next to the new freshly built houses sits temples and ruins from thousands of years before. Some of these have been lost to the ravages of time or nature and these ruins, from the pyramids to smaller crypts, offer some amazing tomb raiding fun. These missions often involve limited or no combat, focusing on you acquiring some loot and hidden knowledge. The change of pace, the moving to confined spaces and some light environmental puzzles makes you feel like you are in something older, somewhere unseen by many. In these tombs are letters from those interred there, or messages of who the building honours. These bits of writing are completely unrelated to the game’s plot, to the puzzles in the immediate area, but they just add to the feeling of a living world that has been put together with love and a lot of research.
Walking in Memphis
Egypt itself is amazing to look at and just watch people go about their days, or the technology and activities being performed by the people. You can tell that a lot of effort has gone into making this game feel like Egypt, from Egyptian accents, language, turns of phrase and the way the cities are built. This isn’t just a clump of buildings around a taller one: these are where the people came to worship one of their gods, the offerings are kept in that room and the priest stays in that one. Nearby is an embalming temple, preparing the dead for the afterlife, with mourners gathered in small groups. Details like this are present all over the game, making for believable cities and villages that you remember visiting because they aren’t just carbon copies of a few houses and storerooms.
This game has reminded me of a fascination I had with Egpyt in high school when I discovered the tombs, religion and way of life in Wilbur Smith’s River God.
Finding your way around is a treat as Egypt is not a barren land just made up of a desert. From fertile floodplains to dangerous cliffs, the pyramids and tombs of Giza, from Egyptian cities to Greek ones, there is such a rich variety of colours, shapes and beauty to explore. This game has reminded me of a fascination I had with Egpyt in high school when I discovered the tombs, religion and way of life in Wilbur Smith’s River God. The culture is pervaded by its religion and this game doesn’t hesitate to dive into the mysticism, rituals, daily life and so much more. Get ready to learn so much about Egypt as you explore and dive into this rich, beautiful world.
It feels like Assassin’s Creed took some time to reflect, to think about what exactly they want in a game and what works in other good open world titles. While playing the game I jokingly started calling it Witcher’s Creed while thinking about what to write about it, and that has stuck with me. Interesting quests, complex enemies and character ambitions and opinions, and impressive world-building are evident from the opening moments all the way to the ending and beyond. This isn’t only important because it shows the beginnings of our favourite group of robed, hidden-blade wielding assassins. This is important because Assassin’s Creed is back in a big way and it is impressive and enjoyable. In a genre where other open world games have shown that exploration can be fun and a world that wants to be played with and enjoyed, it is good to see AC back in the ring. Often when writing about a game one wants to go back and play it instead, but in this case, I am torn because there is so much worth praising in this game, but so much that should also be left to unearth from the sands by yourself.