It seems like only yesterday I was playing as Altair, traveling from Masyaf to cities in the Holy land, Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus, to climbing towers and massacring Templars. Now, and in a few months, Assassin’s Creed will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary, and after the whole fiasco of criticisms that surrounded Assassin’s Creed Unity, Origins has a chance to redeem the franchise by adding a fresh coat of paint on to it. Is it successful in doing that, however?
You play as Bayek, a Medjay, who’s basically a sheriff entrusted to protect the people from threats, both local and foreign. As the title suggests, Origins is a prequel, unlike pasts games which pushed the timeline forward. The tale of the story is about how the series’ Brotherhood got together.
Bayek is driven by vengeance to pursue the Order of the Ancients, a faceless organization whose revealing of their identities is the premise of his mission and that of his wife, Aya, who joins him on the adventure.
It is as generic as it gets when it comes to the plotline, but venturing into the open world, solving people’s little story arcs, is the ethos of the game; it’s the adventure and not the destination.
As previous titles go, there is a present-day narrative to further along the lore of the series. It doesn’t really add much interest to the overall plot but it does spark curiosity for fanatic AC fans. For the uninitiated, all you need know is that Abstergo Industries invented a machine called the “Animus” that allows you to tap into the DNA of your ancestors, unlocking secrets from the present.
Ubisoft Montreal has truly captured the essence of ancient Egypt as, undoubtedly, this is a beautiful piece of work. When I started my journey across the winding dunes of sand, I was marveled by the vast deserts that seemed to stretch as far as the eye can see. Stone fields merge to sand planes and torrid soils, marvelous mountains reveal themselves out of limestones and deserts covered with shimmering sand.
The lighting effect that glitters under a muddy lake is a technical achievement that presents a sense of realism. The stonemasonry of Alexandria buildings feels like you are transported across the Mediterranean to Greece. The civilization of the ancient Greeks has immensely influenced the city. Its architecture is distinguished by highly formalized structures and decorations, particularly in the case of temples that have been conceived as monumental entities within the landscape.
There is an elegance to the aesthetic and the proportions of the buildings, especially in regards to the way the light reflects upon their surfaces when viewed from different angles. So much attention has been put on details the likes of how arrows shuffle in the quiver as their numbers dwindle, or how seemingly each sand particle reacts to your horse’s gallop.
Nothing is perfect, however, and there are some unpleasant graphical hitches. Right at the start of the game, for example, you are greeted by choppy shadows, delayed background rendering, and cutscenes that struggle to maintain a consistent 30 fps. Juddering issues also do much to take you away from the cinematic nature of some scenes. Not a good first impression, and frame drops notwithstanding, these issues aren’t frequent enough to soil the general experience.
The facial animation of important characters is fairly detailed, with believable expressions that accurately emote their feelings. Unfortunately, all other characters are drastically overlooked with stiff animations, clumsy hand gestures, and recycled assets that will break your immersion, specifically when your quest giver’s appearance from a couple of minutes ago is mimicked again for your next mission giver.
One of the most improved aspects of the game is the climbing mechanic. In past games, I would accidentally jump to my death while ascending buildings and parkouring around the city. Origins has almost removed this inconsistency, allowing you to scale almost any vertical surface; no more looking for that specific overlay texture that indicates the next ledge to jump to. Think Breath of the Wild without the stamina bar.
As an added touch, the camera zooms out whenever you are scaling immense rocky mountains to give you a sense of wonder and amazement, and once you reach the top, you are greeted with breathtaking sights that glorify the wonders of ancient Egypt’s deserts and dilapidated ruins.
Unlike in most Hollywood movies set in Egypt where everyone has a British accent, these guys actually sound African. The game does a tremendous job at capturing the essence of the location, at times more than any of the past games combined.
As far as music goes, it is cinematic in nature, with a wide variety of native tones and instruments, creating an appropriate soundtrack that enhances your overall experience. When finding yourself lonely in the dunes, and just as total silence creeps upon you, the sounds of the wind blowing and a distant pack of hyenas will place you in the heart of Egypt during that age.
Unlike its predecessors, Assassin’s Creed Origins is an action-RPG; layered with multiple skill tree branches, damage hit points, and equipment with various statistics. The skill tree is broken up into three overlapping branches; Hunter, Warrior, and Seer. The Hunter abilities are tied to Bayek’s archery performance and his eagle, Senu, that can scout ahead for you to spot enemies and points of interest the likes of animals, treasures, and crafting materials.
One of my favorite skills in the game is the one that has you take control of an arrow in midair, maneuvering it around for a deadly headshot from long distances. If you prefer to use brute force instead, focusing on the Warrior branch may be more to your liking. You can increase your combo counter or improve your special shield-breaking techniques when battling some of the tanky foes. You can also go berserk against everyone using an “Overpower combo” that eliminates anyone in sight.
Finally, the Seer abilities pertain to the use of tools and tricks, like smokescreens for a quick getaway. It’s sort of like a rogue class, and definitely the most unique of the three branches. One of my preferred skills in that branch is the flesh-decaying ability, which, when an enemy dies from poison, causes purple clouds to emit from the corpse, poisoning adjacent enemies which in turn damages them over time until they die, emitting their own clouds. You can see how much fun it is to mess around with the AI using this perpetual method. I also love taming lions to have them fighting right beside me; watching my big kitty chomping on my foes brings a big smile to my face.
Bayek can equip two ranged and/or melee weapons at the same time. This feature encourages you to combine different playstyles seamlessly. Equipping a long-Range precision bow, for example, may complement your stealth approach, but if discovered, some foes will rush you aggressively. Switching to a heavy takedown bow like the multiplier shot, basically your shotgun, drops them quickly. You may also find yourself overwhelmed by enemies–equipping a long-range axe for a wider spread damage may prove benefitial for you in such situations.
Origins has also picked up some inspiration from Metal Gear Solid 5 where you get that short window of opportunity to kill whoever spotted you before they raise the alarm or draw more attention to you. It’s a very brief window, and not as forgiving as the default on MGS5, but gives you a little bit of a chance to save your skin.
The combat is completely overhauled–no more waiting to click a single button in order to get that easy-timed counter, or the endlessly repeating kill animations. This time around, you are given a sword, a shield, and a dodge and parry. It makes for a far more organic and engaging system: stepping out of an enemy’s range for a quick counter or risking a parry for high damage.
Though it may lightly clone The Breath of the Wild/Dark Souls combat where your footing and using your space to move in and out of fights with precision are crucial, combat does feel a bit floaty at times, but you will get accustomed to it eventually.
The loot system also makes the combat more vitalizing by having enemies drop new kinds of weapon and trinkets upon their defeat. Each weapon has its own stats, and some of the rare ones will have unique traits too, like restoring some health upon a successful parry, or inflicting bleeding damage with each strike.
Your armor is also upgraded by spending materials, which thankfully are no more than five or so types of resources. Unlike in the Far Cry games, resources aren’t that varied and modfying your gear will not prove to be a grind. Even if you were to find yourself frustrated with the grind, you can buy weapons and gear for dismantling purposes.
You can, of course, spend real money–a practice the industry is reeling from at the moment–to buy “time savers,” the game’s form of microtransactions, “Drachmas,” Origins’ in-game currency, different costumes, resources, or even a super tempting unicorn mount. I mean who wouldn’t want to stroll around the deadly sands as a badass Assassin riding a mystical beast?
But true to their word, I never felt that I needed to spend real money. It is never in your face, and it is not the blatant gambling system we’ve seen, and still do, in other games.
Nomad’s Bazzar, displayed as a blue-shaped camel on your map offers daily missions that if you complete within a given time limit will reward you with powerful weapons. He also sells loot boxes that can be bought with Drachmas, so the loot isn’t exclusively locked behind a premium microtransaction currency.
Because everything you do in the game gives you experience points, every quest becomes worthwhile. There are tons of repeatable quests and missions and as with plenty of modern mainstream open-world games, if you like busywork, Origins has you covered.
There is a plethora of individual side quests with their own little stories which some, to my surprise, were uniquely interesting to complete. Each one has a name, a little backstory, and even a peek at the rewards you’ll receive for completing them.
Almost everything you do is connected to a quest, and I highly recommend you complete all these side missions first because more times than not now, they will send you to a spot that achieves more than one objective, like finding a secret treasure where another quest is completed.
This saves you from a lot of backtracking. There are so many other activities: competing in chariot races at the hippodrome, taking charge of an army and issue orders to them, enter into an amphitheater to participate in gladiatorial contests…I can sit here and talk about all the other things you can so in the game but I would like to keep some for your own discovery.
Ubisoft’s attention to details is breathtaking and presents a truly massive world. This is the comeback they needed to get the franchise back on the horse. Origins brings us the fun factor I love the deeper emphasis on the travel aspect and the open-ended feel to it. The series has improved and hopefully, in the next iteration, we will get a more focused story as I feel that the overall narrative was this game’s one major caveat.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is available for PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC. A review code was made available to us via Ubisoft.