It has been a long two years since I was climbing iconic buildings in my home city of London in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. In those two years the Assassin’s Creed video game series has been placed under various microscopes by both fans and those who became frustrated in the yearly release schedule and Ubisoft finally managed to release a full cinematic film which also received a mixed reception from fans and critics alike. Now celebrating its 10th Anniversary as a series, Assassin’s Creed is looking to reboot and refresh itself and following a full year without a new game, it is finally time to see what Ubisoft has spent the last four years working on and to see where it all began for the Assassin’s Brotherhood. Time to go to Ancient Egypt!
As a fan of the series I will admit the thought of actually seeing where and how the Brotherhood of Assassin’s really began is thrilling. The series has always shown Assassin’s as they either discover their own heritage in the Brotherhood or forced into it by acts of the Templars. The war between the Assassin’s, the defenders of free will and the Templars, who believe that complete domination and control of mankind will lead to peace. The fighting has raged for centuries but the origins of it and of both sides has never been looked out in the series until now.
This time we are introduced to the man who would become the very first Assassin, Bayek who one of the last Medjay, a cast of warriors sworn to protect the people of Egypt from harm. Bayek unwittingly uncovers a shadowy group known as ‘The Order of the Ancients’ which leads to the death of his own son. Fuelled by rage and vengeance, the game catches up with Bayek one year after he began his personal mission of revenges as he closes in on the person he believes is responsible but it only serves to open a whole new startling world for Bayek which will see him come into the paths of iconic historical figures Celopatra and Julia Caeser as the plot thickens and the people of Egypt are placed in danger.
The first thing that struck me was just how absolutely stunning and beautiful the visuals are in Origins from the lighting to character models and how impressive the world of Egypt has been recreated for this game. The opening section which sees Bayek navigating through an old tomb stopped me in my tracks just to take in the lighting and detailing on the surroundings. This only becomes more staggering once you actually step foot into the world itself and take in everything around you as you see the pyramids on the horizon and ride over the sand dunes of the desert before finding settlements and towns as you travel. It is perhaps one of the most visually captivating game worlds I have ever experienced and for the series itself, showcases just how it has evolved from Syndicate which recreated London as a massive playground but in Origins, it is an entire country almost that has been made rather than just one huge city.
Thankfully this neatly brings me into what else has really changed in Origins making it very different from previous Assassin’s Creed games starting with the biggest change, true freedom of exploration in the world. It is very clear and unsurprising to learn that Ubisoft has taken inspiration from The Witcher 3 in its approach to Origins which has become an open world RPG action title really for the first time. The world itself is massive and when I say massive I mean ridiculously huge compared to previous games. As Bayek you absolutely get the sense that you are exploring a country and not just visiting cities to explore and the open world aspect brings this to life like never before. Players are free to explore the entire map as they choose and can either follow the main story-line of quests or picking up side quests as they go. The only attempt to hold players back from exploring comes in the enemy levels which in certain regions can be crazy high compared to Bayek at the beginning but the game will give a fair warning and indication of these enemies by highlighting them with a red skull which means “mess with this lot and you are going to die horribly” so you know whether Bayek is ready to take them on or not. There is something about calling your mount and just heading towards a distant point on the horizon or location on the map and just riding there, taking in the world as you travel. To tempt players into exploring further, the map will be dotted with ‘?’ markers to encourage you to go explore what it might be which could be anything from an enemy camp to an animals lair or settlement. Due to the freedom the game allows players to just go exploring outside of the main campaign, you can spend hours literally just wandering about doing side stuff and when I say hours, I spent almost ten hours in the opening area of Sinwa alone, and that is just the prologue area.
The world just keeps throwing things at you to do which is especially showcased in the amount of side quests on offer either given by random people you meet whilst exploring or part of a side story following the completion of a main story quest. What is remarkable is just how fleshed out these side quests can be, each with a dialogue cut-scene setting out what Bayek is being asked to do. The diversity of the side quests is hugely gratifying to see as you can clearly see the efforts taken to stop them from being repetitious or to be seen as pointless. Each one has meat to them and though some are the traditional ‘go here and kill this person for me’ vengeance missions, often these quests will require some investigation to get to the truth of the matter and they all serve to bring this ancient world to life with some dealing with the people’s belief in Gods and how key this religion was to their way of life. But it also goes a long way to highlight aspects to Bayek as a Medjay and protector of the people and Egypt. Serving as a Sheriff of sorts, Bayek feels responsible for not only keeping the people safe but in protecting the very way of life of Egypt.
Combat has also been refreshed with a move again to a very Witcher 3 style of fighting now. Instead of the usual waiting for an enemy to attack so you can just counter them, the focus has shifted to actual combat with light and heavy attacks using the right bumper and trigger now to create combos with melee weapons. Bayek can use a whole arsenal of different weapons from swords, axes and maces to long reach weapons such as spears. Each weapon as their own style and with the new combo chain system, putting your own spin on combos in battle can yield devastating attacks. Enemies are also far more cunning and can attack as a group with both melee and ranged fire from arrows now, which thanks to the shield Bayek carries, can be defended against. The combat certainly feels new and exciting whether its fighting on the ground or on horse/camel and Bayek is a very capable and skilled fighter which makes it all very satisfying especially when you start to fine tune which weapons you prefer to use.
This is then further enhanced by the skill tree, which breaks Bayek’s skill-set into three groups of Hunter, Warrior and Seeker. Each time Bayek levels up he will become stronger but will also earn ability points to spend on skills to enhance his skill set to either boost his capabilities further or to add new skills. The fact that everything you do in the game gives you XP also helps tremendously from finding new locations as you explore, to combat and completing side and main quests so levelling Bayek up is very natural and never really feels like grinding. Even when you have Bayek up to his maximum level of 40 the XP keeps on coming and simply becomes a way of gaining new ability points to spend. The gear that Bayek wears can be upgraded as well via the refined crafting system which makes them stronger and to those familiar with Destiny, may look very familiar.
As you can see, items are now colour coded into tiers with blue items being common, purple to indicate rare and gold to show legendary tier weapons and gear. In terms of weapons, these can be found from fallen enemies, found from loot or rewards from quests. Blacksmiths can be used to upgrade a weapon to Bayek’s level so say you found a rare spear that you like but it has a level 20 rating and your Bayek is currently level 30, you can pay a blacksmith to raise that weapon’s level to match Bayek. Higher quality weapons can have additional buffs such as causing bleeding or poison, which at first feels very strange for an Assassin’s Creed title but in some fights it is certainly helpful. Bayek’s own personal gear can be upgraded via crafting where gathering materials from looting or hunting can be used to upgrade the gear such as the chest plate to increase health and damage protection to the braces Bayek wears with the left helping his archery whilst the right helps increases melee weapon damage. Believe me when I say that upgraded these to their max levels takes time which is why having just so much content to work through alongside the main story is all there to help players do just that and as a result, the world of Egypt in Origins is just so immersive with everything you are asked to do or just choose to do being a benefit to Bayek. There is also a price for using the Legendary items as well as these are the most expensive to upgrade once found and whilst they truly help Bayek in combat, having to spend 4,5 or 6K in gold to bring them to your current level will take time to do so my tip is to simply get Bayek up to a level where the price of bringing those legendary items a further 5 or 10 levels to match him makes the cost more worthwhile.
The strange thing about Origins is that whilst so much of it now feels new and fresh, it is fair to say that just as much feels similar from the series so far. Stealth works in the same way as does finding vantage points to synchronize with the map and to serve as fast travel points. There is still a modern day story-line which has a new protagonist entering an Animus to relive the genetic memories of Bayek but this is really best experienced via the game which is something Ubisoft made a point of by not showing or talking about anything modern day in the story, something I can fully appreciate as a fan of the series because learning about the modern day side has its own surprises and twists which is definitely best left for the player to discover. Despite all the changes, Origins feels every bit an Assassin’s Creed title, and it has so many wonderful nods to the series just because it really is serving as an origin story as to how the Assassin’s were formed. The story telling can be subtle in delivery but can also dramatically thrust that story upon the player which is why the superb voice acting brings the cast of characters to life. All the changes that Ubisoft has made based on player feedback and their own choices have led to evolution for the series with Origins and the real challenge for them now will be how you replicate this going forward for the series.
When I looked at the time stamp of my save file and saw it had hit 66 hours with the map full of side quests and ‘?’s still to explore even with Bayek fully upgraded and leveled up, I took a moment to just appreciate how far Assassin’s Creed has come in its ten year life. Origins pays tribute to all the games that have come before it and celebrates the series by yet again, striving to take it to a whole new level both for fans of the series and for potential newcomers to it. The new spin on gameplay and move to a more open world action RPG are a success for me, with the self awareness of acknowledging that the series needed to change in order to evolve for a new generation of players. But it keeps to its core elements and at no time does it sacrifice or forget that has brought the series to this point after a decade of games, instead it brings everything that fans enjoyed and updates them whilst offering a new way to tell an old story. The amount of things to do in this game is mind blowing for just the base game and with more content coming in DLC post launch, Ubisoft has certainly taken the inspirations it has from other games and spent 4 years crafting the best player experience since Assassin’s Creed II.
Bayek has the charm of Ezio but the fury of Connor and his own code and morality becoming the backbone and foundation of the Assassins can be felt in all the previous Assassins that fans and I personally, came to appreciate. Origins rewrites the blueprint for what an Assassin’s Creed game can and should be and has really gone all out to give such an immersive experience that for me just shows the future is still bright for this game series. To know where it all began is rewarding as a fan but as a player, just experiencing the best that this series can do with the gameplay and world setting is gratifying.
Though Assassin’s Creed II will always have a place in my top five games of all time, Assassin’s Creed Origins has revitalized the series once again and showed me that anything is possible both in this series and in gaming.