Assassin’s Creed Origins starts like new all the way from the beginning
Yearly release burnout is a real thing. When you see a studio or publisher pumping out the same game in a different form year after year it’s near impossible to not get bored with it. In the case of Assassin’s Creed, the last universally acclaimed entry came with 2013’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag as it was followed by the bug infested Unity in 2014 and the better, but not amazing, Syndicate in 2015. With a two-year stop gap and a solid amount of development time behind it, Assassin’s Creed Origins is poised to bring the franchise back to heights it hasn’t seen in some time. I spent an hour getting a full hands-on with Assassin’s Creed Origins this past week and while I was admittedly already excited to play the game I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to enjoy myself.
The team behind Black Flag has spent four years bringing Assassin’s Creed Origins to life and that extra year in the development cycle certainly shows. Game Director Ashraf Ismail told me that when the team went to upper management asking Ubisoft to allow them the time they needed to implement some much-needed innovation they were supported without question. It’s also important to note that this was well before the release of Unity so the ratings slump wasn’t in the forefront of their minds. This wasn’t a reactionary decision, it was a sign of a publisher putting faith in their development team and something that other publishers in this business could probably take note of.
I was dropped into the canals of the great Egyptian city of Memphis and before I had the chance to do anything I simply paused to take it all in. This is undoubtedly the best this franchise has ever looked. Ancient Egypt is created in stunning detail from the wilted lower foliage of a palm tree drying in the sun to the heat-baked hieroglyphics covering the stone walls of temples rising in the distance. We were playing on an Xbox One X and you could immediately tell that Ubisoft was intent on leveraging its full power.
“This is undoubtedly the best this franchise has ever looked.”
The mission available to us in the demo, The Lizard’s Mask first sends Bayek to meet with his newly introduced wife, Aya. While you’ll play the game as Bayek (no word on if Aya will ever be playable), the game is clearly centered around the duo. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is no stranger to duos, of course, with Syndicate focused on Jacob and Evie Frye but there’s one thing that Origins is doing very differently this time around and that’s having its stars far more developed than any previous entry. Ezio was young and brash in AC II, Edward Kenway was a scallywag with selfish intentions in Black Flag, and Jacob Frye was a rebel, often working outside the Assassin’s Council’s wishes. Bayek and Aya are already grown adults, responsibility and strong intent weighing heavy on their shoulders. This story won’t be a coming of age journey, instead, we will watch them give birth to the assassins as we know them, lay the groundwork for the entire Brotherhood, and in the short time I was able to play I was compelled to find out more about their story.
Combat has seen a ton of refinement and a major point to note is no longer can you just assassinate whomever you like at will. Incorporating some more RPG-like elements you will level up your character alongside his abilities. Also new to the franchise are loot drops which scratches an itch in the AC series that I never even knew I had. Instead of purchasing weapons from a merchant all the time you will find loot chests or acquire them from fallen enemies. Loot drops wouldn’t be complete without rares and legendaries to chase down and I felt that familiar twinge of satisfaction as I wielded my first rare weapons, a set of twin daggers. Equally familiar was the twinge of jealousy as I watched another player pick up a legendary. Facing off against multiple enemies had me feeling vulnerable but with the dodge mechanic, my shield, my melee weapons, and a quick firing bow I was fully prepared to battle it out. Whereas I’d often felt borderline invincible in past AC games, this combat had me carefully considering my attacks if not running away in sheer terror as I watched my health bar deplete.
The city of Memphis was mine to explore during the demo and while working my way through the Lizard’s Mask quest it didn’t take long for me to be sidetracked into dark tunnels, or attempt to climb various structures along the way. At an initial glance, there looks to be an absolute mountain of extra content from sidequests, hidden areas, and lore to discover. Upon completing the demo quest I rode by horseback into the reaches of the desert to one of Egypt’s famed pyramids. Inside its stone shroud, a puzzle of lifts and pulleys awaited me begging to be solved. I ventured through three rooms, each puzzle providing increasingly valuable loot drops which fed directly into the RPG lover in me. Just one more tomb, just one more puzzle, just one more hunt for treasure.
When my demo time was up I was immediately clamoring for more. A game that was sitting on my peripheral as one to watch has forced its way into the center of my vision as one of the top games on my Fall list. Ancient Egypt is perhaps the aptest setting for an Assassin’s Creed game since Ezio Auditore da Firenze and 15th century Italy and fans should be thrilled to jump back in. Refined combat, addiction fueling progression and what looks to be the purest AC gameplay in four years is on the table and Assassin’s Creed Origins looks to be serving it up hot.