Ubisoft shocked the gaming world last year when they announced that their annual sandbox history lesson, Assassin’s Creed, was taking the year off. The move was made so that Ubisoft Montreal, the masterminds behind the critically-acclaimed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, could finish up their newest entry without any pressure of meeting a predetermined release date. The extra time seemingly paid off, as Assassin’s Creed Origins is the benefactor of the extra year of development, solidifying itself as another excellent entry in the now-decade long struggle between the Templar Order and the Brotherhood of Assassins.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is just that; an origin story of how the Brotherhood came to be, dating all the way back to Dynastic Egypt, circa 48 BCE. The main character, Bayek, is a Medjay, the Egyptian equivalent to a sheriff or police officer. Bayek is a kind, strong man and father, who treats his fellow man — Egyptian or Greek — like family, but when pushed, he will push back — hard. He’s a great protagonist to build a game around, as Bayek has many layers to what makes him tick, and the player will get a great feel for those layers as the story progresses. Before long, he finds himself embroiled in the schemes of a shadowy group of masked individuals called the Order of the Ancients, who seek to use a mysterious artifact, the Apple of Eden, to open a vault buried deep in the North African desert.
Bayek is pulled into the Order’s plans after being struck by tragedy, and his mission becomes one of vengeance. Throughout the course of his epic journey, players will encounter luminaries from history, like Cleopatra, and he will uphold his duties as Medjay by completing side quests — of which there are a staggering number — for the people of Egypt. The campaign alone is about 30 hours long, and the side quests push that to upwards of 50-60 hours (or more), depending on how involved the player wants to be.
Assassin’s Creed Origins refines many of the things that the series is built on, but the biggest changes come in the form of eagle vision, the controls, and how stats are handled. Eagle Vision, a staple mechanic that lets the player see far and wide while marking various targets, is now done with, well, an eagle. Senu is Bayek’s pet bird, and he can be called at will with a quick press of a button. Senu will fly overhead, highlighting targets and enemies, and he can hover to listen in on conversations and later in the game, even attack enemies. Senu is a welcome addition to the franchise, as the player has full control of where the bird goes, and more importantly, what he sees.
Stats no longer come from equipping certain gear or by leveling, but by crafting certain pieces of gear, like bracers and chest guards, and the gear itself is now measured with rarity, making legendary gear (gold) the best, with rare (purple) and common (blue) following suit. Bayek can collect unlimited weapons and shields, which is welcome, and can equip them immediately after acquiring them from a loot drop or as a reward for completing a mission. Higher level gear cannot be equipped if Bayek is not at the item’s level, and lower level gear can always be upgraded to the player’s level at blacksmiths, if you find a combination of weapons you like.
Developer Ubisoft Montreal wasn’t done there, though. The sprint button has been removed and now running fast is a passive move mapped to the left stick. Bayek has quick access to different melee weapons and different range weapons, as well as various tools, and the player can switch the weapons and tools on the fly by pressing left or right on the D-pad.
Combat, meanwhile, is mapped to the four L and R buttons. The counter move, which was a mainstay in the franchise, has been removed entirely, leaving Bayek to focus on attacking with weapons at hand, and blocking with his shield. This is a drastic change, as the fighting is less about animated, scripted moves and now happens in real time. It’s like a dance of death, for you or them, depending on the player’s skill. A group of enemies can be incredibly bad for Bayek, and running away when the going gets tough is sometimes the only way to avoid de-syncing.
The map is also revamped here. In fact, it’s been removed from the HUD entirely, replaced by an Elder Scrolls-like compass. This is one change that took the most to get used to. I had to use Senu to mark areas and targets, and then bring up the full map from the game menu to get my bearings in the greater world. No matter the changes Ubisoft made in Assassin’s Creed Origins, Senu is by far your most important tool, and learning to use him effectively is paramount.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is more of a sandbox title than any of the previous entries in the series. There are over 30 Northern African locations to explore, and Bayek’s travels will take him from his home town of Siwa, to sprawling Alexandria, to Giza — home of the Pyramids — to Memphis, and all points between. Each location is unique, and the flora and fauna both change, all while keeping that distinct Egyptian flavor. This world is massive and it’s easy to be intimidated by the map as a whole. The story campaign does a great job of moving the action to various locales, and I was free to explore every square inch of the massive map at my discretion, whether the story demanded me to or not.
The land is littered with towns to explore, tombs to raid, enemy camps and forts to clear out, and animals to hunt for materials to craft gear. Gone are the maps full of treasure chests to seek out and other trinkets to collect. Everything in Assassin’s Creed Origins is there for a purpose, and the player will spend less time trying to find these “hidden” distractions and more time focused on Bayek’s quest for vengeance.
When not hunting the masked members of the Order of the Ancients, or completing side quests, Assassin’s Creed Origins gives Bayek plenty of fun distractions to partake in. Chariot races, gladiatorial combat, and even taming wild animals are all things the you can choose to pursue. It seems like I was discovering something new to do each time I booted up the game, and none of it ever felt like a chore — like something I had to do. Ubisoft has made it a point to create such an open world game that the player can dive in and live a second life along the Nile if they are so inclined. I haven’t felt this kind of freedom in an Assassin’s Creed title since Black Flag, and I spent an obscene amount of my life living like a pirate back in 2013. I feel like I can have that same kind of experience in Assassin’s Creed Origins, and that, in itself, is a testimony to the scope of it.
While there is no true online multiplayer mode, the developers were still able to add some multiplayer elements to Assassin’s Creed Origins. Players can snap photos from nearly anywhere in the game, and the photo gets pinned to the spot on the map for other players to check out while exploring. In addition, other players’ dead bodies are scattered around the map, and finding the body triggers a special revenge quest where your Bayek can punish the murderers, earning XP. Race times in the chariot races are also listed on a worldwide leaderboard for all to see and compete against. Community quests are quests that everyone can do in their respective games, and completing them adds to the community pool of points that reward XP and gear upon completion.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is not without its issues, of course. I’ve had instances of game crashes on the PS4 Pro, one of which I could replicate as many times as I wanted, and I’ve seen horses stuck in the air and carts stuck on the sides of buildings. Textures come and go, and while some characters look amazing, others look slightly unfinished. I tend to overlook these type of issues, as the core game and gameplay — and the graphics engine — are all so well done that the occasional glitch is in no way a game breaker. Just know going in that there are some bugs, and I’m not talking about the sun-stroke-induced kind that rain from the skies while traversing the heart of the desert.
There is also the cloud of micro-transactions that hangs over the game. Players can buy powerful weapons, mounts, and “time saver” upgrades with real cash, and that has no bearing on anybody other than the player. These micro-transactions are not necessary to finish the story, and there is some amazingly powerful gear that can be acquired during the journey, making the need to pay extra money solely the discretion of the player.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a triumph for the series. After taking the extra year to focus on making a great game, instead of just “this year’s game,” Ubisoft Montreal has created an Assassin’s Creed for the ages — pun fully intended — one that changes the franchise for the better and sets the series on a new path of what can be achieved in chronicling the conflict between the Order and the Brotherhood.
After a few years of games set in more recent times (Revolutionary France and Industrial Revolution London) Assassin’s Creed Origins proves that you can go back again, and by taking the story to its very origin, players will walk away with a better understanding of the hows and whys of the Brotherhood, and a better feel for why this series is beloved by gamers and historians alike.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which was provided to us.
Assassin's Creed Origins is a triumph, taking the series back to the beginning and allowing players to partake in the genesis of the war between the Templars and the Brotherhood of Assassins.