Assassin’s Creed: Origins Review – Let’s Get Bayek to Business
Assassin's Creed: Origins stumbles telling its story, but nevertheless revolutionizes several mechanics in the series and presents a breathtaking world.
For years the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been the subject of delays, devotion, and non-numeral entries in the series leaving a bad taste in players mouths leaving fans on a constant emotional roller coaster ride. Finally, ten years after the launch of the first game, Assassin’s Creed: Origins makes a meaningful mark on history – a mark that long-standing fans and series newcomers will remember for years to come.
After their success with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the team over at Ubisoft Montreal immediately began work on Assassin’s Creed: Origins. The studio’s genetics are in full view here. From sailing the Egyptian seas to traversing the outrageously expansive open world, I never felt like there wasn’t something to do, or some small crevice to explore and that’s not even counting all of the underwater exploration I didn’t get to do because I ran out of time.
Seriously, the world feels at least twice the size of Black Flag, and all of that space in the game that was open seas has been reimagined as living breathing towns and cities. Everything from ancient Egyptian tombs to the bustling libraries of Alexandria feels alive in some way or another, and the presented spectrum serves to keep you interested while you play. Whereas Black Flag was an incredible and immersive pirate game, Assassin’s Creed: Origins clearly took great aspects from it and improved upon them further to provide players with an authentic Assassin’s Creed experience to rival Assasin’s Creed II.
While the open deserts of Egypt are not the most conducive to parkour – similar to some regions of Black Flag – the moment you reach a bustling Greek city you reap some pleasure out of the dichotomy of the two settings.
Though there are certain aspects that you would expect to change that don’t. The sheer number of people in the cities does not constitute a need for subtlety or assassin-like approaches to gameplay. Even with dozens of citizens and some soldiers in view, I had no trouble dispatching people in the middle of crowded streets. And in this game that can’t be blamed on being a master assassin because Bayek – the game’s protagonist – is not one at first.
Equally important to the game’s setting is its story: Bayek of Siwa finds himself with a long and unkempt beard after months of trying to find justice for events that took place in his past. It’s this base revenge story that propels the game’s narrative and serves as the jumping off point for what eventually concludes with the formation of the Brotherhood of Assassins.
It’s this latter plot line that kept me interested in what was an interesting, yet overall clunky story. While I may have, at times, not known who I was killing, or why another character’s betrayal was so meaningful, the idea that these were the events that had led to the creation of such a memorable and iconic order was enough to pull through its weakest points — most notably the first and third acts.
One of the most influential points of the plot is Bayek’s wife, Aya. You genuinely feel excited to see her when you’ve been away on missions for too long and their chemistry makes sense both in and out of cutscenes. Their relationship can at first be summed up straightforwardly: you kill people, you have sex, you kill people then have sex. She’s a pretty wild spirit.
But this also leads her onto her unique story path that adds conflict to Bayek’s plotline later on, and that tension is really worthwhile. What happens outside of the Animus is also compelling, and the player is given free reign to explore and research the real world as much as they want. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s an aspect of the game that I think the developers pulled off really well and made sure to make it stand out in the series.
At the beginning of the game, I was very confused with the order of things. As you can see in our first 30 minutes of gameplay, Bayek begins as a younger man and Medjay – a protector of the pharaoh and people. The beginning of Assassin’s Creed Origins highlights the start of Bayek’s fight against the Ancient Order. Then, out of nowhere, we see him fighting Medjay’s bodyguard in a different time. Then, just after the prologue, we are suddenly catapulted into the nearby future. In other words, the story starts on shaky grounds, and it takes some investment into the plot to understand where you are in the timeline early on.
While Bayek’s initial mission is simple: hunt down the people responsible for his loss (side note: who all happen to be named after animals, like you’re some homicidal zookeeper). There are cutscenes that take place after each kill that can easily rip you out of the story and leave your disbelief unsuspended. The first time this happened I didn’t even know what was going on. As they became more frequent, however, I realized that the ritual was representative of Ancient Egyptian culture, and that’s always cool.
It’s immediately evident that Ubisoft Montreal spent a lot of time crafting the side missions. Whether it be a murder mystery about a killer who defaces Greek statues or finding out why a young girl is selling counterfeit relics of your homeland, the majority of Assassin’s Creed: Origins‘s side missions tell unique and enthralling narratives that are worth your time.
In fact, the game attempts to show them off really well by making the level requirement for main story quests increase at a faster rate than they give you XP. I found myself continually having to seek outside quests to level up to the recommended level, but I was never annoyed by this because the next story mission was never more than a few side missions away. And, on top of that, each side mission rewarded me with a great story, a fantastic reward, or both. Those who like to keep an organized quest log should be wary though — there was no way to abandon quests in the version I played, leading me to have all the quests I didn’t do pile up in my quest log.
Next, there are several unique activities that you can progress to pass the time. There’s the Hippodrome, a very Ben-Hur style chariot racing arena, and two gladiator arenas with their own sets of bosses and challenges. Both activities have their own multiplayer aspects that allow you to challenge people on your friends list.
While I found these events to be distractions, for the most part, their unique rewards and tied-in side missions added to the experience. In the Hippodrome I had to choose sides in a continually developing conflict between the two warring factions of fans. In the Arena, I needed to help indentured gladiators earn their freedom, and start over in their new lives. The events themselves aren’t that fun – especially in the arena if you forego the Warrior skill tree – but the umbrella experience they provide is, and that’s enough for me.
Speaking of the Warrior tree, Assassin’s Creed: Origins has made several changes to combat and player choices to make the game feel a lot more like an RPG, and for a world of this size that’s much appreciated. There are three skill trees: Seer, Hunter, and Warrior. The Seer tree provides utility tools like sleep darts, animal taming, and smoke bombs; the Hunter tree allows you to equip multiple bows and fire them in slow motion, and the Warrior tree will enable you to overwhelm your opponent with charged attacks and devastating combos.
Each skill within the tree feels rewarding, especially as you begin to unlock the later abilities in each tree, but they’re not as exclusive as other RPG trees are made out to be. I wound up not fully committing to any of the trees and, instead, taking the first few skills from each category. There were some interesting paths that allowed me to find shortcuts through each tree and find a way to play that catered exactly to my tastes.
While the combat has been completely overhauled, I really took joy in spreading a plague with toxic darts and escaping in a puff of smoke with my smoke bombs; however, I imagine that some players might invest heavily in the Warrior tree and forego stealth altogether. The knowledge that playing through the game twice or even three times could result in different experiences speaks to the longevity of the game. There’s a part of me already that wants to replay the game just to be able to dive off of rooftops and fire arrows in slo-mo.
Previous Assasin’s Creed games have always had you mashing button inputs to fend off crowds of enemies, but in Assassin’s Creed Origins, there are hitboxes, shields, and attack combos. That’s not to say that the combat didn’t get repetitive — towards the end of the game it did. However, the option to use different types of weapons, see different kinds of attacks, and even to sometimes be on the defensive really made breaking stealth feel significant. Knowing that if I were spotted in an enemy fort I would have to block and parry attacks from all angles added an extra layer of caution to almost everything I did.
There were several times where I was getting pinned into a corner and I thought I could fight my way out as in previous games, but instead, I was deservingly stun-locked to death in a corner. Bayek, once again, isn’t a master assassin throughout the game and even the combat reminds you of this.
Another RPG element of the game is loot. While you’re exploring Ancient Egypt, you’re always on the lookout for quests or activities that can grant you better gear. There are three rarity levels for everything: mounts, outfits, weapons, shields, and bows. While the legendary weapons, shields, and bows have unique effects – such as allowing you to do 200% more damage but being limited to 33% of your total health –the legendary outfits and mounts don’t provide any meaningful stats. As such you could stick with your basic outfit and first camel for the entirety of the game without a difficulty spike.
Certain legendary pieces of gear are available to purchase through micro-transactions such as the appearance of a mummy warrior, or a set of bows of a high quality. While I didn’t like the idea of being able to pay money to do better in the game, it seems to hardly be the case with Assassin’s Creed Origins. The legendary bows and weapons rewarded to me through quests were much more interesting, both aesthetically and mechanically.
After the story ended and the credits rolled (roughly 30 hours), I found myself looking over the map and still having tons of interesting side quests to do and 15 untouched areas to explore. I really appreciate how much there is to do in the game. Assasin’s Creed: Origins has worthwhile mechanics and a serviceable story, that when placed inside of the expansive and beautifully detailed setting of Ancient Egypt, work together to provide a genuinely fun gaming experience.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins may not be as revolutionary of a release in the open-world, action adventure RPG genre as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but it does provide an expansive single-player experience, filled with hours of memorable content without having to purchase anything extra. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the most memorable entry in the series in years, answering age-old questions like “why are assassins missing their ring fingers?” and is an excellent game to start with if you’re a newcomer. While the story wasn’t consistent in quality throughout the entire game — and I didn’t know what was going on or what the stakes were at times — it culminates in a payoff that any fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise will nerd out about for a long time.
Editor’s Note: Last week, DualShockers was transported and hosted in San Francisco by Ubisoft and got the chance to play Assassin’s Creed: Origins for over 40 hours on the Xbox One X. The build of the game we reviewed the title on had yet to go through stabilization patchwork as well as a now-implemented day-one update.