Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that, surprisingly, hasn’t been around all that long. It’s only a decade old, yet feels so much older considering how many entries Ubisoft has cranked out over the years. The titles have ranged from amazing (Assassin’s Creed II and Black Flag) to mediocre (Assassin’s Creed and Revelations) to downright disappointing (Assassin’s Creed III and Unity). Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that hit its peak back in 2013 and desperately needs a reboot to get back on track. Enter Assassin’s Creed: Origins. In development for four years, Ubisoft finally unveiled and put Assassin’s Creed: Origins in our hands at E3 2017. Is this the overhaul the franchise needed?
Assassin’s Creed: Origins doesn’t continue the story of the Brotherhood in the traditional sense. While each game (asides from Black Flag, which historically took place before III) has continued to push towards the modern era with it’s setting, Origins goes back to the very beginning. Set in Egypt in 49 BCE, Origins follows Bayek, the last of the Medjay and focuses on the formation of the Assassin Brotherhood. Along the way, players will encounter historical figures such as Cleopatra.
Upon being set loose in the Faiyum region, it’s abundantly clear why Ubisoft was so keen on picking Egypt as the setting. It’s a vast country with unique biodiversity. Faiyum is one of the regions players will explore, but highlights the strengths of the setting. Situated alongside the Nile River, Faiyum is home to a menagerie of different plants, animals, and people. Exploration is still an essential component of the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Bayek being able to take on all types of quests as he explores the region.
The inclusion of the Nile also brings back naval combat and exploration. Though it won’t be as grandiose as naval battles in Black Flag (those types of ships and weaponry hadn’t been invented yet), it still felt good to hop in a boat and explore the world’s greatest river. Bayek is also able to dive below the water and explore the depths. Be wary though, as crocodiles and hippos aren’t afraid to maul you should you get too close.
While the types of quests and exploration players will perform in Origins isn’t too different from previous Assassin’s Creed games, the various game mechanics have changed dramatically. Eagle Vision has been replaced by Senu, Bayek’s eagle. Much like the owl in Far Cry Primal, Bayek can call Senu and use him to tag enemies from the sky. Senu can also be used to attack unsuspecting guards.
Combat is perhaps the biggest and most shocking change. Previous games relied heavily on a parry-and-counter system that looked stylish but got old. Origins switches things up, adopting a system similar to what we’d see in Dark Souls, but without the high difficulty. Light attacks are mapped to the right shoulder button and heavy attacks to the right trigger. While there is still a parry button, it requires precise timing to execute properly. Most of your time defending will likely be evading (Square/X) and studying enemy attack patterns. This new system isn’t anywhere as fluid or cool looking as past Assassin’s Creed games, but it does keep the player more engaged.
Origins also takes a page out of Destiny’s book by utilizing a color-coded RNG loot system. Throughout the game, players can unlock and equip Common, Rare, Legendary, and Epic loot. While harmless on the surface, there’s the dangerous potential that this loot system will pave the way for microtransactions to infest the game. Previous Assassin’s Creed games worked just fine without an RNG loot system, so the only real reason to include this mechanic is probably to wrangle extra cash out of players.
The only mechanic that hasn’t been overhauled is the platforming, which is the mechanic that needed the most fine-tuning. During our time with Origins, the platforming was the single greatest issue. Much like previous titles, Bayek can easily get hung on objects in the environment, fail to climb an object that looks climbable, or leap in a direction the player did not intend. These are problems that have plagued the franchise since the first game in 2007, and it’s extremely disappointing to see that, ten years later, they still exist.
Graphically, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a leap over what we saw in Syndicate. Running on an Xbox One X, Origins utilizes a dynamic resolution capable of hitting 4K through checkerboarding. When seen in motion running on a 4KTV, Origins’ Egypt is stunning to look at. Not all is amazing, though. While the amount of detail in the world is spectacular, individual character models and textures appear less detailed. It’s a bit jarring to see how much detail has gone into the world and animals, and how little has gone into the humans. Ubisoft also declined to discuss how the game will perform on PS4 Pro.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Assassin’s Creed: Origins, such as what’s going on in the present-day storyline or what’s happening with multiplayer. What we do know is that Origins is shaping up to be the overhaul the series desperately needs. It’s not all quite there yet; platforming still needs a lot of attention and human NPCs are still looking rough. With a refreshing setting, enhanced combat mechanics and increased graphical fidelity, though, Assassin’s Creed may have bought itself a new lease on life.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is out October 27 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.