Like many others, I was getting tired of Assassin’s Creed. Starting with 2, I bought every single entry on release up until Unity, which most can agree is where things started to fall apart. The formula was growing tiresome and predictable, and it certainly didn’t help that this was an annual franchise. However, I knew things would be different with Assassin’s Creed Origins.
Last year, the world did not see an Assassin’s Creed game. Ubisoft thought it would be wise to take an extra year to reexamine what makes the series special and how to capitalize on it. I don’t know exactly how they did it, but it paid off.
As the title implies, Origins tells the story of the Assassin Brotherhood’s beginnings in Egypt, the year 49 BCE. You play as Bayek, a Medjay whose sole purpose is to protect the people and the Pharaoh. After he and his wife Aya-whom you also play as in some segments- lose their son, they work to fight back the forces that killed him. By taking down Egypt’s corrupt leaders one by one. As a protagonist, Bayek is as honorable as he is brutal, and his wife is no different, making their chemistry perfect. The story is also as elaborate and detailed as previous entries have been, with just enough motive to keep you playing. There are still present-day segments, but they are not nearly as intrusive as they used to be. Matter of fact, you’re able to leave the Animus (that would be the machine that simulates the past, for the uninitiated assassins) any time to you please to play as Layla, who is exploring an Egyptian cavern to uncover the secrets of Bayek and Aya.
Right off the bat, Origins feels unfamiliar in the best way. Starting with a fight to introduce you to the feature that’s changed the most: combat. The right shoulder button is for light attacks, right trigger for strong attacks/shield breaks, left shoulder to block, and the left trigger to aim your bow. No longer do you press the counter button to win, fighting now takes skill and practice. The closest thing this game has to a counter is deflecting, which stuns opponents and leaves them vulnerable to attack. I’ve messed up this move more times than not, but it’s extremely gratifying once you get it down. This change in combat from the ground up was arguably the most necessary change Assassin’s Creed needed, but they didn’t stop there.
Make no mistake, this is still Assassin’s Creed. Climbing large structures, wandering city streets, and leaping off high buildings are expected in these sort of games. However, veterans may be stunned to notice that there is no longer a mini-map, no button promps, and that Eagle Vision has been replaced by LITERAL EAGLE VISION. Bayek has an eagle companion named Senu, who you can control to scout for enemies, treasure, and points of interest. It’s a better alternative to simply pressing a button that automatically displays every enemy in the area, since it actually takes some effort to find what you’re looking for.
Perhaps what I like most about Origins is the way it handles quests and activities. Marked on the dauntingly huge map are question marks, usually revealing a thief hideout, base camp, animal lair, or tomb once you get close to them. The hideouts and camps are pretty bland since all you have to do in them is take out the leader, steal the treasure, rinse and repeat. Tombs on the other hand keep things interesting. You’ll navigate tight corridors, encountering Zelda-like puzzles to discover ancient secrets and artifacts that reward you with riches and weapons.
Sidequests are handled the best in this game than any previous entry. Once you started a mission in other games, you were stuck in that mission and were desynchronized if you left. That is no longer the case in Origins; you are welcome to stay or leave as you see fit. You can even accept multiple quests at a time and save them for later, like you would a typical action-RPG like Fallout or The Witcher. The stories and the way they are presented in these sidequests also remind me of the aforementioned games (especially the Witcher), which I am not used to seeing in Assassin’s Creed. As a big fan of The Witcher, anyone that takes inspiration from that series and does it well is alright in my book.
Even though I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how much I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed Origins, there are still flaws that prevent me from giving a perfect score. Mostly the glitches I’ve come across and the laughable AI. The glitches I’ve encountered are mostly nitpicks as they’ve been visual and not game-breaking. Though, the AI (in traditional AC fashion) continues to be inconsistent. Enemies either know where you are at all times, or just stand there aimlessly waiting to get their heads chopped off.
From a tech standpoint, the game’s optimization on the AnvilNext 2.0 Engine is passable on the standard PS4. Framerate occasionally dips, especially during cutscenes, but it could be worse (looking at you, AC Unity).
I still have a lot left to complete in this game, but I can say for sure that Assassin’s Creed Origins is a huge step in the right direction for the franchise. While certainly not perfect and victim to some flaws which plagued previous games, Origins just does so much more right that I am eager to go back for more. I know quite a few former fans that were burned by this series at some point or another, and to them I say: now is the time to step back into the Animus.