Straight out of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and into Origins. The re-imagining of the franchise, kind of.
25 hours in already, and it looks like I’m approximately half way through. Damn, this new Assassin’s Creed isn’t messing about!
Set in Egypt, at the time of Cleopatra and the Greeks starting to muscle-in, you play Bayek, a Medjay (a kind of ancient special forces/police for the pharaoh). Having suffered great tragedy, you’re out to seek revenge on the people that caused it.
It’s kinda cool to let go of all the Assassin/Templar baggage, even though narratively-speaking, it so far seems pretty similar. Me, against an order that is essentially taking over the running of the country.
I’d expected a complete departure from the formula of Assassin’s Creed games, based on reviews and some gameplay videos. And whilst that’s true in some aspects, I’m really pleased that it holds on to the “feel” of those games. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s no mistaking it, Origins is 100% Assassin’s Creed.
Origins means all change
As much as it feels the same, this is a fresh take on the series. Movement and combat have changed, RPG elements have been added in significant ways. The map is a much bigger sandbox than ever before.
I found my first few hours had me still holding down the right-trigger to run, like in Syndicate. But that’s no longer a thing. The “A” to climb up, and “B” to climb down buttons system is still here, but, you automatically run now. It sounds insignificant, but coming straight out of Syndicate meant I was acutely aware of these differences.
Combat is no longer a counter attack fiesta. It’s much more loose, and you’re heavily reliant on dodging. You build up adrenaline, and this basically acts as a “special” meter. Once full, you only RB + RT to either unleash a powerful attack, or have a few seconds to hammer away with regular attacks, doing increased damage. This is weapon dependent.
You have a nice selection of weapons to choose from, and variations on each type of weapon, too. Plus, you’re always dropping higher-level, increased rarity versions too. Origins has very much gone down the route of a loot game, in that respect. That’s no bad thing, because you’re able to tailor your build a little, and have different perks etc.
Multiple types of bow, with significantly different fire rates and styles, is really nice. Damn, if I don’t love a predator bow, though. Especially with the unlocked perk to actually control your arrows!
Abilities and XP aren’t new to Assassin’s Creed, but in Origins, there’s a proper skill tree, and the opportunity to focus on a specific build, to suit your play style. I was a little disheartened to see that there’s nothing specific in terms of a “stealth” tree. But the perks and upgrades to Senu, archery and tools, all work nicely enough to make up for it.
Senu (apparently Egyptian for “companion”), is your eagle companion. With eagles being so intrinsic to Assassin’s Creed, it makes sense (Eagle vision, the Eagle cry when you do a leap of faith etc). More than just a bird that follows you about, you use Senu in the same way that you use a drone in Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
I had my reservations about the Senu mechanics in Origins. Feeling like it might take away from the tone, or perhaps make it too easy? I was wrong. Senu is a great addition. Being able to fly around the massive world map and literally get a birds-eye view of things, and tag enemies, treasure etc. It works really nicely, and makes approaching and clearing an enemy base/camp, really satisfying.
Overall, I’m really enjoying Origins as it stands. However, there are a couple of bits that make me feel less like an assassin, and more like a mercenary/soldier. That’s arguably fine, because, well this is the origin story of the Assassins, so the “rules” aren’t there yet?
The first, and biggest gripe is the fact that the difference between myself and an enemy a couple of levels higher, is significant. To the point where, if I go to assassinate someone and they’re a couple of levels higher, it’s likely that I can’t just sneak in and use my hidden blade. Instead, I’ll end up taking maybe half their health off, and engaging in a massive fight.
I understand that the levels are there to maintain an element of challenge, and reward, throughout the game. But you’re an assassin in an Assassin’s Creed game……stealthily sneaking in, murdering your target and getting out again, is the fundamental mechanic of the whole series.
Further to that, getting levelled up to do the next main story mission is a bit of a ball-ache when it’s so forced. I have no qualms dipping into side-quests and picking up bits on the map at my own leisure. Being forced to, to make sure I can follow through on the story is a bit jarring, though.
Origins’ Egypt map is vast and full of things to do. I like that I get to see a lot of it and that the side stuff is relatively in-depth, and there are loads of side stories to see through. Forcing it on me makes it feel like a chore, though.
Balancing between going more “RPG” and maintaining the core elements of being an Assassin’s Creed game can’t be easy, and it’s done very well here. Loosen-up on the level-gating and it would really smooth-out the experience a bit.
Looks good, sounds great
Origins is 100% an improvement on the original series of games. Graphically, it looks wonderful. Sun-drenched waters, dusky towns and cities. The lighting and textures here are really very good.
Considering the size of the map, the attention to detail, the aesthetic differences between areas and even the npc models are pretty good. With more attention paid to the key characters that end up in a lot of cut-scenes.
Bayek and Aya in particular, look great. The motion capture here is great. Very fluid movement of Bayek, and the enemies have nice tells in their attack patterns etc.
Voice acting is decent, and I particularly enjoy Bayek engaging with people. Sometimes with some ham-fisted humour and ropey one-liners. It does a decent job all around, and I feel pretty motivated on behalf of Bayek, and engaged with his story enough to want to see it through.
The music and general hustle and bustle around the world is arguable the star of the show. It isn’t a secret that the Assassin’s Creed scores have been above par for quite some time. Origins is no different. A blend of quite modern electronic sounds with traditional eastern music. Always setting the tone appropriately, and sometimes really hitting you at the right times.
Egypt looks and feels alive. It sounds like a genuinely lived-in, busy world. Exploring it is a pleasure. The crocodiles snapping at you as you sail around rivers. The chit-chat of people going about their lives, and bustling market places.
I’ve always felt that audio was a strong point of the series, and here, I think everything has been elevated to greater heights than ever before. Carrying classing sounds like the eagle cry, adding modern electronic elements to traditional music.
The scene is more than adequately set. All that’s left is to see it all and take it all in.
I think Bayek might be the best protagonist of the whole series (sorry Ezio!), I’ve never engaged more with someone in one of these games. He’s been through the ringer. Hell, I’ve seen some shit go down whilst playing through as him.
Because of that, and his strong Medjay wife Aya, I feel really involved with Origins. Strong acting, loose but satisfying combat and stealth. A massive, stunning world to explore and the ability to tame animals…….what more could you want?
I’ll see Origins through to the very end, in spite of the forced grind between main story missions.
After that, I’ll put up an overall “final thoughts” bit. I’m getting a little burned-out on Assassin’s Creed, but I’m still really into seeing this one through.
It seems to me that Ubisoft really took that extra time to craft something quite special here. I’ve been hit emotionally with a couple of the story beats already, and I’ve got more tombs to explore (more on that next time!).
So far this is more than your average Assassin’s Creed, which is saying something, because I love your average Assassin’s Creed!
Here’s to the back-half of the game. Catch you on the other side.