I’ll be the first to admit that I had given up on the Assassin’s Creed series. The last game in the franchise that I actually purchased was Black Flag, which many fans will say is when the series peaked. Ubisoft then took a huge hit in credibility with Unity, which was an ambitious title, to say the least, but overall a complete mess of a game at launch. A year later we had Syndicate, which is actually a pretty underrated experience, but the shadow of Unity still affected its commercial success. When Ubisoft announced they were taking a year off for Assassin’s Creed Origins, many fans were interested to see how this hiatus would improve the quality of the next game. While the game does suffer from the occasional Ubisoft open world glitch, Origins is without the doubt the saving grace that the series needed.
Origins follows Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay for Egypt who falls victim to a horrible tragedy at the hands of a mysterious powerful organization. Bayek then sets off on a journey to get revenge on those responsible for his loss. This being an origin story for the entire Assassin’s Creed series, Bayek’s story ends up leading directly to the creation of the Creed itself. The game’s narrative is all held together neatly thanks to Bayek’s character, who is a charismatic individual, but also a man of extreme violence. He’s got the charm of Ezio in AC2, but also the brutal nature of Connor in AC3. Bayek also plays well with the colorful cast of supporting characters, mainly his wife Aya who is just as fierce and dedicated as he is. Like past titles, important historical figures play an important role in the overall plot. This time around we have Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, whose historical events will once again get the Assassin’s Creed treatment. Origins is also the only game where a player can ride shotgun with Julius Caesar in a war chariot, all while shooting arrows at a charging elephant.
The game does suffer from some pacing issues in its third act however. There are a few instances where players take control of another character, which in theory is a good idea. The problem with this is that I’ve just spent about 30 hours with Bayek and grown keen to a certain playstyle, but now I’m forced to play as someone else and I’m no longer earning XP. Despite minor hiccups in its third act, Origins manages to tell a story with a few twists and turns that’s tolerable. Once again, the main reason it works is due to Bayek and the relationship he forms with other characters. The real story worth investing is the one I created while exploring ancient Egypt on my own.
Ancient Egypt is probably one of the most requested eras for the series. Ubisoft did not disappoint whatsoever as they have crafted a truly gorgeous and immersive open world. The layout of the landscape kept me awe throughout my entire playthrough. Even after 30 hours I was still finding new surprises and just baffled by how massive he world was. If I can see it in the distance, I could most likely go there. There’s something so satisfying about taking my horse on a long journey towards a far objective. Walking into the vast nothingness of deserts and canyons feels like adventures of their own. Most of the world is complemented by the god rays beaming down on the environments, giving Origins the best looking water I’ve seen in a video game. It’s just a shame that Ubisoft once again doesn’t take the time to make facial animations as great as the environments.
While the world feels lively due to the many NPCs roaming the cities, many of their faces look lifeless. At times, the lip-syncing can be completely off, which is something the series has always fallen victim to. This also being a Ubisoft game, there are occasional bugs and glitches. None of these are enough to be game-breaking like Unity, but they can become an annoyance. I only experienced 2 crashes in my 40-hour playthrough playing on the PS4. The framerate will also drop tremendously when the action gets too chaotic. Although, Ubisoft has released a few patches since release, causing it be slightly more polished than the early copies many reviewers had.
Past Ubisoft open world games have riddled the map with collectibles, just to keep playtime longer (screw those feathers). In Origins, Ubisoft has done away with those, instead of giving us motivation to completely explore this world from end to end. Many are comparing Origins to The Witcher 3, and for good reason. Both are expansive and living open worlds brimming with content, with the majority of content feeling worthy of the hours put into it. Like Witcher 3, the map has question marks scattered around. What I love so much about these question marks is that I have no idea what is there until I actually visit them. These can range from enemy garrisons, treasure chests, or ancient tombs. It gives the sense of exploration an organic feeling. I know there’s something over there, but the game lets me discover it for myself. Many regions on the map are covered over until players actually make their way towards it. Once again, the world doesn’t feel shoved down my throat as I’m exploring it at my own pace.
The plethora of side content is extensive and rich. Most of the side missions each tell their own self-contained stories. This is in thanks in part to the living, breathing world that Origins contains. The side missions vary in terms of the stories they tell, making each one feel different from the last. My most memorable side mission was a silly one, as I had to escort a man who loves cats and hates the guards for kicking and killing those cats. As I was escorting him, he would insult guards on the way, forcing me to continue defending him. Some side missions may have direct references to films and games such as Seven Samurai and even Witcher 3 (go figure). It’s these side missions that makes the extra time feel worth it.
The combat is by far it’s biggest (and most divisive) change, replacing the stylish combat of past titles with a much more grounded and challenging experience. The AI this time around are aggressive and won’t wait around for Bayek to do some stylish execution. Dodging and parrying is key to taking on enemies (no more flashy counters and executions). The combat needed to be changed up to go along with the game’s RPG nature. Enemies now have health bars and damage numbers are displayed with each hit.
This being Assassin’s Creed, stealth is still a viable option. Many were worried how stealth could be implemented into an RPG that relies so heavily on Bayek’s level and gear. Luckily, Bayek’s hidden blade has a higher damage output than everything else. As long as an enemy is within 2 levels of Bayek, his hidden blade will be a one-shot kill most of the time. While the AI is aggressive in fast-paced combat, they are still idiots during stealth encounters. Their field of view isn’t as punishing as recent stealth games, and I could easily kill one of the guards and avoid detection since the AI didn’t notice me in the distance. It isn’t enough to hinder or exploit the experience though, as the gameplay is still so much fun.
Taking on Origin’s larger enemies will pose a challenge though. Throughout the map, there are Phylakes hunting down Bayek. These minibosses put my combat skills to the test as they do not go down easily. Yet, the promise of legendary loot makes the thrill of victory all the more sweeter, so I took them on happily. There are also gladiator style fighting pits, in which Bayek is stripped away of his gear and given a basic weapon and shield, forcing players to focus more on skill rather than gear. These arenas will have multiple rounds, but will always end in an intense Souls-like boss fight. The randomized loot system is similar to that of Destiny, but without the grind since I always found slightly better loot along the way.
It is quite gross that there is are microtransactions for players to actually buy those weapons. Luckily, the Store is only presented to player at the very beginning of the game, so they aren’t thrown in your face like this years Shadow of War for example. That being said, there is something inherently wrong about having legendary loot that can just be purchased in a game that pushes exploration. Imagine if in Destiny 2, players could just buy those exotics instead of grinding for them.
With there being 7 different melee weapon types, players can forge their own playstyle, as Bayek can wield any of them from the start. Bows also play a huge role in the new combat system. There are 4 different bow types; two of which are meant for stealth and the other two for fast paced combat. With all these different weapon types, it is so easy to get addicted for the hunt of better loot. Level scaling isn’t as ridiculous as I had originally predicted. After playing The Division, I anticipated that taking on enemies a level or two higher than me would be a downright impossible challenge. I was wrong as Bayek can usually take on enemies about 3-4 levels higher, just with a little more ease and patience. Super tough enemies will have a skull icon above them, indicating to the player that they aren’t ready yet to take them on. There are fans of the series who may not be fully on board yet with this new RPG approach, but I applaud Ubisoft for wanting to evolve the series and move it in a new direction.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is an example of a game developer listening to feedback. The series had reached its peak with Black Flag and had then followed the trend set by Call of Duty with it’s yearly releases. With Origins, Ubisoft took their time and gave us one complete package. While the game could do without some it’s glitches and frame drops, it still managed to be one of the most addicting experiences I’ve had in a video game this year. Ancient Egypt is a setting we haven’t gotten to experience yet in an open world, and Origins created it to near perfection. With a 40 hour playthrough and much more to do after that, Origins is well worth the $60 price tag.
This is one of the most realized open worlds ever created in a game and Origins is easily a Game of the Year contender. If someone told me that at the beginning of 2017, I would’ve laughed in their faces and gone to play Black Flag again. Oh yeah…and players can pet cats.