Following a year without an installation to the Assassin’s Creed series (with the exception of the Ezio Collection) Ubisoft Montreal brings us back to the franchise with Assassin’s Creed Origins. Ubisoft announced back in 2016 that they had made the decision to take a step back and re-examine the somewhat tired formula in an attempt to not only overhaul it, but revitalise it too. Origins is a game that Ubisoft hopes will deliver on their promise to dish up unique and memorable gameplay experiences that make history everyone’s playground, and now that Origins is finally here, has the end result met their ambition? Abso-freakin-lutely! Let me start out by saying that I love the franchise, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to give it merits on the basis of that alone, not at all. In fact it’s because of my love for the series that I would be exceptionally critical about it. With that to the side it goes without saying that Ubisoft Montreal have achieved tremendous things with that extra year of development, implementing several new mechanics and layers of polish that makes for a transition unseen in the long running series since the step-up from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed II.
Despite being the tenth major game in the series, this is a prequel that tells the Origins story of the Brotherhood of Assassins and the ever so sketchy Templar Order. You take on the roll of Bayek, the last Medjay – a Siwa warrior that has a powerful influence and levels of vengeance that are equal to just that. I always try to avoid giving away any story elements in my reviews and instead rely on feeding information that’s either common knowledge or story info that’s unleashed very early on in the game, and I’ll make no exception here. The premise of Origins houses a solid and deeply intriguing setup that instantly grips you from the onset. Main man Bayek suffers a horrendous ordeal at the hands of The Order, a group of masked individuals who are seemingly in possession of an Apple of Eden and are actively seeking out how to utilise its power. They have a very illuminati sort of persona, being that any information about them is either highly sought after or purposely vague, that is until you unveil their identities and expose them and uncover their collective motivations. To do this, Bayek must explore the entirety of Egypt – taking you to some wonderfully realised locations such as Alexandria, the great pyramids of Giza and much much more.
It’s clear from the get-go that this Assassin’s Creed is like no other you will have played so far. The short yet intuitive tutorial feeds you the basics of play but does very little to hold your hand (regardless of your chosen difficulty) as you get to grips with the gameplay. It’s also immediately apparent that the size and scale of the mahoosive map is easily the most ambitious map that Ubisoft have ever crafted. The same can almost be said for the setting of the game, which is set several decades BC. Origins is chock-full of important historical figures, many of which totally alluded me until I took to the ever reliable feeds of Google, something that will be further bolstered in-game when the knowledge-based free-roam mode is applied in early 2018. There’s no denying that Ubisoft Montreal have spared no effort in their creation of the world within. Everything feels alive and so well laid out that it’s all too easy to lose yourself in each and every passing moment, from the great libraries of Alexandria right down to the dark dank Egyptian tombs. It’s quite simply the best, the most impressive and the most in-depth map in the series so far – by a very wide margin.
That extra year of development has (as aforementioned) given Ubisoft enough time to ensure that Origins feels fresh in comparison to previous entries. The most notable of which is easily the RGP elements of play, which is something you’ll instantly get to grips with throughout the initial phases of play. It’s a wise move on Ubisoft’s part, especially when you take the quest structure and the world size into account. Almost everything that you do will be rewarded with EXP, which in-turn will go towards your next level-up. It’s important to gain as much EXP as you can, be it via looting treasure, completing quests, or engaging in several other activities that will serve up the same result. Levelling-up will enable you to utilise the skill tree as well as equip better gear and stats. The skill tree is split into three sections being Seer, Hunter and Warrior. Progressing in the Seer branch will allow you to achieve passive abilities and handy gadgets such as sleep darts, the Hunter branch enables you to beef up your attacks in a wide variety of ways, whereas the Warrior branch gifts you with better combo capabilities and much more. You’re free to pursue the whole tree in any which way you prefer and you’re not blocked off from anything that’s on offer.
Unlocking new skills and abilities from the tree feels massively rewarding once you begin to dive deeper into the experience at hand, and all of these new traits do well at making sure you can feel Bayek becoming more capable throughout the 45+ hour campaign. Thanks to the amount of freedom you’re given when it comes to unlocking new abilities, you’re free to pursue a system that suits your playstyle. Want to run in and gut anyone that stands in your way on your revenge spree? You can do just that. Prefer to hold back and tactically play stealth to gain a preemptive advantage? You can do that too. There’s no shortage of ways to differently approach the countless scenarios within, it’s exhilarating. That’s not to say that Bayek is equipped to deal with anything that’s thrown his way, quite the opposite in fact. I took to Assassin’s Creed Origins on the easiest difficulty setting (which can be fluidly changed at any point in the game) and still found the game to be exceptionally challenging. Hell, even the early moments of the game proved to be much harder than I was anticipating.
No longer can you simply parry and counter your way through masses of enemies but instead you’ll need to rely on pure skill and decent timing as far as combat is concerned. The combat system has been completely overhauled and has seen fresh new mechanics thrown into place. Combat now sees you trading blows with highly intelligent A.I. as you aim for hit-boxes, whilst juggling counterattacks, combos and blocks. There’s a plethora of different weapon types that you can take to, all of which come with varying stats, pros and cons. This is why it’s vital to loot everything that you can lay your hands on. Gear comes in a wide range of different flavours – outfits, mounts, shields, bows and weapons – all of which is categorised into three levels of rarity, being blue, purple and gold. Blue gear is common and comes with just one attribute, purple gear is rare and comes with two attributes, whereas golden gear is the highly sought after legendary tier and can offer up between two to three attributes. These attributes can make or break a quest that you may be struggling on thanks to the added aid you’re given for using whatever gear it’s tied to. Attributes will help you considerably, buffing you with additional power such as dishing out more damage, bleed on hit, poison on hit and much more.
The ability to upgrade your weapon is also present, meaning you can carry a weapon that you have fell head over heels with through the game so long as you pay the blacksmith a visit to keep it relevant. Gear that you choose to dismantle will produce materials that are used to upgrade other gear and equipment – breastplate, quiver, bracer, hidden blade and tool-belt – to eventually bring them up to legendary tier. These are equally as important to keep upgrading because they all offer additional boosts to your base stats, such as the breastplate increasing your health points and the bracer increasing your weapon damage. The whole system is so well thought out yet satisfyingly and straight forward to get to grips with. You can also gain crafting materials from vendors (once unlocked) or via using your trusty eagle friend Senu to scout from high above and locate means of resource scavenging. Now for the elephant in the room, micro-transactions. Mercifully these are not too invasive but there are heaps of different things that you can spend your hard earned money on, such as cosmetic items, time-saving items, legendary gear and so on and so forth. Despite one intrusive screen at the beginning of the game letting me know that I could buy more from the in-game MT store, the catalogue of additional purchase options is hidden from view in a scrolling menu, accessible from the main menu.
With that said, unless something specific and cool such a mummified outfit captures your attention, you can play the entire game ten times over without ever having to spend more than the cost of the game itself. Getting back on track to the core experience, I do have to admit that the beginning of Origins is somewhat confusing. This is because there’s a few instances of going backwards and forwards in time to try and cover as much ground regarding Bayek and his motivations without losing grip of your attention. It’s fairly hard to keep on top of, or at least it was for me, but it doesn’t take too long at all for the story to fall into a single file and continue onward without further confusion or fluctuation. Following this sequence of events you’re able to instantly spend some time outside of the Animus, much like you are at certain sections that follow on. This current-day story, which is set alongside the tomb of Bayek, is fascinating beyond any other game in the series. There’s a new story thread to follow here too, which is quite fitting when you take into account that this is pretty much a prequel, and the payoff at the end is excellent. Nothing comes close to the story of Bayek and the conflict with his hugely interesting wife Aya, but it’s nice to see the great lengths Ubisoft Montreal have gone to to ensure that almost the entire game is as engrossing as it is stunning and vast.
The most commendable aspect of Assassin’s Creed Origins is how well it draws from your emotions. Each and every cast member is voiced magnificently well, which helps to convey the countless stories within – be it via the main quests or the side quests – everything is so well tied up and well told that you cant help but feel totally captivated throughout. This is no easy accolade to achieve when you take the size and scale of the world into account, it’s remarkable and outstanding to say the very least. The same can be said about the design and presentation of the game, which is to say that Origins is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best looking games on Xbox One. The design of each location is sensational and distinct, making it all the more easier to keep on track of where you are at all times. The option to take pictures via Photo-Mode just illustrates how confident Ubisoft Montreal feel with what they’ve crafted, allowing players to get up close and personal to every single vivid detail. Despite the fact that this game sports a gigantic map, much of which will still remain uncharted when you reach the end game, each environment houses a pool of deep and immersive stories and conflicts to keep you in place and grasp hold of your attention. It’s possibly the only other game that can rival The Witcher 3 in this regard, and that’s a bold statement that I don’t make lightly.
Mission structure feels more fluid thanks to the changes in gameplay mechanics, meaning regardless of your quest you can typically skin the proverbial cat in more ways than one. Senu will help you get some oversight by tagging enemies or targets of interest, as well as giving you the lay of the land. That’s right! No longer will you need to rely on synchronisation points to uncover the map, these now simply serve as fast-travel points instead. Traversal and movement is fairly spot on and I found no issues getting from A to B, whether that’s travelling on foot or climbing a pyramid. The controls are tight and responsive, ensuring that wherever you want to go your journey is as smooth and accessible as can be. That’s not to say that Assassin’s Creed Origins comes without fault, because sadly it doesn’t. There’s a band of bugs present in the game, most of which tend to be environmental. I’ve witnessed Bayek getting stuck in a rock, refusing to climb down or up the side of specific cliff-sides and my personal favourite, my mount not letting me…well, mount it. With these issues to the side there’s very little that Origins gets wrong yet so much that it gets right.
When you’re done with the campaign you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see just how much there’s still left to do in the game that it barely feels like you’ve scratched the surface. There’s so many ancient tombs that you can seek out and investigate, on top of several other activities and objectives to soak up. You can even take to two additional game-types known as Hippodrome and Arena. The Arena mode allows you to take on a range of boss battles in trap-filled pits surrounded by vast cheering crowds, which relays a very Ryse sort of vibe. Hippodrome on the other hand enables you to enjoy some chariot racing, which proves to be a nice pace-breaker if you want to stumble off the beaten path. I simply cannot stress just how much content has been crammed into this game, all of which varies magnificently from other activities regardless of location. With heaps of free content and paid DLC on the horizon (leading into 2018 and throughout) I cant begin to imagine how gigantic this game is going to be when all chips are on the table. It’s nothing short of brilliance.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is an ambitious and fresh installation to the series, one that shows exactly what an extra year in development can achieve. The story is intriguing and engaging, filled with wonderfully voiced iconic figures and memorable characters that will stay with you long after you put down the pad. The amount of content that has been crammed into this game is simply jaw-dropping, offering a wide variety of quests and activities to dive on and enjoy. The game is sensational in design and presentation, offering up what may well be the best looking game so far on Xbox One. The added RPG elements feel right at home, so much so that I found myself asking why Ubisoft never did this sooner. You’ll be juggling a well defined looting system with a thoroughly immersive combat system as you keep on track of your stats, gear and level throughout the entirety of play. Unfortunately a small band of bugs persist and prove to be frustrating, such as getting stuck in the map, but this is one small patch away from being near perfect and is a much needed change to the somewhat tired formula. If this is where the series is heading, count me in for the ride. Assassin’s Creed has never looked or played so well, it’s compelling, it’s innovative and it’s quite literally outstanding.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.