Ubisoft's latest instalment in the Assassin's Creed series is here, and with it going back to its roots does is succeed or is it a relic of the past?
The year is 861 and we begin our adventure in Anbar, in the heart of Iraq. We play as the young pickpocket Basim Ibn Ishaq who, with his friend Nehal, makes a living by stealing everything that glitters in people's deep pockets in the bustling city of Baghdad. Basim is a rather split character, one side of him is rather carefree and charming, the other side of him is a man with a strong sense of justice who wants to fight for those who are struggling and for the injustices festering in the society around him.
In a desperate attempt to pique the interest of the Hidden Ones that operate in the city, Basim takes on a mission that goes horribly wrong, forcing him to leave everything he holds dear to escape execution. But where one life ends, another life begins and Basim is helped to escape by the assassin Roshan who leads him to safety and takes him under her wing as an apprentice of the Hidden Ones.
After an introductory period that also serves as a tutorial, Basim finds himself outside Baghdad and it's here that the adventure really takes off. The map opens up and you now have the freedom to explore just as you want with your very own falcon at your side that goes by the name of Enkidu. This time, the game developers have really listened to many of the previous players' wishes and slimmed down the game world significantly. Here you won't be stressed out when you open up the map as you were in both Odyssey and Valhalla where the maps were crazy big and packed to the brim with missions and side quests, so many so you hardly knew where to start. Now the game world is divided into smaller parts that are much easier to digest.
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The city of Baghdad, for example, is divided into four different districts that are each visually and structurally very different. Aside from a rather empty Wilderness section, that's it. And that's more than enough to discover and explore. But, it is not only with the size of the game world that the game developers have listened to the players, as they have also taken a step back to the previous Assassin's Creed games with Altair where the missions were about quiet assassinations with finesse.
In the last few instalments, you've been hacking people apart left and right, leaving a pile of bodies behind and not caring in the least about who saw you in your progress, but in Mirage, you're punished quite heavily if you don't stay hidden in the shadows and that punishment is enemies everywhere, which make the missions quite sweaty at times. So, with each mission, you have to decide how best to tackle it. Should you try to sneak in by yourself or should you hire a bunch of mercenaries or a troubadour to make an evasive manoeuvre? The catch is that to hire help you need tokens because cash is apparently not king in Baghdad and to get tokens you have to do side missions where tokens are one of the rewards. Tokens come in three designs, Power Tokens, Merchant tokens and Scholar Tokens, and each are used to bribe or influence different civilians and individuals within Baghdad.
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You will recognise the combat system from Assassin's Creed Origins where not much has changed. As usual, timing is of the utmost importance if you get into close combat, with parrying and running away being the best way to survive. Timing is also something that is of great importance when stealing from someone, which is a recurring task in the game. A box comes up where you have to press exactly when the symbol is aligned and if you fail, you are punished with increased notoriety. The notoriety meter comes in three sections, first that you have been seen, which means that guards are vigilant about you but also the civilians around you are too. The more your meter rises, the more active the people are in calling for guards, with guards even attacking you if you pass by them too close. To get rid of this there are two ways to go, if you are lucky you carry a Power Token and can bribe a Munadi, and if you're unlucky, you'll have to look for wanted posters around the city and tear them down.
The missions themselves are actually investigations where each part is a hunt for clues to find new members of The Order so you can execute them. Each of these individuals will require you to discover around four clues to figure out their identity, and by eliminating these people, you will discover the identity of the leader of The Order operating in Baghdad.
In recent games, new weapons have been thrown at you in every chest you open, but in Mirage the goal is not to constantly find better equipment. Instead, the chests you open contain materials that you can then use to improve the weapons you already have in your possession. Of course, there are also special weapon boxes that contain weapons but they are few and uncommon and often difficult to get to as they are often very well guarded.
To keep things fresh, there are five different tools to unlock, be it throwing knives, a blow dart, traps, and more. These five different tools can later be upgraded in the Assassin's Bureau to both make them more powerful but also to fit your play style. I.e. Do you want your throwing knives to be dipped in poison or just extra powerful? The choice is yours.
To entertain you beyond missions, each district of Baghdad has lost books to find, valuable items to steal for an NPC called Dervis, and even mysterious shards to collect, which you can then use to unlock powerful weapons. The skill tree that has been so enormous in the last few games in the series has now been slimmed down significantly. Gone are the hundreds of different choices and now there are only 23 skills to choose from. You can invest in Phantom and choose eight different skills such as improving your Assassin's Focus, or Trickster where there are also eight different options to choose and where you can unlock more tools and more health elixir. And finally Predator which focuses almost exclusively on Enkidu's various talents.
The game length is also something that has been reduced and instead of over 100 hours, you now clock around 25 to 30 hours, which is really nice when previous games sometimes felt far too overbearing. The game is packed with things to do and I have had to put a lot aside to play through the main missions before the game releases.
Yes, I have encountered the occasional bug, and hopefully these will be fixed before release. Between glitched NPCs and dialogue issues, and the occasional visual error to boot, there are a fair few to report on, many of which were fixed by simply rebooting the game or just returning to the main menu and reloading a save file.
But despite the bugs, I must say that Ubisoft really succeeded with Assassin's Creed Mirage. Slimming down the experience was a good move to prevent the fatiguing nature that was oh-so apparent in the bigger RPGs. I'd add Assassin's Creed Mirage to my list as one of the better ones. No, it doesn't beat my favourite, Black Flag or Ezio's adventures, but it's a close second. Now things are going in the right direction again. This shows clearly that you don't always have to go all out. Just enough is fine.
8 / 10
More digestible size. Interesting game world. Plenty of customisable options. Perfect playing time.