After the double trouble that was Assassin's Creed: Unity and Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, two games with design issues and technical problems (more so in Unity), coupled with franchise fatigue, Ubisoft needed Origins to mark a triumphant return for Assassin's Creed. And that's precisely what this is. Due to structural changes, several new features, and a new direction, the series has finally realised its great potential, something that it only came close to with Assassin's Creed II.
Origins' success is not detached from the choice of Ancient Egypt as the historical setting. The story takes place in 49 BCE, and it's in this type of setting that Assassin's Creed shines brightest, in particular considering everything that Ancient Egypt has to offer in terms of culture, landscape, historical figures, and locations. Visiting Alexandria, for example, complete with its library and lighthouse, is not something you can do with this level of detail anywhere else, not like this. In terms of gameplay, it's also in this context that the game feels at home, with swords, spears, and bows.
Assassin's Creed Origins goes further back in time than any other game in the series, and as the name suggests it focuses on the origins of the assassin's brotherhood. That is the broad arc of the story, although, on a more intimate level, this is a story about the life of Bayek, a fictional character created for the game. Bayek is our second favourite protagonist in the series, second only to Ezio Auditore. He is a man with a strong personality, fueled by raw emotion, something that shows as passion for those he loves, as well as fury towards those he hates. To some extent, Origins is also a story about revenge, although it eventually grows into something bigger.
During your long journey across Egypt you will meet countless characters, even if the main narrative is focused on a fairly contained group. Bayek's soulmate, Aya, is an equally strong and driven character, but he also interacts with historical figures such as Cleopatra. There are a few historical events portrayed here, although it's mixed with the inevitable fiction associated with the Assassin's Creed universe. The Precursors and their powerful technology are once again part of the narrative, as is the present day and the Animus, but don't worry, you won't be leaving Egypt for any extended periods of time.
Assassin's Creed Origins is brilliant on many levels, but nothing is quite as impressive as its game world. This is the largest map Ubisoft has ever created for an Assassin's Creed game, even considering Black Flag and its vast ocean. A fair chunk of the map includes rivers, lakes, and deserts, but even those are worth exploring, as they hide tombs and pyramids, caves, and submerged ruins. There are also large cities such as Alexandria and Memphis, as well as several smaller villages and towns.
Besides being a technical and architectural wonder, the world of Assassin's Creed Origins is also impressive thanks to all the elements that breathe life into it. From countless citizens strolling around towns and cities doing their business, to a wide variety of animals (watch out for crocodiles and hippos!), this is an organic world that works beyond the player's interaction or presence. You will find remnants of battles that happened before you passed, from villagers attacked by crocodiles to bandits who crossed paths with guards, all in an organic fashion, something fellow Ubisoft franchise Far Cry has done brilliantly before. The world of Assassin's Creed Origins is a triumph of virtual architecture, artificial intelligence cycles, and dynamic systems, all working together.
While promoting Assassin's Creed Origins, Ubisoft made it clear that it was no longer an action-adventure game, but rather an action-RPG. The result is a game that feels like a cross between The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Watch Dogs 2, wrapped in the Assassin's Creed setting and context. It's a profound change to the series, on many levels. Structurally, for instance, Origins works a lot like The Witcher 3.
Each location has several quest-lines to follow, with simple or elaborate plots. Some, like helping a priest steal from guards and then escape the city, are rather straightforward, while others have multiple layers, like investigating a murder that ends up in a chase across Egypt for a cultist serial killer, or starting a mission recovering a lost wagon, only to end up in a underground tomb uncovering the connection between human sacrifices, an angry goddess, and a city buried in sand. There are a lot of missions, and although the design of the missions themselves is crucial, of course, proper context should never be underestimated. There are even investigative missions where you search for clues, in a similar fashion to what Geralt did in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Another element that transforms Assassin's Creed Origins into an RPG is the player and enemy levels. Similarly to Syndicate, the level of the player in regard to the opponent is a massive factor, and if you decide to face a character several levels above yours, be prepared to suffer a one-shot death. Completing quests is the fastest way to gain experience and level up, but all actions contribute, from eliminating camp captains to finding treasures among ruins and discovering locations.
As you level up you gain skill points that you can spend on one of three trees that determine the game styles: hunter, seer, and warrior. The warrior branch allows the use of techniques like counterattacks and charged attacks, while hunter improves the bow's efficiency among other stealthier option. These two trees are pretty straightforward, while the seer tree offers the player some cool new toys. Fire bombs, poisonous darts, sleeping darts, corpse traps, and even the option to tame a beast (who doesn't want to walk with a crocodile or a lion at their side?) are among the skills you can unlock.
Adding to these RPG elements is the new loot system. Whether it's killing enemies or exploring ruins, you'll find countless weapons to add to your arsenal. There are several types of bows and short-range weapons, which suit different contexts and different styles. Some bows have a greater range, while others shoot several arrows simultaneously, for example. In terms of short-range weapons, you can use sword and shield, spear and shield, two swords, and heavy weapons. In addition to various types of weapons and shields, their quality and rarity also vary between common, rare, and legendary, with the latter two featuring additional effects such as bleeding or filling your adrenaline faster. One option we enjoyed is the ability to raise a weapon's level to the player's level by visiting a blacksmith. This way you can keep your favourite weapons close to your level, even if comes at a hefty price.
The player also has a series of items they can improve, such as the hidden blade, their breastplate, and the tool bag, among other similar items. These items aren't found in loot, rather you have to improve them by spending resources like wood, skins, and metal on crafting. To get these materials you will need to hunt several animals, steal cargo, dismantle weapons or buy them from merchants after you unlock that option on the skill tree. As for the suits Bayek wears, they have no attributes and merely fill a cosmetic purpose. Ubisoft explained this decision as a way to separate a character's look from its effectiveness, not forcing the player to sacrifice style over attributes, as in so many other RPGs.
Then there is the gameplay, which also subject to many changes. The bow and arrow system works just as you'd expect - you point with the left trigger, shoot with the right - and it's quite satisfying and effective. When it comes to the combat system itself, it now works closer to something like Dark Souls. You lock into an opponent, defend with L1/LB, light attack with R1/RB, strong attack with R2/RT, parry with Circle/B, and dodge with Square/X. It's a far superior system to the ones we saw in the last games of the series, which were mediocre, but it's still not perfect.
The response is not as fluid as we would have liked, and it lacks punch, for example. Although not perfect, it's more than satisfactory and allows for some intense fighting. In terms of stealth, you can crouch, whistle to lure enemies, and use cover to hide. You cannot, however, stick to cover, but this was something we didn't miss. Stealth is in the best shape it has ever been in the series and invading an enemy camp, killing the commander, and getting out without being seen is an extremely satisfying experience. The animations with the hidden blade are also vastly improved over the sloppy animations from Syndicate.
Parkour is again a big part of the experience and has also been improved. One big change is that there is now no sprint button. Pushing the left analog stick fully forward basically gives you the maximum speed of the character. This means you no longer climb objects unintentionally, as happened in previous games. After that, X/A climbs and jumps, while Circle/B allows you to get down in a safe manner. It's an extremely complex world in terms of architecture, but even with these variants, we don't remember a single occasion where we jumped to the wrong place, something that can hardly be said of previous games.
Considering the massive size of the map, you naturally need ways to move around. You have camels and horses for riding, also with different degrees of quality, and you can use smaller boats to navigate the lakes and the river. These options work quite well, although the mounts continue to provoke some exaggerated reactions from the NPCs, who shout and jump even when you're a few meters away.
This is the basis of the gameplay experience, but there are other dynamic elements and details. Passing an arrow next to a fire will put it ablaze, and the same applies to oils on the ground. If you spend a lot of time in the desert under the sun, Bayek will begin to hallucinate with visions of characters or creatures (who knows what you may find if you follow them?). You can also participate in chariot races and in gladiator arenas, decipher the location of treasures with the help of papyrus scrolls (much like the treasure maps in Black Flag), and explore tombs and pyramids, among other activities. Plus, there are a few surprises we won't spoil here.
Technically, Assassin's Creed Origins is impressive. It owes nothing to any game in terms of visual quality and scale, and the sound department is spot on. The actors' performances are great, especially for Bayek, and in terms production levels, few games surpass Assassin's Creed Origins. If you're thinking of using HDR, though, be aware that the game does not support this function just yet, as it will be made available via an update on November 6. Oh, and there's a photo mode that also allows you to view and rate photos taken by other players.
Assassin's Creed Origins is a superb game on many levels, but it's not quite perfect. Apart from combat, which is not as solid as we would wish, we must criticise the artificial intelligence. In some situations, we were amazed at the bizarre behaviour of our enemies, who decided to go up and down stairs in an attempt to find a path for the player, or repeatedly pulled out and put away their bow as we changed our distance. These were moments that broke the immersion, although they didn't happen often.
Before we finish, a word regarding micro-transactions. Yes, Assassin's Creed Origins also has a store with items that you can purchase with Helix credits - skill points, game money, specific weapons, suits, mounts, maps... almost anything can be bought with credits, which in turn are bought with real money. That said, we played Assassin's Creed Origins on the Hard difficulty, and we never felt the need to invest via microtransactions.
Assassin's Creed Origins is a triumph. A triumph for the individuals and studios involved in its production, and above all else a triumph for those with the courage to postpone the launch for a year and give the series a break. The result is not only the best Assassin's Creed ever made, but also one of the best games of the year. Bravo Assassin's Creed, and welcome back to the top.