Assassin's Creed Origins - The Curse of the Pharaohs
Dead kings have risen in Thebes and the former Medjay Bayek travels south to uncover the mystery.
The final piece of Assassin's Creed Origins, the rather chunky expansion called The Curse of the Pharaohs, is an interesting conclusion that manages to offer a self-contained story that also ties in with the greater narrative of both the game and the series. It adds a reasonably large new region to explore, challenging boss fights, new skills, and many hours of entertainment.
Thebes and its surrounding lands have seen better times. A curse plagues the area, one which sees long-dead pharaohs spawn in the middle of town and wreak havoc. These shadows are powerful and only appear for a short time before returning to the afterlife, and Bayek is sent to investigate as it would seem an artifact, similar to the one in Siwa, is to blame for the supernatural activity.
We're not going to spoil the plot here, but there are some memorable characters you'll come across and Bayek has seemingly grown even harsher and more sarcastic. There's even a scene where he leaves a seriously wounded (at least judging by the rather dramatic amount of blood) thief to wonder whether or not he'll get help after providing Bayek with the information he needed.
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Across the river from the city of Thebes lies the Valley of the Kings and as we first ventured there we got excited to see that there were four tombs. Will there be more of our favourite side activity from the main game? Not quite, but perhaps what we got was even better. The four tombs of some of the most mythical pharaohs, including Nefertiti and Tutankhanum, offer gateways into their respects realms in the afterlife. These fantastical worlds offer treasures to discover, giant scorpions (serqets) to take down, mummified Anubis guards to defeat, and finally, and most importantly a great Pharaoh to defeat in one-on-one combat inside of a small arena, similar to the gladiator mini-game.
These boss fights are more challenging than most of what you've played up until now in Assassin's Creed Origins, even if some are more challenging than others (Ramesses, we're looking at you). These will require you to learn movement patterns and use that dash button frequently as getting caught in one of the longer attack chains of the pharaohs could spell an early end to Bayek's life in the afterlife. Ultimately, it got less challenging after we unlocked a skill that replenishes your arrows and tools over time (only when you're in the afterlife), allowing us a tactic of using arrows from a distance to fill our adrenaline bar, charge in to do some proper damage (arrows hardly bother these bosses), and then dash around and repeat the process. It is not recommended to try and "cheese it" with a heavy blunt as you'll likely get caught by the pharaoh if you try.
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Interestingly, this rather patient approach won't help you against the shadows. While weaker than the afterlife representations of the pharaohs, they only appear in Thebes for about a minute, forcing you to take a much more aggressive stance. Annoyingly, as these occur in the open-world it sometimes happened that guards or wildlife starting attacking Bayek during these encounters, making matters worse (though this also worked to distract the shadow).
Apart from the pharaohs, there are also a couple of level 55 Phylakes (heavy-duty bounty hunters) to take on, but after you're done with the arena-based stuff it's a bit of a cake walk to take them down from horseback using your favourite predator bow. That's perhaps our biggest gripe with this expansion, that while some of the combat is challenging, it's also a bit uneven in its difficulty. Some pharaohs required multiple attempts, even going back to the blacksmith to level up some weapons, but we also took down two of them on our first attempt with little problem. In a way, it could have to do with the fact that over the course of the expansion we got forced to develop actual skills rather than just using stealth to overcome enemies, and when that failed, bring out our heavy blunt and use brute force.
Is this the Dark Souls of Assassin's Creed then? Maybe it's the closest thing we'll get, but levelling up your character and weapons does offer a bit more leniency than you'd find in From Software's titles.
The four representations of the afterlife are all nice breaks from the sort of environment we're used to from Assassin's Creed Origins. Thebes, Yebu and the Valley of Kings are all beautiful, but similar to what we've seen before. The fact that the Nile runs through the entire map is a great thing though as it offered plenty of water-based activities.
It's clear that this expansion is meant to give players a deeper understanding of ancient Egypt, and now we're talking about the truly ancient Egypt, ancient even to the people at the time of the game. A new collectible of sorts are tablets you read that offer some insights, and the inclusion of the likes of Nefertiti and Ramesses are naturally great, even if there's no real interaction with these historical leaders apart from taking them on in combat.
Unfortunately, we did experience some glitches when playing The Curse of the Pharaohs. We had a couple of hard crashes (on PS4 Pro), and some minor oddities. On a number of occasions, the overpower attack "misfired" during boss fights. It doesn't detract much from the overall experience, but much like The Hidden Ones, this DLC lacks the level of polish found in the main game. A more beneficial glitch happened with one of the shadows who got stuck just after spawning allowing us to score a cheap kill.
We truly enjoyed the rich offering that is The Curse of the Pharaohs and spent more than a dozen hours (we haven't completely cleared the map) exploring, fighting and learning about Egypt. The true highlight of the game was venturing into the unknown of the afterlife and the challenge the Pharaohs themselves brought, but it isn't flawless and we wished that Ubisoft had taken a bit more time to iron a few more issues that plague the release. We also kind of wished there had been some puzzle tombs in there even if what we got instead was excellent.
8 / 10
Offers a great narrative that will expand your understanding of ancient Egypt, Added challenge in terms of the combat, A sizable new area to explore, Imaginative afterlives.
Difficulty felt a bit uneven, Lacks a certain level of polish.