It's been a long time coming, but the brotherhood of assassins are finally headed to ancient Egypt for the ten year anniversary of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchise. The setting for this fall's iteration is probably one of the industry's worst kept secrets ever, but now the cat's out of the bag, and we got to spend some time with the game earlier this week.
The first thing we noticed about Assassin's Creed Origins was how well the era lends itself to the series' signature formula. The Egypt that Ubisoft has designed is exotic and mysterious, and it's filled with majestic pyramids, small settlements, dangerous tombs, and hidden catacombs. There are even huge stretches of desert between the different zones on the map, where there's nothing but sand and storms as far as the eye can see.
As Bayek, last of the peacekeeping Medjay, it'll be up to us to rise up against the oppressing pharaohs and form a band of assassins. A band that'll eventually make its way to the era of the Third Crusade and the original Assassin's Creed. Origins will tell us how it all started, and it's a tale Ubisoft's been polishing for quite some time. The game's been in development since their studio in Montreal finished up the critically acclaimed Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Creative director Jean Guesdon calls Origins his passion project, and you can tell as much just by playing it for an hour.
At first glance Assassin's Creed Origins may look just like any other chapter in the long-running saga, but a few new and exciting layers have been added to the core gameplay. Hunting the local wildlife (such as goats, lions, giant serpents and even mountable camels) allows for looting and crafting, which leads to the creation of items that can boost your stats when combined with swords, axes, bows and the like.
Furthermore, Bayek can level up through side quests, treasure hunting and combat. There's even a sprawling skill tree to explore. For us, Assassin's Creed Origins felt more like an ambitious role-playing game, rather than just another sequel. It's something Ubisoft's been able to accomplish thanks to an extra year of development time, and the extra polish is reflected in the game world itself as well.
While technical aspects such as framerate and graphical fidelity haven't come far since the release of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate (despite being played on an Xbox One X), the shear scope of Origins did impress. The beautiful Egyptian environments came to life during our time with the game thanks to the computer-controlled humans and animals who inhabited it. While playing we stumbled across a hippo fighting a crocodile. We saw a flock of birds blot out the sun while taking flight. We saw slaves carrying around rich men in the streets, and children playing in the hills. According to Jean Guesdon, these things happen dynamically. However, the thing that really won us over was the combat.
While playing the game we got to try out the brand new gladiatorial arena, where we faced waves of enemies before going up against a powerful boss character. We dreaded the arena at first, since we don't think that any of the previous games in the series has had fighting mechanics strong enough to stand on their own. Luckily, Ubisoft has redesigned the combat in Origins from scratch, with Bayek having the choice of light and heavy melee attacks. Holding down the attack button of choice charges the strike, and there are designated buttons for shielding, dodging, lock-on and target swapping. It's brutal, it looks cool, and it feels better than ever before. Bayek is able to hold off multiple enemies at once by blocking, dashing and striking when the time is right, which is a huge step up from the Assassin's Creed games of old where two enemies seldom attacked at the same time.
That being said, Origins still carries the Assassin's Creed name, so we think you all know what to expect in terms of mission structure and story. Bayek is an assassin after all, and he's also well-versed in art of parkour and diving from the top of high buildings. Time will tell if an exciting setting, revamped combat and ambitious role-playing elements can remedy the franchise fatigue of the brotherhood when Assassin's Creed Origins is released on October 27 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.