While containing several live elements, as well as a fair dose of microtransactions, Assassin's Creed Origins has prided itself on having a fairly old-school approach to sustaining engagement from its player base through post-launch downloadable content. Not that these practices have existed for that long, but already, a 'right' and 'wrong' way seem to have emerged, and with its first expansion The Hidden Ones and now the second - Curse of the Pharaohs - it would seem that Ubisoft is aiming for the high road.
And how exactly do we define that particular high road? Well, for starters both expansions are set after the main story, and give us further insight into Bayek. Secondly, it not only loosely adds quests, gear, and new Hippodrome races as one could expect, but new areas to explore, deep storylines to unravel, and new additions to the game's skill tree. It is, by the very definition, an expansion to the main game, and that's becoming increasingly rare in a 'Games as Service' world, where live events and minuscule additions are becoming part of the decor.
We quite liked the first expansion, The Hidden Ones, because despite offering up more of the same ways to play, it's a straight-up continuation of a character that has enthralled since the game's release last year, and seeing more of Bayek on his journey as an assassin, as well as infiltrating more strongholds and earning more gear - well, that's not a bad use of gaming time. We were therefore quite excited when we got invited to Ubisoft's Nordic headquarters to take a gander at the second expansion, Curse of the Pharaohs.
First off, while many expected a more mythological take on Ancient Egypt in the original game, Ubisoft mostly kept the story fairly realistic, focusing on the conflicts of humans rather than gods. This second expansion is quite different and is all the more interesting for it. The story takes you to Thebes and the Valley of Kings, an entirely new region consisting of five new zones for you to explore. From the very first moment you set foot in this new world ghosts, demons, and aspects of the gods introduce themselves fairly quickly, and it's finally clear that Ubisoft is granting players their wish with this expansion. The vibe is more fantastical, and like Far Cry 5 offering up more fantasy-based expansions post-launch too, it seems that Ubisoft is taking more drastic creative liberties with its games after they've released.
While offering up more fantasy-elements and a supernatural vibe, Bayek's mission should appear familiar to anyone who has already played the main game. He's an assassin, and he's in Thebes to settle an old score with a friend to whom he owes a great debt. While the main narrative throws you a couple of mythological curveballs, it's fairly standard fare in both the good and bad sense of the phrase.
The same can be said for the overall structure. While the expansion adds a few new skills to the already impressive skill tree, you'll be playing in exactly the same way as you've done previously in terms of completing quests, checking out question marks on the map, approaching combat scenarios, and finding new gear. As such, Curse of the Pharaohs is simply providing you with new content to complete, which is something to keep in mind. However, paranormal boss fights pop up in major settlements with relatively high frequency, and they'll need to be put down before they kill too many civilians. These fights are particularly challenging and pose quite a threat to Bayek, almost unlike anything he's faced before.
Assassin's Creed Origins is beautiful, and it doesn't stop being beautiful in Curse of the Pharaohs. The game world is gorgeously realised, and is a joy to traverse and explore. That might seem like a given at this point, but it was and continues to be one of the major drawing points, and even though Thebes and its surrounding areas are fairly small, they're varied and offer up tons of content for the keen player.
In many ways actually Curse of the Pharaohs, while adding a new spin of the Egyptian tale of Bayek, is a pretty straightforward proposition just like The Hidden Ones was before. If you liked Assassin's Creed Origins, and the way it played, you'll get more of it here. It's beautiful, interesting and filled to the brim with new content, and while not as impressive to the scale of The Frozen Wilds of Horizon: Zero Dawn or Blood & Wine in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it certainly aims to please fans of the game - including us.