For those out there with lingering apprehension about gratifying their Creed cravings with Ubisoft’s latest addition to ever expanding line of Assassin’s Creed (AC) games, have no fear as Assassin’s Creed Origins easily puts to shame the last few bland and “samey” AC titles. I kid you not, this installment to the series has been redefined in a way that almost separates Origins from the series altogether. For the most part of my first few hours of gameplay, I didn’t feel like I was playing a Creed title – I liked that. Origins doesn’t reek of the traditional, rapidly deteriorating Assassin’s Creed game mechanics that felt like they were clinging onto the series by nothing more than fraying nostalgic threads in the last few games. No, instead the series feels profoundly like it’s found a fresh lease of life and in light of it’s forebears and where the series was headed without a serious rethink, this undoubtedly had me breathing a distinct sigh of relief.
In Origins you follow the story of, Bayek- the last active Medjay (protector of the Pharaoh and people of Egypt) who through means of misfortune stumbles across the Order of the Ancients (the original Templar Order). Conflict arises right off the bat and Bayek makes it his mission to liberate Egypt and it’s people from the greedy, power hungry clutches of the Order and reestablish freedom throughout the realm. He does so by assembling the Hidden One’s (the original Assassin Brotherhood). A quintessential Assassin’s Creed plot. Ubisoft finally reintroduce their sublime ability to write a emotionally potent and vengeful story as within the first hour of gameplay, we see the game’s proceedings take a rather sinister turn. By establishing such a compelling, touching story that’s thriving with sentiment so early on, you are able to develop that emotional attachment to Bayek as a character almost immediately, allowing you to empathise with the hardships he undergoes as his story ensues. Ubisoft have a knack for writing cheeky, very likeable leads – yes, nodding to Altair and Ezio here and it’s a shame this has not been very evident in their more recent works. However, it is great to see them finally able flaunt this rekindled ability in Origins with Bayek. It feels you are not only delving into the origins of two Orders warring for freedom and control, the truth behind the hidden blade/ missing finger fiasco and how Piece Of Eden began it’s descent through the ages but more importantly, it seems you are revisiting the origins of all that is grand in the series, pinpointing exactly what it was that originally had players completely engorged in Assassin’s Creed.
Origins’ vast open world is just another way that the game breaks the chains cast by it’s more recent tedious predecessors. You quite literally have a mesmerising rendition of Ancient Egypt at your finger tips, waiting to be thoroughly explored top to bottom. Whether you are scuttling up the towering pyramids of Giza, skidding through the dusty dunes of the desert or wading through the wet lands of Kanopos Nome, every inch of this setting is a dazzling banquet of colour for the eyes. With the incorporation of a dynamic day/night cycle and freak sandstorms, this awe-inspiring setting also achieves some level of immersion. Furthermore, the depth of exploration endures even beneath the calm current of the rivers that break up the land mass. This is underwater exploration like the series has never seen before. Being able to battle off wildlife underwater as you investigate a sunken treasure trove as freely as you could prance around on the sand above is wonderfully refreshing – literally. Don’t worry though, you aren’t expected to traverse the entirety of this enormous map on foot as there are plenty of means of getting around. Boats, chariots, horses and camels that grunt to announce their arrival at your side are littered throughout Egypt and will all aid you in negotiating the huge terrain a little more briskly. For those hoping to just get from say Alexandria to Faiyum in the shortest time frame possible, fast travel is still an option – given you’ve synced the viewpoints at said locations prior of course. Honestly though, you’d be as barking mad as a nutty hyena to turn down an opportunity to take in the developers credible handiwork in creating one of the most impressive AC settings to date. Besides, thanks to the re-tweaked free running, getting around on foot isn’t so bad anyway. You are no longer looking to clamber up prominent, discoloured crevices in walls; Instead a good 90% of walls and surfaces are climbable even if they don’t immediately look it and this ultimately makes for all the more smooth and fluent parkour experience. Ubisoft have also incorporated a photo mode into this particular Assassin’s Creed installment as to allow players to capture every breathtaking moment of their adventure and share said moments with other players in game via the map.
Origins isn’t just a treat for the eyes however; the enormous setting of the game is riddled with side quests, investigations to solve and tombs to explore. Whether you’re making way through an ill-lit tomb, hordes of treasure clinking under your feet with nothing but a flickering torch for guidance or saving an hysterical villager from a rogue hippo, there’s always something to do. The best part is that no side-mission you undergo feels empty in any way. All quests contribute in shaping the story in their own way or at the very least allow you to keep up with the game’s difficulty curve by rewarding you with an assortment of weapons, crafting resources, currency and experience to work on your skill tree. It’s a welcomed relief to not have to endure stacks of eavesdropping quests or tailing missions. However, with such a spanning ensemble of quests and tasks to partake in, comes swarms of enemies to deal with. You aren’t just dealing with bandits and thugs but also an array of wildlife. It’s okay though, after a run in with a bask of crocs you’ll be seeing yourself in newly upgraded armour after thanks to the crafting resources you are able to harvest from your kills. Do heed a good warning though, hippos may look harmless enough, but aggravate them and you’ll find yourself fleeing in a combination of laughter and pure terror; it’s really quite the experience.
Ubisoft have taken some of the more successful RPG elements that they’ve weened in over the last few AC titles and implemented them more robustly in Origins and they work so coherently with Ubisoft’s re-imagined combat system. This newly enforced combat system requires you to lock onto your target and use a combination of light attacks, heavy attacks, dodges and blocks to bring your enemy (or enemies) to their knees. More realistically though you’ll find yourself spamming every button relentlessly until either you or your enemy dies. Combat isn’t as easy as the counter-kill tactic the past titles have been widely criticised for. Enemies wont sit back politely and watch you hack down their comrades before jumping in and suffering the same fate as they have in previous AC games. What’s more with an array of weaponry at your disposal each with the potential to deal differing status effects, combat can be fickle and fluctuate over encounters based on your weapon of choice. This unpredictability is unusual of a Creed game but works pleasantly all the same.
All things considered, the upped difficulty of combat really encourages you to utilise a stealth approach wherever possible. Yes, when you think “Assassin”, stealth typically comes to mind and Ubisoft have done a divine job of giving you better means to whittle down enemy numbers without being spotted – enter Senu. This feathered beauty is your “eagle vision” which presumably is where the more modern term originated. You can hit up on your d-pad and send in Senu to scout out a bandit camp or guarded area to mark targets and plan your approach. Using a combination of a bow and a hidden blade/ whistle technique, stealth approaches tend to be more favourable as opposed to lunging head-first into close combat. Regardless of how you decide to play, you can level your skill tree to match your preferred approach to combat. Bayek can control arrows, tame wildlife or harness parry abilities to up his ante in a fight. Whether you look to pursue a good sword fight, strike from the shadows or torment your enemies with sleep darts, there’s plenty of differing skills to be obtained through earning experience to cater to your playing preferences. However, even after hours upon hours of gameplay, after you’ve attained countless new abilities and uncovered a lethal arsenal of weaponry by solving the Papyrus riddles, Origins will still continue to throw higher level, deadlier enemies at you as to stand between you and the end of the game, including the Phylakes (bounty hunters) who will actively hunt you when you are nearby in hope of pocketing a few coin. This particular Creed title prides itself on the ongoing challenge it presents to you as you play on, urging you to plough through those side quests to keep up with level requirements.
With a charming lead, powerful story, completely refreshed gameplay mechanics and a extensive map to explore, Assassin’s Creed Origins may well be Ubisoft’s most outstanding Creed release to date. It would seem they have collectively brewed a potion of all the most successful aspects of the series, Origins being the final product. Bayek is a wonderful asset to the Creed catalogue of protags and you’ll enjoy every second of the emotional journey he and his wife, Aya embark on in Origins. Moreover, there’s also the reintroduction of some modern day out of Animus gameplay, details of which I will not spoil. I will however say that these playable sections are great for uncovering more story but can be skipped to an extent if frolicking around in Ancient Egypt suits your playing needs better. It’s definitely an aspect of the game you will welcome back in some respect. Ultimately, Ubisoft took a widely loved series that was heading downhill fast, totally re-imagined it and have been met with a reception that shows off their decision as a worthwhile one. In their own way, Ubisoft took a leap of faith and right now they’re no doubt nestled in a pile of hay, grinning ear to ear. Stay your hand, Anubis for the Assassin’s Creed series isn’t ready to shake hands with you just yet.