Assassin’s Creed games typically fall into one of two categories: brilliant or lacklustre. The fantastically realised worlds and immersive stories behind Assassin’s Creed 2 and Black Flag are counterbalanced by the glitch-filled mess of Unity, and the bland forgettable tale of Syndicate. Having played every game in the series, I have found something in them all to enjoy. Now that Origins has arrived with so much promise (coming from the team behind AC IV: Black Flag), we’ll see which category it slips into.
Origins is set in Egypt during the time of historical greats such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. The story unfolds through the players’ control of Bayek, a Medjay from the Siwa region of Egypt. His motivation for the mountains of corpses he leaves behind is as simple as it is relatable; his son is dead and he wants revenge. This adventure into the past is told through the use of the Animus, the oh-so-convenient plot device at the crux of the AC universe. The modern-day segments of the series have slowly been whittled away throughout each AC game release, and even here they are given very little screen time. If you are a big fan of the overall story of the series, then this might annoy you, but for me it made little difference to my enjoyment of Origins.
Bayek’s journey will take him across a massive open world, filled with some beautiful sights. Rocky mountains with hidden caves with many secrets, a vast sea of sand that comes alive with the winds of a storm, the ancient beauty of Alexandria and the crumbling homes of the people of Siwa are each a wonder to see. Travelling across the large map and exploring the many ancient landmarks also turns out to be quite educational. Notes and logs that you can find in many places give intriguing little snippets of information about this time; history lessons are rarely this entertaining.
Every area I had travelled to has a tangible sense of life to it; people in the cities went about their daily lives. Everyone in Siwa seemed to know and respect Bayek, making interactions them far more personable. Even when traversing across the vast fields of sand and being set upon by a pack of ravenous hyenas, it doesn’t feel scripted or planned. This is a game that makes it feel like something interesting could happen at any given moment; I just seemed to stumble into fun adventures with ease.
The main story of Origins will take you somewhere between thirty and forty hours to get through. On top of all the main missions are countless side quests. Most of these you can stumble upon organically but if you want to see all your currently open objectives, you can see them in the menu system. Additional side quests come in handy, as Origins has brought a lot more RPG elements into the game, more so than any predecessor AC game before it, the Skill Tree being chief among them.
The Skill Tree, combined with the new levelling up system means that you start off as weak as dishwater, but if you put in the time and effort to develop your skills, Bayek is near untouchable. You can also choose from a multitude of different weapon types and clothing styles; clothing is merely a cosmetic choice, but if you are playing as the founder of the Assassins Order, you might as well look as badass as possible while doing it.
Combat has also gone through a big overhaul from previous games. Whether you are swinging a blade, dodging a club or parrying, battles feel more intense. In a one on one battle you won’t really have too much trouble, but against larger groups of enemies on higher levels, you may find yourself quickly overwhelmed in co-ordinated attacks. Stealth is as usual the best way to go in these situations.
Every previous Assassin’s Creed game encourages you to choose stealth over direct assaults, but in Origins, I found staying hidden to be a trickier task. It can be hard at times to tell where the boundary of hiding areas (like tall grass) are, which resulted in accidentally revealing my location more than once. On other occasions Bayek would hop onto a nearby ledge which would also give away my position. It didn’t happen often enough to break gameplay or annoy me to the point of frustration, but just enough occurrences that make it worth mentioning. The mixture of stealth-action and RPG can feel out of sync occasionally; the need to grind up to a higher level or scour the map for resources can be a bit of a drag sometimes.
Played on Xbox one X, combined with a decent 4k TV, you will be blown away by how fantastic a world Ubisoft has brought to life but even if all you had was a tiny 14-inch screen with no colour, this game would still look brilliant.
Assassin’s Creed has had its ups and downs over the ten years it has been around, and depending on whether you have followed the series throughout that decade, you either love the games with a passion, or have just a casual interest in giving it a go. Origins is a strong step in the right direction for the series, and if this is your first experience in the world of assassins, it’s a strong standalone game. Well worth your time.