After 2 years, Ubisoft has released the next Assassin's Creed game, in the form of, Origins. Did more time make the series better? Where does it stand up in the series? Check out our official review!
Assassin’s Creed Revives the Brutality
For roughly a decade, Ubisoft has been churning out Assassin’s Creed games like it was candy and Halloween was approaching. It started out strong, featuring memorable characters like Altair and Ezio in Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 and Brotherhood. Unfortunately, after 3 solid games, the series began to resemble a rollercoaster, with a bad game followed by a good game, etc. The Ezio saga ended on a low point in the ill-advised Revelations. The series rebounded during the revolutionary war in Assassin’s Creed III, but not by much. Ubisoft was then finally able to reinvigorate the series with the pirate adventure, Black Flag, only to fall right back down with the intensely-glitchy Unity. Released alongside Unity was the little-known AC title, Rogue, that happened to be the better of the two. Understanding their shortcomings, Ubisoft hoped to make things right with the Victorian-era AC Syndicate. While Syndicate was decent, it couldn’t make up for the issues it sustained after its glory days. For a long time, it was thought that Ubisoft had lost their magic.
The best thing Ubisoft ever did was make the difficult decision to not release an Assassin’s Creed game, annually. It allowed them to refocus and work out all the bugs before the release of the next title. A fact that is proven in Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
While the renaissance era may have been in Ezio’s time, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a renaissance in the AC universe. Everything you loved about the quality AC games, of the past, has been featured in Origins. A memorable character, incredible scenery, intriguing missions, and unapologetic brutality.
In Origins, you find yourself as Bayek, a Medjay, who is out to claim vengeance on the masked men who had a hand in killing his son. The story follows the same predictable motivation like all the others. Someone close to the protagonist dies, causing the character to strive for vengeance. Then, after a series of deaths, they wind up finding the Brotherhood and becoming master assassins. The differences with this one, compared to the others, are three things.
First, it’s so much more brutal than any of its predecessors. Some of the deaths will enact that shock emotion we haven’t felt in previous games. Next, it’s far more mystical than any of the prior games. While the others used the artifacts and weird alien gods to infuse the mystique, Origins uses the mythology of Egypt as its vehicle. The result is a much darker, creepier mysticism than we’re used to, but it’s definitely welcome. Finally, Ubisoft did a fine job in making Assassin’s Creed: Origins feel more like a movie than the one they made with Michael Fassbender. Everything from the pacing of story to the subsequent missions that follow serves to reinvigorate a franchise that was once spiraling downward.
Going Back to Their Roots
One of my biggest gripes of the franchise was when Ubisoft felt the need to cut out the outside person reliving the memories of these heroes. Once they killed Desmond in AC III (spoiler alert), the series took a different approach of the host by having them work at an Abstergo building in Canada for AC Black Flag. It was actually pretty cool to experience the outside world in first-person. Then, Ubisoft pivoted again by eliminating any reference to the outside world by having the host stay in the memories for Unity and Syndicate. Thankfully, my prayers were answered in Origins.
AC Origins introduces a new outside character by the name of Layla Hassan. Hassan is a college drop-out who joins Abstergo, due to her biomechanics savvy. She is feisty, headstrong, and has no concept of protocol. So, everything you’d want out of a lead outside character. Using conversations with her partner Deanna and a trusty laptop, you learn that the duo traveled to Egypt to uncover a lost relic for Abstergo. Driven by ambition to impress the Templar-owned company, Hassan Unlike develops a portable Animus that she rigged up to Bayek’s mummy to relive his memories.
I understand the argument that these games are about the assassins, but what allowed us to relate to these characters, in the first place, was the ability to see things from the perspective of the outside world. Little one-scene moments of people yelling at you from the Animus that Abstergo is evil and you can’t trust them hardly exemplifies the danger of the outside world. Having Layla be our vehicle is the perfect way to do just that. Her development, along with Bayek’s, helps to restore the AC franchise’s long-lost roots, we’ve been missing out on.
Iffy Combat Mechanics in an Otherwise Smooth Game
For Origins, Ubisoft switched combat systems from a paired animation system to more of a hit-box system. In layman's terms this means that they took on a more realistic approach. Strikes will only hit what is nearby, shields can only protect so much, and misses will happens A LOT. This system also allows for a bigger variety of assassinations. No longer is it the same thing over and over again. Depending on how you strike depends on how they die.
While it’s a cool concept, at times it does feel a little clunky. That could stem from the fact that it’s not what we’re used to in an AC game. Regardless, the combat mechanics are so different and hard to use, at first, that it’s entirely more effective to play stealthy than it is to get into a fight. For when you’re surrounded by 3 or more enemies, the odds are good that you’re about to get wrecked.
Furthermore, it becomes key to survival to pay attention to the attributes Ubisoft added to the gear in this AC go around. Several times, I pull out one of my bows, aimed, and suddenly I’m unleashing like 5 shots in a row, when I wasn’t ready to fire. Admittedly, it’s a cool feature that each weapon grants its own unique ability, but it can get annoying if you’re not expecting it.
Alternatively, the game does feel a LOT smoother. Movements, especially riding on a mount, seem to flow a lot better than in previous games. Even the flawed combat mechanics actually flow pretty smoothly. Plus, the upgrade system is ergonomic and provides helpful abilities.
Despite that, though, it’s obvious that Ubisoft overhauled their entire way to fight and it’s not for the better. Sure, the unpredictability of the deaths is quite enjoyable, but that’s about where the buck stops. When they revised their system, they left out a lot of what helped gamers out in previous AC games, like counter and sprint. Now, parrying is your best friend, but even that’s not the greatest.
Lastly, targeting is a pretty big issue. When fighting with others, you really cannot figure out who you’re fighting and who your allies are. I stumbled upon a brawl between soldiers and citizens. When I entered the fray, I had no clue who was who. They were all attacking me so I just killed them all. It’s just another thing that muddles an otherwise well-done game.
Ancient Egypt Reborn
There is a lot to love about Origins. The first thing that comes to mind is the sensational decision to go to Egypt. The scenery is beautiful and perfect in every way. It’s definitely one of those games you spend hours just ogling, as you run around in this giant sandbox (literally). However, the picturesque environment isn’t necessarily what makes it feel authentic. It’s the people.
One of my biggest gripes of AC: Unity was that you were placed in France but everyone spoke with an English accent. It missed the mark by a lot in its pursuit of authenticity. Ubisoft didn’t make that mistake in Origins. Every citizen, from NPC to Bayek, sounds like they are from the area. Even Layla, who works in Philadelphia, sounds like every person from Philly I’ve ever met, harsh.
It gets even better when you see how they adapted the ancient Egyptian culture. I appreciated the lengths they went through to make sure that every NPC’s appearance and occupation was consistent with the timeline. It’s interesting to watch these NPCs in action and how certain developments test the faith to their Gods. It’s a testament to the level love and attention Ubisoft put into this game, and it shows.