Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 10/27/17
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (played on PS4)
ESRB/PEGI: M/PEGI 18
MSRP: $59.99 USD
Written by Rick Warren / Gfn2112
After a two-year hiatus, the Assassin’s Creed series has made its return with AC: Origins. As a long-time fan of the series who has played every mainline entry and spinoff, I was excited to jump back in. However, even as a fan, I never expected this game to be what it is. Origins is wildly different from any Creed game before it, and ultimately, that’s a good thing. When my 60 hours of side quests, crafting, boss fights, and exploration ended, I was left with one thought: “I loved my time with this game”.
The (re)birth of the Brotherhood
Early last month, I shared some of my problems with the Assassin’s Creed series as a whole. I attributed much of the general feeling of fatigue with the series to two key issues: the stalling present-day story and the lack of character development. Thankfully, Origins manages to fix both.
I was caught off guard immediately by the modern-day portion of Origins. I had grown accustomed to the meaningless present-day storyline that has existed since AC3, and though I’ve had hopes that things would change for the better, I didn’t think that Origins would incite that change. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. There is only a handful of present day moments, but within them lies a computer with two hours of backstory that is worth a look. Further, within those few scenes, we’re finally introduced to a new playable protagonist: Layla Hassan. She’s experienced some of the bleeding effect, and she created a portable Animus that gives her access to the memories of anyone. The mere existence of Layla is the first time since Desmond’s death where I’ve been excited about where the modern-day story might go. What about the crux of every Assassin’s Creed game, though? Could the protagonist of this Egyptian entry be memorable with only one game?
A single game has never been enough to give an Assassin the time they needed to progress as characters. Assassins like Edward Kenway and the Fryes were certainly likable, but they didn’t come close to the greatness of Ezio Auditore. Being focused on for three games allowed Ezio to change as a character and move beyond his revenge arc. As players, we saw his birth, and we saw him go from being a cocky teenager to a master Assassin. Seeing the entire life of the character made him the fan favorite he is today. Why does that matter, though? It matters because AC: Origins is the first time since Ezio where the protagonist sees some real character development.
Bayek is the main protagonist of this entry, and like most assassins, his quest is based on him getting revenge. Without spoiling anything, he’s forced to do something terrible by The Order, the original Templars. As he takes down each member of the mysterious group, it becomes increasingly clear that Bayek is obsessed with his vengeance. At the same time, he’s not completely stiff. This is noticeable in some of the goofier side quests, but even more apparent when he’s with his wife, Aya. Their relationship feels passionate, and it’s nice to get some upbeat moments between them taking out those who wronged them. Another great thing about this close relationship is that Aya herself is a good character. The way she handles everything is a direct contrast to her husband, who’s stuck in the past and has no thoughts of the future. Their final interaction works extremely well, and feels real. By the end of the game, Bayek had gone from being a Medjay (an Egyptian protector of the people) to becoming an assassin, and it’s a journey that made sense. Aya ended up in a similar position, and her final mission was one of my favorite moments in the series. The husband and wife duo’s story is solid, and while I still wouldn’t put them near Ezio, I’m confident in saying that they are the best assassins we’ve seen since.
A new breed of Creed
Bayek (and Aya) likely won’t return for another game, but for once, that’s okay. Unlike the other one-off assassins, it feels like their story was told in its entirety here. They didn’t need a trilogy of games, because Assassin’s Creed Origins was as long as 3 Creed games combined. This game wasn’t just longer, though. It was so different from the other games in the series that, with a few changes, it could have been a brand-new IP.
Rather than just implementing small elements from the genre like the other games, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a full-blown RPG. From a full-blown gear and crafting system to a deep skill tree, players will find much of what they would see in an Elder Scrolls or Fallout game. The world feels populated, full of animals, people, and written documents that add some extra depth to the setting. Calling the open world massive would be an understatement, too. Only about 1/3 of the play area was Desert, making for plenty of the parkour and leaps of faith that the series is known for. Exploring Egypt became my favorite part of the game. I had fun clearing each Witcher-style question mark off the map, whether it be diving for treasure or clearing out camps of soldiers. Bayek’s eagle, Senu, made spotting these locations and the enemies within them much easier. The overhead view of the world provided by controlling this bird always reassured me that there was always plenty to do, and the game never stopped feeling overwhelming.
The new approach had an extremely positive effect on the game’s other side activities. Boss fights with War Elephants and huge, ancient Egyptian gods provided a genuine challenge. Chariot races were available. The arenas offered some great additional fights, from horde mode to smaller-scale boss battles. They allowed the new combat system to shine, and it’s a system that I’m glad exists. Assassin’s Creed combat has always been fun, but too easy due to the “wait to counter” mechanics. Now, fights were a challenge, and I always felt engaged. Overpower moves allowed Bayek to deliver one huge strike on an enemy, or a flurry of quick attacks on a group. The mechanics was extremely satisfying, and I’m excited to see it evolve more in the future. Nearly as good as the fight mechanics, though, were the easter eggs. The audio logs that come from The First Civilization and the hallucinations in the Desert were some of my favorites, but none could compare with the rewards from the biggest easter egg. It pays tribute to one of the best RPGs this generation, and any fans of the game in question will be pleasantly surprised with the optional quest.
That’s not to say that all optional quests were easter eggs. Far from it, as there are about fifty side missions in total. These are very much like the extra quests in most RPGs, ranging from repetitive fetch missions to quest lines with cutscenes. I appreciated some of the funnier missions, as well as the ones that wrapped up the arcs of minor characters in the main story. Still, they spotlighted almost all the problems that exist within the game.
While Bayek, Aya, and the major historical figures look and sound fine, many of the characters in the side quests do not. The open world always looks gorgeous, but some of the character models aren’t visually appealing at all. These same models can also be voiced poorly, something that is far too common of an occurrence to be ignored. Other minor, technical issues include long load times before and after cutscenes, Bayek occasionally “getting stuck” in the environment, and players not being able to control the speed of their mount. These problems do add up, of course, but they aren’t nearly enough to hold this game back from being a major step forward.
Assassin’s Creed Origins has some minor problems, but they’re minuscule in comparison to the game’s vast strengths. The RPG approach greatly improves the open world series, as does the new combat system and lengthy storyline. Ubisoft Montreal capitalized on the extra year of development time, and I highly recommend giving the series another go. Origins is by far the best Assassin’s Creed game of this generation.
Origins takes the Assassin's Creed series in a bold new direction, and it’s the right one...
Gorgeous open world + amazing activities +4
Solid story + strong protagonist(s) + 3
Welcome redesign of the combat system +2
Progress in the present day +1
Some weak voice acting throughout -.5
A handful of small technical issues -.5
FINAL SCORE: 9