There is shaky ground as of late with gamer’s trust in the Assassin’s Creed series. The last one was filled with some broken elements and decent gameplay that mostly felt like a cookie-cutter template had been used in previous AC titles. Having watched the industry since the early 80s, I know some developers/publishers can easily fall into a routine when you know the structure of a game works and it is pretty much guaranteed success. The Assassin’s Creed series seemed to go this route, but it was not the only series to fall into that groove — not by a long shot. Many popular games find a structure that works and they keep reprinting. Different make-up, but generally the same face. Eventually, that blueprint for success becomes evident amongst gamers, which creates stale gameplay and dissidence amongst fans of the series.
That said, Ubisoft did something most companies would not have done, and you have to give them credit for making this decision. They decided to pull back a year from their major Assassin’s Creed story and think about what they wanted to do with the series before moving forward. After having a tough time with Unity and an even rougher sell with Syndicate, and a go-between with Chronicles, Ubisoft and Ubisoft Montreal took a good four years to produce something really special with Assassin’s Creed Origins. All of that time to bring the game they wanted to make to life really panned out well and certainly departed from the usual blueprint. This is a great game. Top five of the year, maybe top three.
Before we move on to the breakdown of why I would say that last set of sentences, let’s get the white elephant in the room out of the way right now. Yes, there are some minor glitches to this game. When I say minor, I mean minimum. In nearly 20+ hours of gameplay, I ran into three glitches. One of them froze my horse in mid-stride, but corrected itself in five seconds. The second had my feet trapped inside a treasure chest until I jumped out of it (to defend the treasure chest, I was smacking it with my sword out of anger). The last froze my character when I moved an object in a room during a particular mission I don’t want to spoil for you. All of these glitches were not game breakers, nor did they prevent me from continuing the game. The last one, which was the worst of the bunch, was solved by simply fast traveling to another area nearby, where I had synchronized my character earlier. When I returned to the same location to move the same object in the same mission, the glitch never repeated itself. In short, all of the griping you might be hearing about bugs in the game is uncalled for banter. It doesn’t affect the gameplay enough to really complain about and three glitches in this game, an open-world adventure, in a 20+ hour period of time is a ratio I will take any day of the week. I’ve seen bigger games with worse glitches that other folks have forgiven (looking at you version 1.0 of Fallout: New Vegas). You don’t need to worry about buying a broken game because it hasn’t proven to be broken while I’ve been playing it for the last week. If there is a day-one update, I’m sure it will patch these tiny holes up, but as it stands, Assassin’s Creed Origins is pretty damn solid in functionality.
Anyway, ignore the griping.
Okay, that shit out of the way, let’s actually talk about why you want this game in your library.
The story behind Assassin’s Creed Origins is revenge-driven. You take control of a Medjay named Bayek, who watched his son get murdered by a rogue group of individuals hellbent on taking control of the Ptolemaic Kingdom (and probably beyond), and at the time Bayek’s home city of Siwa. Bayek makes it his personal mission to track down all individuals involved in his son’s murder, also with the help of his wife, and take them down with brutal authority. Good revenge stories are always fun to play out. Outside of Bayek’s motivation for revenge, he is the first official assassin in the game’s history, thus the title ‘origins’.
The gameplay in ACO is similar to previous AC games, at least in terms of how you stealth/climb/attack/move on. I found the controls in this game to be as seamless as in previous AC game’s which is absolutely fine by me. You can wildly kill people or you can lock onto them and take them down. You can silently take down enemies or you can be as visibly loud as you want to take on a crew. You can kill the main boss in a mission and escape, or you can take an entire army down. You have flexibility with applying different strategies to situations, which is a key element of all AC games. That has worked in the past and it works now. Beyond that groundwork of the old familiar, the game is treated like an RPG on many levels.
As you progress from mission-to-mission, you’ll gain a certain amount of XP, depending on the difficulty of the mission, and use that XP to level up Bayek. Every time you level up Bayek, and I’m currently in the 20s right now in that category, you gain an ability point. This point can be used to upgrade your abilities, which are represented by a huge skills tree (see below). This tree has three categories in it: Warrior, Hunter, and Seer. Each category has quite a few different attributes that can be added to Bayek’s arsenal of dangerousness. Things such as being able to kill multiple targets at the same time in a trail of terror, upgrading to better bows and better weapons, as well Seer elements. There’s a lot going on here and it adds depth to Bayek’s adventure, as well as motivates gamers to keep going in the game. Not that the game itself doesn’t lend enough motivation, but it’s always nice to see shiny/new attributes to make one’s experience a little cooler.
Beyond upgrading abilities, there is also the ability to upgrade gear. You have a various pieces of gear you can acquire/upgrade along the adventure. From ranged weapons, such as bows (which you can carry more than one — that’s a neat option), to melee, shield, cloths and even down to your mounts (horses/camels). You can replace and upgrade these things. There is even a crafting portion of the game where you collect certain material, such as wood or animal skin, and upgrade different pieces of clothing and weaponry. It’s all very well done and, much like upgrading abilities, can be used to motivate exploration in the game.
Now, while XP works with abilities, as well as character leveling, you can search out and find gear pretty much everywhere in the game. There are things like sunken ships at the bottom of rivers, where you can acquire special gear from, and you can even find gear with bandits and thieves. There’s a lot different ways to acquire gear, and sometimes you’ll just have to leave the path to go searching for them in the wilderness. What’s even better is that the game does somehow keep track of your efforts, so as you progress or you randomly find things, the gear you happen upon usually is either the same or better than what you sport. This means that the game is actually rewarding you, which is a HUGE plus when it comes to creating motivation to keep moving forward and exploring the world Ubisoft Montreal has built. It really does make you want to find hidden things in the large land around you.
Moving on, let’s talk quests.
Generally, in large games like this you have more throwaway quests than you do meaningful ones. While I will say there are a few throwaways, the majority of the quests have purpose. For example, one quest had me rescuing actors that had been captured by the Roman government for putting on plays that went against their ideals. The quest, which paid handsomely in XP, had multiple pieces to it, which meant it was a long quest. In addition to the length, the story built behind it featured a strong sense of injustice. Bayek was doing something good to go against corrupt government folks. It seemed meaningful and was placed within the limits created for Bayek’s persona. Bayek wanted to help those bullied by injustice, which was this exact story. It added to the character’s reputation, while also creating an intriguing storyline that felt like something was accomplished by the end. Most of the side quests during the game were like this and it made me personally want to keep doing them. I can tell you without a doubt that the majority of my time with this game was playing those side quests. There are a shit ton of them in the game and each feels different from each other.
Staying with side quests, you will have on your navigation bar a series of symbols. Sometimes there is one that is an exclamation point, which means someone needs help with something. Sometimes there is a blue symbol with a little skull on it, which means someone was murdered and you can investigate it. Sometimes you will get question marks, which signify unexplored/discovered areas. There are a bevy of other symbols and each provides a new place to explore with the possibility of new missions to go on with it. In addition to a variety of ways to discover/play the game, there is also the Hippodrome. I’m not going to say a word about that, but it adds another cog of depth and differential to the game. There are a lot of these things and locations, which means you will definitely not be short of an adventure or having avenues to upgrade Bayek.
Let’s talk scope.
As Assassin’s Creed went through the years, the game slowly and slowly became big in scope. Visiting multiple towns and having huge maps to crawl around in was a concept that kept on moving upward in scale. This time out you’re looking at a scale that sets a new bar for the AC series. As you can see in my exploration video (just exploring, no spoilers or story moments) from a day or so ago, the land is just sprawled out with different places to explore and different flavors hat come along with those locales. What I mean by flavor is that you’ll find one town that is high-class with Roman citizens, while you might find another that is contrived of a nearly burnt down village populated by poverty-stricken Egyptians that are struggling to make ends meet. Each town you visit seems to be unique to the land that surrounds it. It’s puzzling how Montreal was able to make this game feel like it didn’t repeat in some areas, as that is what typically happens with large games of this scale. Each area felt like its own. Each one felt like a different class of people with a variety of different issues that needed attention. The entire scope of this game feels like a world that is very much alive, desperate at times and that brings something new at each corner of its gaming globe. This is Horizon Zero Dawn big, folks. It carries the same type of feel to it. It actually might be bigger in some respect. Regardless, you will want to explore and find things. You can use a ship, a horse/camel, or just jump around with Bayek’s own two legs. Ubisoft Montreal did one helluva job with making this experience ginormous on multiple scales. I’m not for certain I will be satisfied by another Assassin’s Creed game in this particular portion of gameplay.
On the enemy side of the tracks, which is where the malicious fun begins, and unlike the unique structure of towns/cities in the game, there are definitely some repeating characters. You will find the majority of the enemies you encounter are either bandits, Roman guards or some mixture of both. The ones you run into are related to the areas you explore. For example, you probably won’t find too many Romans in the middle of a broken down town in the middle of a desert. You will find a shitload of ruthless bandits with hyenas for dogs in such areas. You may find fancy Romans in the middle of large Roman towns, which would make sense, but you will rarely find poor thieves hunting you down in those areas, as those folks reside in the rundown part of the Roman city. It’s all relative to the locations you explore. It works for the most part and keeps you away from realizing how repetitive they can get.
Each enemy comes armed with various weapons. Most of the regular enemies (Roman or Bandit) will bare a sword and a bow. They will strike with the sword when they’re up close and break out the bow when you’re far away from them. Their strength/powerfulness of attack is determined by their level number, which lies above their heads near their energy gauge. How you dispatch them depends on how close you are to their level. If you’re within 1-2 levels of them, then you’re more than likely not going to have any issues dispatching them. If you’re off more than 3+, then you probably just need to run. Some of the stronger enemies in the game come packed with better armor, bigger shields and more powerful weapons. When you encounter those, they usually are either higher levels in the bunch, hack and slash probably won’t cut it (no pun intended). Those folks require more strategy, or you simply just need to kill them in their sleep. Speaking of which, you can fast-forward through days/nights (holding down the touchpad on the controller) to assure the best opportunities of killing folks are available. This traveling from day/night won’t work if you’re in the midst of a battle (or noticed).
To help you push through a bevy of enemies during a fight, there is a power bar above your life bar. In true Street Fighter vs. Capcom style, once that bar is full you can pull off a special move with Bayek. Usually this involves holding down R1+R2 and then going nuts on enemy forces. The powerful move lasts between 10-15 seconds and will take down multiple enemies without much fuss. It’s a good addition to the gameplay and it certainly helps in a sticky situation.
Beyond enemies and special moves, there are bosses in the game. Some of them are on the smaller missions, which are the mission’s main target, while the others are part of the story. The mission targets are fun and creative, though they’re just a step different than the rest of the regular enemies you might encounter. They do have personalities and purpose, though, plus strength to take you down, so approach with caution and strategize as much as you possibly can when attacking them. Slow and methodical is the nature of every AC game and this is no different with ACO with these particular bosses. They are a pain in the caboose if you don’t fight them right.
Now, while I won’t get too much into the story bosses, mainly because they are unique to each other and central to spoilers, I will say that Montreal did a great job with them. They are harder than the usual mission bosses and more powerful in terms of how they strategize against you. I want to talk about them so bad, but I can’t really give you details on how they move or act. Just know they aren’t simple beings to figure out. Of course, much like the rest of the game, there is a possibility you can dispatch them without fighting them too much, as Montreal has built the gameplay to stay consistent throughout during every fight, and I wish more people did that with their games, but to do so means that you have to strategize. Knowing the best way to approach a major boss is going to ensure quick and quiet dispatch of them. In some instances, though, you won’t have clean/cut solutions to taking bosses down. The fights and locations of them are fun, though. Anyway, strategy is the key to any fight in ACO, as well as knowing your surroundings. The bosses that Montreal built for the game fit great within the world made for them and work with the story beautifully.
Shifting gears just slightly, but staying with attacks, when you’re not taking down human beings in ACO, you’re taking down animals for various purposes. There are predator attacks in the game from the wildlife surrounding the cities, and sometimes within the cities. You have to deal with lions, hyenas, snakes, crocs and hippos. The latter of the two are the worst to have to deal with in the game, as they traverse both water and land and are incredibly elusive when being attacked (most animals will book it from their battlegrounds, if they feel they have no chance, but not these two animals). You will find your fair share of animals all over the lands, so you have to be cautious when traversing through the maps. Honestly, as annoying as some of the animals can be, they make sense in their place within the environments of ACO. These animals existed in the real landscape and are represented well in the game.
Now, occasionally, as you sail through the rivers of Egypt, you will happen upon citizens being attacked by said creatures. You can choose to stop the predator attacks and earn XP or you can sit back and watch the massacre. Being the good person that I was in the game, and carrying on Bayek’s tradition of righting injustice, I usually helped out people via bow from afar or trying to kill beasts up close. It honestly didn’t spawn a lot of XP, but it kept the persona of Bayek’s plight to make the world a better place alive and kicking. It also added another layer of impressiveness about how much thought was given by Ubisoft Montreal when designing this game. I do think that the animals were done well and their reaction to man’s presence in the game is frightfully genuine. Having been to Africa multiple times, I have seen wild animals go nuts on populations near their habitats. When I visited Livingstone, Zambia in 2012, we were informed by some villagers outside of the main city that their village would lose residents once a month from crocodiles dragging them out of the village. They told us this without blinking an eye and without a shocked face. It was a common thing. There isn’t much playing around with hippos or crocs.
Staying with animals, Bayek does have a hawk companion during gameplay. While the hawk is neat, and is his abilities are upgradable (nothing more entertaining than seeing a hawk attack an enemy), his sole purpose is to seek out enemies from high up without Bayek needing to do it. The hawk, with your control help, can tag and spot enemies and bosses. Granted, in hindsight, it’s a little cheat-y in a way, but it’s neat to be able to fly a hawk over an enemy camp and identify enemies and where the main enemy of a mission/story are residing. It does cut some corners that need cutting to keep consistent pace within the environment given. The hawk does a good job of serving multiple purposes in the game.
Beyond enemies, animals and such, the crux of the game is the various locations you can visit. There are the pyramids of Giza to explore (inside/out/top), desert lands to move around in, caves and such with detailed rewards and mysteries inside of them, and just a lot of different types of land with neat locations within them. You will find yourself lost more than once while exploring and finding these locations and seeing how far you can make it within each. For example, I visited the sphinx in the game (built after the actual one) and found a way inside. It wasn’t for a particular mission, but I found some neat weapons within and found a mysterious room that served some purpose, but I couldn’t figure out what the purpose is (I’m hoping it shows up later in the game). There are a lot of neat things to run through and to find non-mission jewels within. This in particular is one of the strongest parts of the gameplay and a big reason, if not THE reason, to play the game. You won’t be bored.
On the presentation side of things, ACO is a beauty. I reviewed this sucker on the PS4 Pro, which did a superb job of bringing in good lighting, details and draw distance/depth to the game. There were moments in the game where I just couldn’t believe the lighting, textures and such were kicking on all cylinders. While you will find some rendering happening here and there, it’s nothing incredibly noticeable in my opinion, just sitting back and enjoying things like water effects, the sun shining off the desert or on a building will have you in absolute awe. The girth of some of the cities you explore, especially the city of Alexandria, will keep your eyes occupied and fascinated as if you were watching a George Miller film (he builds his films to give your eyes less work and more focus on the action/characters). Visually, there is a LOT to love about ACO. It hits all the right ways on all the right marks. It’s a beauty, folks.
In terms of acting, Abubakar Salim did a superb job as Bayek. He brought emotion and personality to the character and sold Bayek’s tragedy beautifully. He was brilliant and absolutely deserves some recognition. He didn’t dial in the performance at all and he was fun to watch/hear. In addition to him, the cast brought in to help out with the story, even during missions and city jibber-jabber, brought the goods and rarely overdramatized the situations written for them. Even the crowds and minor characters with no barring on the overall story made missions more than just trivial events. The acting, as a whole, helped to bring this game to life. Credit directors Jean Guesdon and Ashraf Ismail for pushing the actors and bringing the best to the game. The game was helped tremendously by everyone’s efforts.
With all of the above said, is this game good? Again, it’s in my top five for the year. I know people will certainly complain about something, but ACO didn’t leave a lot on the table to bitch about. It’s an epic adventure that deserves your serious consideration. It’s the best of the AC bunch, at least so far. You should definitely purchase it. It’s got too much enjoyable, epic-scale content to pass up.