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Ubisoft has revitalized the franchise with a fresh new approach. There is still a lot of classic Ubisoft in Origins but they are expanding their comfort zone quite a bit. It isn’t perfect but it is more than rewarding enough to make up for the small growing pains as the franchise incorporates more RPG elements. Origins brings Hellenistic Egypt to life with stunning detail and gameplay that is more than just going through the motions.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is set the furthest back in the franchise history. In many ways, it is a perfect time period for the story of the first Assassin. Rome is still a republic but it is expanding quickly. The Ptolemaic Kingdom was one of the most successful Hellenistic kingdoms, but a power struggle and a rising Selucid threat mean its days are numbered.
This environment of conflict is perfect for Ubisoft’s formula of enemy camps and reclaiming territory. It also lends itself well to a diverse landscape that includes small villages, ruins, and “modern” Hellenistic cities. This story is set in 48 BCE, so of course, there are a number of historical figures but the political story is not the motivating factor the same way it has been in previous games.
One of the shifts in Origins is Bayek’s intrinsic motivations. Assassin’s of the past, which exception maybe of Edward Kenway, always seemed to be working as part of the organization for a greater good. Sure that good often meant killing a lot of people but it was in the name of duty and essentially saving the world. The same went for the Templars.
Here in 48 BCE, we have no Templars and no assassins. It sets the stage for a much more personal story. For Bayek, this is a story of guilt and revenge.The various members of the Shadowy order he is hunting may all be part of this secret society, which similar to the Templars is seeking out what players will easily identify as Pieces of Eden and other Isu tech, but they all have motivations that are deeply personal.
Each member appears to be acting mostly autonomously with their own ambitions and motivations to drive them to commit the deeds they have. Membership in the order appears more like a Skull and Bones type group which solidifies power rather than wants to use mysterious ancient technology to take over. In fact, many of the members don’t seem 100% aware of what the symbols of the old ones and ancients gods will even do.
Altogether, it makes for a compelling story about ambition and revenge. Occasionally Ubisoft gets a little heavy-handed with the symbolism but is the first time in a long time that I have actually wanted to pay attention to the post-death Tete-a-tete sequences in the game.
I will admit, I was certainly a bit wary of the changes to gameplay in Origins. I got to try the demo at Fan Expo earlier this year and the controls did not work for me as naturally as I hoped. It could have just been the years of Assassin games with completely different button mapping but I found myself button mashing my way through the demo a bit.
The button changeup and more complicated combat did take a little getting used to but once I did combat was fluid and a lot of fun. Players now need to more carefully time their blocking and parries as well as watch where they stand. Weapon length can affect the effectiveness of your blocking.The levelling system also more closely ties into combat. Something I set out to test and discovered to be quite true. Any enemy more than couple levels above you WILL kill you with little effort. The system is sufficiently challenging that even when you out level certain enemies confronting more than a couple at a time will prove deadly.
This does help promote a more varied form of combat however as my approaches in Origins use just about all of Bayek’s skills including classic assassinations, archery, tools, and swordplay.
One surprisingly great set of mechanics is horse combat. You can fight, shoot, even loot on horseback and it all works very intuitively. Lining up your blows can be a bit of challenge when enemies are moving but it is very satisfying to hack and slash from horseback.
Along with the new controls and mechanics is a new weapon and inventory system. Borrowing from other Ubisoft titles, Origins allows you to hunt for resources to craft upgrades. It also has a weapon rarity system. While they affect gameplay more than previous attempts at this they have little depth when compared to other RPGs.
For instance, you can find rare or legendary weapons with certain attributes but are unable to craft weapons with similar attributes. While you can upgrade protection and damage values outfits are still only aesthetic. You can not find or mix and match armour to buff specific stats as is common in other RPGs. It all feels like a good start to something but lacking depth.
Stealth is still an important part of the gameplay. Enemies are incredibly vigilant (at least with their cone of vision in front of them), but it doesn’t disrupt the gameplay it just encourages you to be better at it. Use brush, cover, and the occasional hay bale, but more important be aware of how the enemy is moving and how you need to move to get them. This subtle change makes stealth gameplay more like a puzzle or an Arkham game as you thin out enemies.
Ubisoft is still forgiving with enemy AI though, if you manage to use an enemy they will forget about you and return to their patrol route or even clean up the bodies you did stack up. It allows you to reset if something did go poorly.
The primary exception being boss and arena fights. Boss fights are actually kind of fun in Origins. Each feels sufficiently different and will test how well you have mastered Bayek’s combat system.
It is that commitment to keeping things from being stale that Ubisoft carried through Origins so well. Obviously, there is a certain amount of repetition in checking off discovering locations, clearing enemy camps, climbing synchronization points etc but I did get the feeling they wanted to make each repetition feel unique. Every “similar” mission presents its own challenges and many of the side missions I have played add character to the world which makes retrieving “that” item kind of worth it. PLUS LOOT.
Ubisoft has done an excellent job with world building in Origins. While they certainly take historical liberties the cities and ruins have been carefully recreated so you can see the brickwork, the stucco, the mosaics, columns, hieroglyphs, farms and more in the structures. Enough that as I explored my history student past-self was getting truly excited about the world they had brought to life.
The desert is beautiful, the Nile is vibrant, and Alexandria is fascinating. I could just wander around for hours, probably. There is a diverse selection of characters that do make the world feel alive even if they are NPCs.
Assassin vision is gone, replaced by the newer, marginally more realistic scouting trend in gaming: the drone. “But wait! they didn’t have drones in ancient times” you say. Its true so Ubisoft’s answer is your new favorite animal companion, Senu.
This eagle is one of my best things about Origins.It is just fun to use him to get a birds-eye view of Egypt but he is also very helpful. He is easy to control, helps you scout areas easily, plus he is just cool looking. He even helps you hunt.
Photo mode is a big new addition to the game and it is more than welcome. A game as stunning as thing deserves to be shown off and having the opportunity to freeze and remove the HUD is a BIG plus.
It can also be a little frustrating, however. To begin with, it can not be accessed 100% of the time, in particular, there are some story sections where the mode is not available. I also found the selection of filters a little underwhelming, as I found only two of them to be valuable. Perhaps it is unfair, but when compared to the photo mode in games such as Horizon Zero Dawn or Uncharted Lost Legacy, which give players options such as altering the time of day or removing characters from the shot, it seems lacking.
Still happy to have and I have been using the feature, maybe a little excessively. Aside from saving the screenshot, Ubisoft adds your shot to the social aspect of the game which allows you to see other peoples contributions as well.
Origins is a work of art, simply put. Every part of it looks stunning. From the Hellenistic architecture of Alexandria to the deserts there isn’t a single area that doesn’t feel made for a photo op.
It looks great on my PS4 but what is really amazing it is could look even more vibrant. It is one of the few games this year that has made me consider investing in a PS4 Pro/4K TV. The PC specs are not as intensive as I would have expected but reported the game’s DRM is giving players serious performance issues.
As far of errors go I did experience minor issues including at least one missing NPC I needed to finish a quest and that time I got myself stuck behind a wall, but as far as percentage of total game time they were few and far between. Nothing a quick jump to the nearest Fast Travel point didn’t resolve.
The only truly frustrating thing for me was the loading times. There are quite a few sections that require some thinking time to load usually between big scene shifts. While they do seem a little one the long side I could forgive them if not for the fact that there is often short bursts of loading when you exit Senu mode. The longer Senu has been exploring the longer you will have to wait to restore the basic game world. It breaks the flow of the gameplay and I hope there is something that can be done about it in future patches.
The audio is great in Origins. The music, the way your steps sound different on different surfaces, the animals, and the voice acting of the main characters. There was as much attention paid to the sounds in the environment as the design and it really helps sets the scene for the game. General quest giving NPCs can fall a bit flat but I do enjoy how Ubisoft has built-in a dialogue to account for if you have already retrieved whatever they had lost by accident, rather than making you go through the motions of accepting a quest just to turn it in.
There is so much to love about Assassin’s Creed Origins. For me the world alone makes this a fantastic game, I could explore Alexandria or Egyptian ruins for hours. Thankfully for everyone else, Ubisoft has included a lot of great gameplay as well.
Combat is fluid and pretty satisfying, at least once you have gotten used to the reworked controls, boss fights are diverse and interesting, the stealth core of Assassin’s Creed remains intact. I could rush around hidden blade assassinating people for the rest of the hours.
Ubisoft has taken a few risks by moving towards more RPG elements expanding on crafting and weapon attributes of previous games. They mitigated the risks quite a bit though which makes some of the features feel incomplete. For instance, I can use a blacksmith to upgrade my weapons for cash but I can’t add specific attributes like ‘Critical Hit’ or ‘Bleeding myself’, those need to be found on weapons already.
On the bright side what they have done works and makes a game that is a lot of fun to play. Hopefully, the success of these features means we may get even more depth in the future. Overall, this is fantastic, perhaps even replacing my reigning favourite Assassin’s Creed, Black Flag.
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