I haven't been excited by an Assassin's Creed game in a while. The series hasn't really managed to pull out many interesting new angles that I wanted to experience. Still, I played them, because a fan I am. This year things have been turned around, and I have been genuinely excited about Assassin's Creed Origins since its announcement. After my first few hours ended on a positive note, I have dived back into the game again and again for more. So is this really the revolution Assassin's Creed needed, or should it take more than a year off?
You play as Bayek, an Egyptian who bears the title of "Medjay", which basically means he's a sheriff. The game starts somewhere in the middle of the plot, with Bayek and his wife Aya on a quest to kill a group of masked men that tricked him into murdering his son. You'll be learning about both the events that led up to this and Bayek's quest after and things spiral out of control in typical Assassin's Creed fashion as the two learn about a conspiracy that threatens all of Egypt.
The plot itself is fun to watch as Bayek travels from one place to another to go on his crazy revenge trip. Learning the histories of the order and trying to work out what they're doing is the more interesting part of the plot. This is especially thanks to some good characters. Bayek himself is probably one of the more interesting Assassin's Creed protagonists, a good mix of the serious and humorous that works well with the series. He also has an interesting relationship with his wife Aya, with their relationship becoming more and more strained as they get pulled in different paths.
The big draw here is getting to learn the histories of both the Assassins and the Templars, which is a bit hit and miss in delivery. Some of the plot notes certainly are interesting, and I enjoyed getting to see the weird little customs the Assassins have performed get explained here. On the other hand, some of the revelations can best be described as "stupid". The discovery of how the Assassins chose their symbol is so dumb that I genuinely burst out laughing when it happened.
At the start you're introduced to the basics of the combat and parkour system. As I mentioned in my initial impressions, the combat has seen a massive overhaul. You'll be chaining together light and heavy attacks in combat with groups of enemies, making the gameplay closer to something like The Witcher than older Assassin's Creed games. As you fight you'll raise an adrenaline bar that you can use on special attacks, like a multi-hit push to knock enemies away or overpower attacks to deal massive damage. You'll also need to use your shield to parry attacks, or dodge heavy attacks that you can't block. There's a bunch of different weapon types as well, all of which feel unique and full of little quirks. For example, scepters and sickle swords don't have an overpowering attack and instead allow Bayek to attack at double speed for a limited time, regular swords and dual swords allow you to use charge attacks while moving, while heavy blades don't have a push attack but instead a chain of fast blows that slowly drain your adrenaline bar. Experimenting and finding the weapon that best fits you quite important.
I had a bit of fun with the combat system. Enemy encounters no longer felt like instant wins that could be solved with a quick counter-attack. Instead, I was putting some real effort into combat and had to be careful not to get overwhelmed by enemies stronger than me. Combat encounters saw me having to switch how I took on enemies, trying to break their shields or keep up with their fast movements. It doesn't entirely solve the "combat over stealth" problem, but this is because I was genuinely having fun in battles instead of easily plowing through everything.
That said, there's other reasons to not use stealth too. Frankly, sneaking around just isn't very satisfying. Bayek can avoid enemies by crouching down in bushes, hiding behind objects, and other vaguely Assassin-ey things. Getting behind or above enemies lets perform a stealth attack, which should instantly kill all but the toughest of enemies. The stealth system is simple but effective, but I just never really had as much fun using it as I did with just jumping into combat. It feels like the whole "assassin" part of Assassin's Creed is getting phased out slowly.
Occasionally you'll also take part in boss fights, both in the real world and in Bayek's dreams. I almost want to compare these fights to the Metal Gear Solid series, as they contain a good amount of weird situations and clever mechanics. One fight saw Bayek fighting against a master archer in the middle of a sandstorm, having to avoid her attacks while hunting her down and fighting off her pet hyenas. Another boss that took place deep in Bayek's dreams saw him being attacked by a giant snake and having to hold it off by shooting at its weak spots with arrows. Each boss fight felt unique, and I had fun anytime I knew I was getting into one.
There is an exception to the fun combat, and that comes from mounted combat. Part of this is because there's basically nothing to it, you'll just mash the attack button while running in circles. Part is because I never felt in control of the horses, with my movements feeling more like suggestions than actual commands. Thankfully there's not too much of it in the game and unless you're specifically going out of your way to experience it then you won't have more than a handful of mounted fights.
The parkour has avoided a complete retooling and has instead just been slightly overhauled. Climbing is easier than before, with a major increase in the number of grabbable points on any given wall. You can also easily climb mountains with little resistance, somewhat like Breath of the Wild. It makes traversing the world much more fluid, avoiding the weird problem of getting stuck on strange environmental hangups.
As you wander the world you'll find "interesting locations" for Bayek to explore. Each of these locations has small objectives inside of them that give XP when completed. For example, coming to a holy place may lead to a hunt for a scroll and a fort may contain commanders to kill. There are a ton of these in the game, each region seeming to have an endless supply of them. They're also super repetitive, but if you enjoy clearing out map markers to nab small amounts of XP and loot, then you'll probably enjoy clearing these out as well.
There is also a bunch of side quests for you to do. It's a toss in the air on which side quests are actually going to be worth doing though. There are some fantastic ones, like a lengthy one that involves Bayek playing hide & seek with his friend's kids then helping his friend solve a merchant's dispute before finally agreeing to put on a combat show for the friend's church. On the other hand, there are side quests that boil down to "go to location X and kill all enemies" or "collect Y materials for me". There's more good than bad here, but it doesn't hit the Watch Dogs 2 level of making every side quest unique and interesting.
Nearly all of this content makes use of Bayek's pet bird Senu. At any time you can switch to the bird, giving you an overview of the area. Senu can track enemies for Bayek, allowing him to see their patrol routes and avoid them. She can also point out things like hidden treasure chests or secret entrances. It makes me wonder if Senu is actually a decedent of a seeker drone instead of hawks, but she's a valuable tool that I came to appreciate having around.
Ship combat returns as well, though it is different from what was in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Without gunpowder to bring out the cannons, combat instead becomes about launching arrows at the other ship, which means you're aiming arcs at them. Get close to an enemy ship and you can order a firebombing as well. If you're attacked by enemy ships you can put up shields to reduce the damage done by arrows and then drop them to instantly counter attack. It feels good, and I enjoyed battling other ships much like I did in past games. However this isn't "a pirate game with some assassinating tacked on" like Black Flag, and you won't be spending more than a couple of missions with the boat.
It isn't an Assassin's Creed game if you don't also spend some time in the modern day. This time around, you're following Layla Hassan, an Abstergo researcher who feels like she's not getting the credit she deserves and takes it upon herself to find out Bayek and Aya's histories on her own. It plays just like the main game, only with just a small area to explore. You can look through her computer and find out details about past modern day Assassin's Creed characters, and there's a neat Watch Dogs tie-in (of all games) as well. That said, those that are still holding out hope that anything of interest will actually happen in the modern day I have bad news for you. Nothing really happens, and this section was merely a brief distraction from the stuff I'd rather be playing.
Frankly there's so many elements in Assassin's Creed Origins that I don't even think I can cover them all without another five thousand words in this review. There's a basic crafting system, where you can use eight materials to upgrade Bayek. You can hunt animals to collect materials, both to upgrade and sell. You can find dead bodies of other players, and kill the enemies that killed them for extra experience. There's a merchant you can visit to receive randomized daily quests from. There are chariot races and gladiatorial combat you can partake in for money. Many long-time elements from the Assassin's Creed series are present in Assassin's Creed Origins as well but they've all been changed up in some way. For example, towers are no longer required to reveal sections of the map. Instead, climbing to the top gets you a chunk of XP, opens up a fast travel point, and levels up Senu. The more towers you collect, the better your bird is at spotting targets you're searching for. Not all of it is good (the chariot races are genuinely terrible) but there's so much here that if you don't like a few things, you can ignore them and miss little.
If there's one thing that wasn't carried over from the past few games, it's the myriad of glitches. That's not to say the game is completely stripped of technical problems, but they're not nearly as bad as they were in Assassin's Creed Unity and its related games. I did have one sidequest that I had trouble completing because an NPC I had to escort got stuck on a boat, a rare crash or two, and a few times when the game's frame rate (especially in the crowded cities) tanked. Still, it was impressive how few glitches I saw overall and this is easily the most polished Assassin's Creed game to date.
It's also the prettiest Assassin's Creed game to date. Assassin's Creed Origins' version of Egypt is absolutely beautiful. From its varied landscapes to its forgotten tombs, I never ceased to be amazed at whatever was in front of me. Rolling sandstorms or Bayek's mirages when he's spending too much time in the desert always provided visual treats that I loved just standing around and watching. There's also some strong voice acting, giving each character the emotion they needed for each scene. While the visuals and voice acting are good, the soundtrack is mostly forgettable and it usually just leaves me wishing Jesper Kyd would come back to the series.
The Assassin's Creed series has suffered for years by not changing up enough to make each new entry worth it. After playing over 50 hours of Assassin's Creed Origins I found myself impressed with just how much it changed without really ripping out the soul of the series. Longtime fans shouldn't hesitate in grabbing this one, but those who've been turned off by the series in the past may want to look into it as well. This isn't just the birth of the Assassins, but also a rebirth for the series.
Assassin's Creed Origins is exactly what the series needed. Changing up just enough elements to feel like a major difference in formula without ripping out the heart of the series, this is easily the best entry into the series in a long time.
- Interesting Characters
- Fun New Combat System
- Great Boss Battles
- Tons of Content
- Fantastic Open World to Explore
- Stunningly Beautiful
- Some of the Plot Points are Dumb
- Modern Day Continues to Be a Waste
- Mounted Combat is Clunky
- Boring Stealth