Game: Assassin’s Creed Origins
Consoles: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Retail copy supplied by Ubisoft (The Gold Edition, no less. Thanks, Ubi!)
Let’s get one thing very clear before we continue with this review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I barely touched the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Even though I played through and enjoyed many of Ubisoft’s games (with Watch Dogs 2 and Rayman Legends being personal favorites of theirs), I played the first half hour or so of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag but never had the time to properly play through them. Feel free to dismiss my 1,600+ words I have to say about Assassin’s Creed: Origins if you wish, but this entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise is great for newcomers like me due to its status as a prequel telling the origins of the Assassin Brotherhood. So if you want a newcomer’s perspective, look no further.
And what does a newcomer think of Ubisoft’s attempt at trying to revitalize the Assassin’s Creed franchise? It’s alright.
If Ubisoft’s objective was trying to revitalize the franchise, it doesn’t leave a good first impression as far as the story is concerned. It’s the same plot of trying to avenge the death of a family member Ubisoft has reused again and again not just in Assassin’s Creed but in its other open world efforts. The lovey dovey couple, the conspiracies, the betrayals, all of this we’ve seen before. I don’t need to be a newcomer to tell you that it’s all very rote. The story is hard to follow not because it’s overly complicated but because it hangs on by the barest of threads. It doesn’t help that the game’s nature as an open world game makes the pacing even more sporadic. At least the characters are pretty fun.
Oh and don’t worry, the subplot with the Animus project is still here for the 10 of you who care.
As for the moment to moment stealth gameplay, it’s pretty great. As an assassin, your main task is to assassinate key figures and complete other objectives as you travel to and from camps swarmed with guards. You first get a literal bird’s eye view of the camp with your eagle friend, Senu, marking guards, turrets, alarms, and objectives and planning the most optimal approach. As you go through camps, you’ll be taking out guards left and right like an Egyptian ninja. Thanks to your various abilities, your approach allows for some emergent and creative gameplay. You could cause someone to go berserk and attack guards on your behalf, causing one to rush to the alarm and have it blow up in their face because you booby trapped it. You could hide dead bodies or have guards intentionally find the body you poisoned so they get sick allowing you to finish them off. You can throw a sleep dart at a guard climbing a ladder so they fall to their death. It really puts you in the mindset of an assassin planning the best way to eliminate a target both both before and in the moment.
Inevitably you’ll get caught and you’ll have to fend off enemies in combat. You do so by locking onto a target, dodging or parrying attacks at the right time, and then following up with your own attacks. Dark Souls comparisons are pretty apt (if a little trite) but honestly it fits more with The Legend of Zelda… the one all the way back on the N64. Combat at its core is stiff and uncomfortable, with attacks from you and your opponent jerking you around. Even the basic enemies hit hard with you only chipping away at them. This would be fine but your only method of healing is to wait for your health to regenerate, and even then it only regenerates portions of it. Also, enemies have a nasty habit of getting out of your attack range after the knockback of a strong hit. You can use tools and arrow shots in combat as well as weapons with different attributes (anything with a chance to poison or burn on hit is pretty much required for the latter parts of the game), but it doesn’t help the combat go smoother.
You could argue that the clunky combat is meant to dissuade you from going in guns blazing and instead encourage you to do things more stealthily and creatively. That may be true, but the game forces you into combat situations. Certain missions can only progress by fighting people in combat. Not only that, but high level opponents can survive your assassination attempts. So even though you took a stealthy approach, you still have to finish them off in combat. These moments can kill you and force you to repeat entire camp encounters and parts of a mission, leading to some very frustrating moments.
Also, I find it a little hard to believe even in a game with gods and underworlds that someone could take a blade to the throat or an arrow to the skull and live.
Fortunately, one way to alleviate this problem is to gain experience points, uncover new loot, and upgrade gear from materials and money by exploring the world. And boy is it a gorgeous world to explore. The extra time spent on this game’s world has clearly paid off, giving us a beautifully lush and organic landscape accented by the rich culture of Ancient Egypt. There’s plenty of objective chasing as is standard for an open world game, some of which like finding the stone circles can feel like a chore, but there’s also puzzles from Papyrus Scrolls where you have to solve a riddle and observe the world in order to find treasure. I love how you can just stumble upon side quests. You can just look them up in the overworld map, but I most often found them by hearing someone cry out in distress or by finding a clue in a secret area. The game feels more like a lived-in world rather than just a pretty playground like many of Ubisoft’s other open world games.
Many of the main missions require you to be at a certain level as enemies even a couple of levels above you are too hard to kill, giving you ample incentives to run around the world. However it can feel like a bit of a grind to get to that level especially once you pass level 15 or so.
The worst part about the grind is that it makes the microtransactions all the more tantalizing. The in-game store offers you the option to buy coins, crafting materials, ability points, powerful weapons, and even the locations of stone circles and tombs for real life cash. So if you don’t want to spend time grinding for XP, you can just buy your strength. Oh, and there are loot boxes to buy too. Not only does it prey on those with impulsive tendencies, but it devalues the time you spend in the game by putting value on the time you could save.
The parkour needs some fine tuning as well. Climbing around can be fun, but since there are only two buttons and the movement of the analogue stick dictating your movement, you never know where you’re going to end up when you move. On trickier terrain or in the heat of evading enemies, it can be quite a mess.
And let’s not forget the glitches. I had the game crash on me two times during my playthrough; the game crashed after a cutscene ended and it soft locked after fast traveling. Thankfully those were the most egregious bugs; others were more humorous such as a horse drawn cart rapidly turning back and forth while moving forward.
The stealth gameplay can be a real joy as it puts you in the role of an assassin taking names with his bag of tricks. Exploring the world can be just as enjoyable. Even though you’re doing the same thing over and over again, it doesn’t really feel like it. However the just passable combat, lackluster story, sticky parkour, and grind of gaining levels do take their toll and you can get pretty fatigued with everything. And because of all that, Assassin’s Creed: Origins doesn’t stand out nearly as much as it wants to from other games like it.
I can’t tell you how it compares to other entries in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but I do know that there are better open world games out there. Watch Dogs 2 in particular features even more creative gameplay with its hacking as well as a much better and more fun story and characters. Still by all means play the game if you’re interested in the series as this is a great place to start, but keep in mind that there are other, much better open world franchises to invest in.
With the franchise taking a hiatus, Ubisoft really wanted Assassin’s Creed: Origins to be an event, something to really impress the player after all this time. But really, it’s just another Ubisoft open world game. A good Ubisoft open world game, but a Ubisoft open world game none the less.
- Creative stealth gameplay should feel repetitive but it never does
- Tons of fun tools to play with
- Beautiful world to explore as well as reasons to explore it
- Story is rote and boring
- Combat is stiff and uncomfortable, and forced combat can lead to frustration
- Some optional challenges feel like busywork
- Parkour is sticky and often doesn’t work as intended
- Microtransactions are gross