After the Assassin’s Creed: Unity debacle, Ubisoft is still trying to shake off the backlash from the gaming community. With game-breaking bugs, repetitive missions, and a subpar story, Unity is to the Assassin’s Creed (AC) franchise what the original Spider-Man film trilogy is to Marvel’s superhero films: deplorable. Following Unity’s poor reception, Ubisoft went back to the drawing board in a desperate attempt to reestablish AC as a dominant force within the action-adventure genre. What it ended up with was AC: Syndicate, a title that was better than Unity, but ultimately failed to reacquire fans’ trust and admiration. As a result of this fallout, Ubisoft put the next AC video game on hold in exchange for shifting focus to 2016’s film. The break from producing yet another annual game could quite possibly be what the company needed to get the franchise back on track. Assassin’s Creed: Origins takes players back to the formation of the Assassins’ order, and reinvigorates the series with gameplay mechanics both familiar and innovative, all while immersing players in an intriguing tale of betrayal, revenge, and bloodlust.
Gamers take control of Bayek, one of the last remaining Medjay, in a time when civil war grips Egypt. Ptolemy XIII is a tyrannical pharaoh, yet he is a mere pawn to an ambiguous order acting as puppeteers in their quest for power. Ptolemy’s sister, Cleopatra, is gathering rebellious forces in an effort to overthrow Ptolemy and claim the mantle of pharaoh for herself. As a Medjay sworn to protect the pharaoh and Egypt’s people, Bayek and his wife—Aya—pledge their loyalty to Cleopatra and are tasked with assassinating the Order of the Ancients’ most prominent members. However, more than loyalty and a sense of duty, Bayek and Aya seek vengeance for the death of their son, Khemu. Through classic Ubisoft storytelling mechanisms and gameplay features that harken back to better days, Origins fields an upward shift in momentum.
Standing out the most is the game’s well-crafted story devices. The voice acting presented within the title’s Egyptian setting delivers nothing short of perceived authenticity. The actors possess convincing accents and historical, cultural behaviors within their speech that make the characters believable; likable or detestable depending on the character’s role; and diverse. Moreover, Origins continues the patterns from previous titles by weaving different side stories into an overarching fable that affects characters in both a historical and contemporary time period. The allusions to several Egyptian gods also convey a potent sense of historical fiction, staying close to accurate representations while taking liberties to craft motivations unique to each character. With so many elements coming together seamlessly into one dynamic tale, the story’s ability to immerse and enthrall is undeniable. Unsurprisingly, the game’s tale is further augmented by enhanced graphics.
As with most modern AAA titles, Origins sports visuals that put previous titles to shame. While Unity and Syndicate were aesthetically impressive, they do not hold a candle to the current title’s display. The improved graphics are undoubtedly a result of modern technology, such as the increased prevalence of 4K displays and hardware capable of rendering it. Nevertheless, roaming through Egypt and experiencing all that an ancient desert society has to offer is a beautiful experience. The map is vast, with objects rendering from greater distances than in previous entries and maintaining their sharp details. As if looking through a window, the terrain’s mountains, forests, cities, population, and other geographical facets are as realistic as they come. Characters are diverse, their facial features animated and representative of their different emotions while their attire indicates their status in society, from simple merchants to elaborate priests and battle-ready soldiers. Together with Origins’s resounding audio, the graphics make the title stand out among a sea of high-caliber games.
The soundtrack is the most notable aspect of the game’s audio. From soothing tunes during exploration to more upbeat tempos during combat, Origins contains a riveting musical score. Symphonic and adrenaline-infusing, the various instruments resonate with different rhythms in appropriate scenarios. In addition, riding a horse or camel offers authentic sounds, as the clip-clop of hooves when players trot and gallop across the desert or over cobbled paths conveys an ancient atmosphere. Sandstorms howling across the screen also provide players with a sense of menace, reinforcing nature’s powerful presence. Moreover, combat delivers its own tones, including weapons clanging and slashing, shields splintering, arrows thwacking, soldiers shouting, and victims screaming. When blending with gameplay, the audio in Origins serves as the icing on an already delicious cake.
The combat in Origins is by far the closest second to the title’s story. With two years between the release of Syndicate and Origins, Ubisoft took the time to revamp AC’s entire combat system. The franchise has evolved from simple counterattacks that require the press of a single button to fluid confrontations that rely on the player’s ability to time their attacks and block or dodge to stay alive. Furthermore, gamers utilize light and heavy attacks. The former allows users to unleash a rapid series of strikes to wear opponents down, while the latter is used to break enemy shields or knock down and pulverize bigger, stronger foes. Blocking and dodging are also instrumental in succeeding during confrontations, and different opponents require different strategies. For example, smaller opponents can be blocked without concern and countered soon after their strikes fail. Meanwhile, bulkier foes may require more cat-like reflexes for Bayek, as they can break through his defenses.
Different weapons are suited for specific combat styles (sword and shield relies on balanced attack and defense, dual swords are almost purely offensive, and cudgels represent brute force). Bows are similar in that four types exist within Origins, and each is comparable to a different type of weapon in first-person shooters. Light bows are similar to submachine guns due to their ability to fire arrows in rapid succession; warrior bows are more like shotguns with their spread shot damage when they fire multiple arrows at once; hunter bows represent semiautomatic marksman rifles, which are ideal for medium-range engagements; and predator bows are the long-range snipers. With multiple choices available to players in terms of their preferred combat style, AC: Origins caters each playthrough to gamers’ ever-divergent predilections. The new fighting system requires a brief adjustment period, as confrontations are much faster and fluid than previous entries, but once acclimated, players will find themselves enjoying a refreshing, innovative endeavor.
However, not everything about the game’s combat is smooth. In particular, the target lock system can be rather frustrating. When battling enemies, users have the option to lock onto opponents to help the player-character (PC) direct their attacks. While a proven mechanic in previous installments and in many other games, locking onto targets in Origins can cause the camera to jerk in its efforts to remain focused on the acquired foe. Often, this jerking motion occurs because of Bayek’s dodges, which put him out of harm’s way, but leave the camera behind. Then, when the time comes to counterattack, the PC strikes in the wrong direction because the gamer is pointing the left thumbstick awkwardly while the camera plays catch-up. Luckily, this agitation is easy to forgive considering the improvement over the Unity nightmare.
New to the series are the Trials of the Gods events that pit players against Ancient Egyptian gods. These high-risk, high-reward events are a challenging implementation, and justify the split from realistic gameplay through a glitch in the animus. The first trial was against Anubis, the God of the Dead, and was available November 7-14. Unlike regular gameplay, confronting Anubis required more than swordplay. Players also needed to rely on quick reflexes and accuracy with their bows. Moreover, patience and determination were necessities, as the fight was lengthy and arduous. Despite the break from immersion within the story, the Trials of the Gods are an intriguing and entertaining addition to AC, challenging players to put everything they have learned and perfected during their time in Egypt to good use.
The rest of Origins plays aimilarly to any other Assassin’s Creed title. Parkour, sneaking, assassinating, climbing to high altitudes and unlocking synchronization points, exploring, and finding all the collectibles through puzzles or pure adventuring all return to add innumerable hours of gameplay. Just like previous ACs, locating all the collectibles and completing all the puzzles rewards gamers with fancy items to add to their arsenal. Even acquiring materials to upgrade gear makes its way back, and it functions similarly to Assassin’s Creed III: hunt animals to get materials and use those materials to upgrade gear.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is not perfect, but it does return the franchise to a less tarnished status. While the game does not necessarily wash away the taint that stains Ubisoft’s reputation after Unity’s negative feedback, it does improve the overall stigma. The story immerses and intrigues, the characters are believable, and the bugs are tiny and negligible. As with most AAA titles, the graphics and audio are well-suited for modern consoles and PCs, and the gameplay is addicting enough to keep players interested. While the target-lock system is finnicky at best, the rest of the game’s aspects more than make up for that mild irritation. The two-year break between entries seems to have done Ubisoft well. Hopefully, the company will continue to stick to a quality over quantity model.
Reviewed on Xbox One.