Assassin's Creed as a franchise was beginning to wane. Unity was terrible, Syndicate was fun but felt like it was treading all too carefully on already well trodden ground. Wisely, Ubisoft allowed Assassin's Creed Origins an extra year to bake in the unforgiving Egyptian sun.
Set during the latter days of Ptolemaic Egypt, a land so ancient that its accumulated history spans more than twice what our own western civilisation has accrued - Upper and Lower Egypt was unified by Narmer, known as Menes, around 3,100bce, before then it had been two separate kingdoms. Across the vast map of AC Origins
there are ruins and relics of eras already ancient to the Egyptians living during those final days of Pharaoh rule.
We play the role of Bayek of Siwa - the last Medjay; an Egyptian paramilitary group tasked with protecting the interests of the Pharaoh and policing the populace, a role he carries out proudly until the day his son is murdered in such a way that forbids his Ka, soul, from entering the afterlife. His son's killers are all masked and only call each other by animal names and after this event Bayek puts his duty aside in the name of vengeance.
Assassin's Creed Origins
manages to feel wholly fresh while maintaining a few of the franchises staples. One of these is a tiered list of targets to hunt down and assassinate. Older entries would give you very specific ways to trigger these events, leading to potentially tedious quest chains. Origins
does away with that in favour of player choice. You participate in some story quests that point towards your quarry and then you can take them out in whatever fashion suits your play style.
The first target you are given in the game is a priest and so you'd expect you would have to work your way through his temple, right? Well I caught up to him just as he was heading back to the temple and took him out in the old-fashioned style of dropping on him from above. No theatrics, no unnecessary padding, just a good clean kill. Another target later in the game managed to slip my grasp. He tried fleeing in to the desert but that just meant he was an easy target for my hunting bow.
The Egyptian sandbox (no pun intended) offers up plenty of opportunity for spontaneous and natural-feeling action set pieces, from chasing after war chariots to stumbling into a predators lair. There are roving bosses that will actively hunt you down when they are nearby. Sneaking through forgotten tombs and unfinished pyramids to wading in underground waterholes and navigating claustrophobic ravines. The landscape provides wonder in abundance that can be broken up by fantastical sequences if you're willing to explore enough to find them.
The map is truly massive, spanning a substantial section of Upper Egypt. The majority of environs that make up the map are deserts and this initially lead me to worry that it may suffer from repetitive sandy landscapes. However, this could not be further from the truth. The desert feels vast and intimidating, but spotted throughout are oases, pyramids, towns and ruins. There are surprisingly lush sections that stretch for miles as well as mountainous roads and of course the Nile and the cities that fed from the great river's life-giving waters.
Unlike previous iterations in the franchise and other Ubisoft games, the map feels blessedly uncluttered with clear ways to recognise the variety of content open to you. The mini-map is gone and is replaced with an Elder Scrolls
-like compass that reveals the direction to go without distracting you from the beautiful environments you're navigating. To aid you in finding the right way to go you now have a bird friend called Senu, with a single button press you take control of Senu and your perspective shifts skywards giving you a bird's eye view of the world below. Senu can identify targets and spot wildlife that you can turn into upgrades, plus a variety of other things. Senu is also the origin of the Assassin Brotherhood's "Eagle Vision". This change is welcome and works well within the game's lore.
Bayek also has a wife, Aya, who shares her husband's desire for revenge, but she is also caught up in the political feud between Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy. Her and Bayek often cross paths and it is here where we get to see AC Origins
shine as the two interact. Abubakar Salim (Bayek) and Alix Wilton Regan (Aya) have some of the best chemistry I have heard in video games. When they talk to each other there feels to be genuine passion and this excellence follows the characters wherever they go. Normally I cannot stand children in games, but the warmth and sadness etched in to Bayek's voice when he speaks to the various children he encounters is moving in a way I didn't expect.
One major change to the series is the inclusion of actual RPG game systems. You level up with XP from doing almost anything in-game, and there is a massive skill tree to unlock and a loot system to gear up Bayek.
Feeding in to these various systems are side quests that don't feel like a chore. Ubisoft took a page from The Witcher 3
's playbook and attached meaningful stories to the side quests. The majority of these tales tell of how hard life was under Ptolemy's rule and how the various cultures (Egyptian, Greek and Roman) don't really get on that well. Taken together they paint a complete picture of the lives of the ordinary folk of that time and for anyone who has ever shown an interest in ancient history it is an utter delight.
Combat has seen a completely reworking. Gone are the days of ceaseless parrying and countering from the previous entries and in comes a system that should feel familiar to anyone who has played a Dark Souls
game. Your enemies no longer care for 1v1 combat; they will pile on you now if you don't manage them correctly. There are various skills to unlock and use and the weapon types handle significantly differently to each other.
At first I was very unsure if I could adjust to the new system, but after a few hours I felt those worries slip away. However, that didn't mean that I didn't die fairly often because I failed to respect my enemies. The new system works well and other than some tweaking here and there it is something I hope they stick with for future instalments.
I am purposely leaving out a few details, mainly about the modern day stuff and the Precursor Civilisation stuff. It's there, but I want people to find out about it for themselves. My one disappointment with the modern day stuff is how it doesn't really have an ending but alludes to something that will be coming in the DLC content. It could've wrapped up better, but otherwise I like the direction Ubisoft is heading with it.
Assassin's Creed Origins
is the soft reboot the franchise sorely needed. It introduces fantastic characters and a brand new epic scope we haven't seen before in this series. There is so much to see and do and I loved every moment of it. This is a big, daunting game to get started with but I soon lost myself among the wonders of Ancient Egypt and the beginning of The Brotherhood.
+ Bayek and Aya are fantastic nuanced characters
+ The historical events depicted are from a fascinating and volatile period of ancient history
+ Egypt is an awe inspiring setting
+ The new combat system, once you acclimatise to it
+ One of the prettiest games out this year amongst a year of beautiful games
- Chariot racing, I felt it needed a better introduction
SPOnG Score: 9/10