Review by Erik Engel
Alright, I know, another one? Yes, the gaming equivalent of the Saw movies releases, yet another installment after the last few years that have gone consistently downhill for the Assassin’s cult. But against all odds Origins shows us there is still life in the series that just celebrated its ten year anniversary.
This time we find ourselves in Ancient Egypt. It is around 50 BC, in the era of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. The corrupt authority of high priests has dispossessed the world famous pharaoh Cleopatra in order to put on the throne her unfaithful brother, who turns Egypt into disruptive land without order. So somebody has to put everything and everyone back in their place. That somebody is the Medjay Bayek of Siwa, a protector of the people and the true ruler of Egypt. Bayek’s tragic backstory is introduced through one of his countless emotional hallucinations. There we are confronted with the death of his beloved son, killed by a masked, cold-blooded Roman. And that is our story right here. In search of revenge, Bayek comes across several Roman inferiors who slowly lead him to his final assassination. Oh, and along the way we also restore order to Egypt and establish Cleopatra as queen again, how could I forget?
As in the early games, our main protagonist shows his true compassion for the civilians on several occasions that are portrayed as random encounters, leading up to voluntary side-quests which leave us with only one option, death for those who deserve it. The quests involve investigations of murder scenes or rituals, camp raids and drinking games that lead to the next objective. Every finished task gives you experience points, which you can use to strengthen and widen your abilities. Weapons, armour and the rest of the inventory, which you either find or scrap from killed opponents, have a sense and hierarchy of rarity but can also be bought, upgraded or sold on typical market squares. In this sense, Ubisoft leads Assassin’s Creed into a new RPG direction by constantly levelling up on your own behalf. It is your choice if you want to become more of a seer, hunter or fighter. You create your very own Assassin who’s always ready for the next assignment.
Origins introduces us to revolutionary close-combat sequences for the franchise. You can choose between overpower attacks, quick-fire bows and dual sword combinations. The already mentioned ability points allow you slow-motion shoot your warrior bow mid-jump and also open up the world to new assassination techniques. Blow darts and fire bombs are now added to the iconic hidden blade. Combat seems to be completely overhauled with greater maneuverability and accuracy. The recovery of stealth as the predominant weapon shows that Ubisoft has finally responded to the demands of the players that fell in love with the series. Sneaking into bandit camps, killing and looting everyone there, then getting out without anyone noticing is what made the franchise so popular. Also, the introduction of Bayek’s pet eagle Senu leaves us with another opportunity for explanation and experimentation, especially when scouting the area for hidden soldiers and lootcrates.
The new Assassin’s Creed again treads the borderline between historical accuracy, which is recalled everytime you start the game, and supernatural novelties. Only this time the characters have no idea whatsoever about how to react to those events which leaves us in the dark on how they are important at all. Some of the bugs present in earlier games still exist, such as enemies forgetting your existence after hiding for a split-second or, instead of ringing the alarm, they carring dead colleagues out of the danger zone. Much like Far Cry or Witcher the game makes up for that with astonishing visuals of the majestic Ancient culture; you can climb the Pyramids of Gizeh, fight crocodiles residing in the Nile River or enjoy long rides on your mount to the isolated regions around the desert. Each area offers several points of interest, for example dance cults or gladiator arenas that you can participate in at your leisure. The time of the Ptolemaic Kingdom lets the Roman, Greek and Egyptian worlds collide with appearances by personalities like Caesar and Pompey.
Assassin’s Creed Origins bears the potential for a brighter future of the series after a few scrappy years. The story around Bayek’s revenge against the order of pre-dating Templars compensates for the core gameplay that failed to keep up with other games in pace and scale. Ubisoft clearly invested much more time with the details of heavily populated towns and African accents. For me personally, it is the finest AC in years and after a few bumpy roads in its recent history it feels like the franchise finally found its right path again.