Assassin’s Creed first released in 2007, and two years later saw its first sequel. After that, fans of the franchise got a new entry every year from 2009 to 2015 with the release of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. With a technically flawed release in 2014 with Unity, many fans began to feel burned out on the series. Thus, 2016 came and went without any major Assassin’s Creed game releasing. In October 2017, ten years after the release of the first game, Assassin’s Creed Origins released and promised to be a different experience.
While we thought Syndicate was excellent, Eric scored the game five stars in his review of it, it wasn’t as successful as prior games in the series. Part of that was burnout, and a lot of it was fallout from the glitch-filled release of Unity. Regardless of the reasons for it, the year off for the franchise has definitely breathed new life into the game. What we have here with Origins is the best looking and best playing game in the series to date.
With a lengthy campaign, a vast open world filled with side quests and collectibles, a traditional RPG leveling system with a good skill tree, and tons of loot with different perks and rarity levels, Origins saw the franchise evolve. No longer just an open world action adventure, Origins has brought the Assassin’s Creed franchise more inline with an action RPG not unlike The Witcher series.
Set in 48 BC Egypt during the Ptolemaic Kingdom, Origins tells the story of a Medjay named Bayek and his wife Aya. Together the two work in the shadows to hunt down five members of The Order responsible for the death of their son and ultimately establish The Hidden Ones, the precursor to the Assassin’s Brotherhood. Along the way, Bayek and Aya interract with various real historical people including the likes of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.
As expected, Origins is a breathtakingly gorgeous game with a huge world. The game is visually stunning, as is one of the best looking games of its type on the current generation of consoles. I can’t speak to the quality of the Xbox One (X) or PC versions of the game, but on PS4 Pro it looks amazing most of the time. There are texture pop in and bad draw distances, and these issues became much more apparent following a post release patch back in November and still haven’t been addressed. For me, it’s not a huge issue because for the most part the game always looks great. But there are issues when viewing the map, looking at things in the distance, and when flying around as your eagle Senu.
One of the biggest changes to the franchise is the more complex combat system. Now don’t misread that, this game doesn’t feature the combat of The Witcher or Dark Souls, it’s still an Assassin’s Creed game. The combat is more nuanced though and not a complete button mash where you can quickly and easily engage one hit kill chains on large mobs of enemies. You can still kill most enemies with one arrow to the head or a hidden blade, especially if you out level them, and combat remains pretty easy overall.
On that note, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the hidden blade not being an automatic kill on everyone. A large part of the Assassin’s Creed experience is playing stealthy; either avoiding combat to kill a target or eliminating everyone but doing so without being seen. It’s always been fun and I believe the stealth in Origins is the best we’ve seen yet in large part because of how awesome things like the predator bow are. If I can stealth my way through a fort undetected and come upon a sleeping commander, my hidden blade should kill him; instead you do a little damage and just wake him up and then have to fight him. Lame.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t play Assassin’s Creed games for the story. That’s no different here. The gameplay has shifted more towards RPG style, but the story isn’t remotely as compelling as most of RPG’s. It’s your standard Assassin’s revenge story. There’s some men and women who have wronged you and are part of a conspiracy, you must hunt them down one by one and kill them. Simple and effective, and that’s about it. The story is there because a game needs a campaign, not because someone had a good story to tell.
Having said that, I found Bayek to be the most likable Assassin since Ezio. And the few times you get to play as Aya was cool as well, but I didn’t like her character as much as Bayek, although the ship based sequences with Aya were amongst my favorite story missions in the game and I wish I could replay them without having to start over (of course New Game + is coming this month in a free update).
Of course there’s a modern day side to the story as well. This time around it is slightly better than the previous few, because we once again assume control of a real character and not a faceless first person character. Having said that, I spent as little time with Layla Hassan as I could because I’ve never cared for the modern day stuff going in these games and would be perfectly happy if they were removed entirely going forward. It’s worth noting that the animus itself is much less signiciant in this entry, for the better, and that cuts down on a lot of goofy stuff like desynchronization.
The world feels more open than ever before because when in a mission you’re now no longer going to get desynched for leaving the area. You’re free to begin a quest, and then wander off and do a completely different quest. That’s useful to help get your level up in case you’re taking in a region with higher enemies than you currently are. There’s also no more optional tasks that need to be fulfilled to get 100% synchronization, which made getting the platinum trophy a lot more fun.
Origins creates the most lived in feeling world in the franchise to date. There’s a day/night cycle that matters and change the difficulty of some activities (it can be more advantageous to attack a fort at night for example). All of the NPC’s have a life they live. It’s not just groups of people always standing in the same spot or aimlessly wandering the street anymore. They go about their day to day activities and change things up based on the time. They interact with their environment and often come under attack from the various animals that roam the land.
Again the world is huge and varied. There are large sprawling cities like the famed Alexandria, the Pyramids of Giza, seas and lakes with seamless underwater exploration, swamp lands, forests, deserts and mountains. There’s the arena with varying challenges and the Hippodrome races to get your Ben-Hur on. Of course being a Ubisoft game there is a ton of side activities and collectibles to discover.
To their credit, Ubisoft has also done a tremendous job of supporting the game patching in new features and modes (a horde mode and a Nightmare difficulty have been added, and New Game + and a educational discovery mode is coming this month). They’ve added in new quests, frequent reoccurring events where you get to face gods thanks to the animus overloading, and there was even a special crossover event with Final Fantasy XV.
If I have one complaint with any of that, it’d be the Trial of the Gods. Facing these huge animus manifestations of gods Anubis, Sobek and Sekhmet should have been a challenging reoccurring end game event worth doing every time it comes around, and more importantly these encounters should have been different. As is, they are all the same with variation on attack and the enemies that spawn at certain points in the encounter. The strategy for these encounters is exactly the same, use a bow to damage the boss, dodge the attacks, and kill the enemies with a sword or whatever and repeat until the boss dies. Once you’ve done each Trial once, and thus acquire the awesome looking Anubis outfit, there’s no reason to do them again. But these are optional routine in-game events, and thus is something that isn’t a big deal as far as a complaint meaning a great deal. It is what it is.
As of this review, which is a couple of months late I know, I’ve got over 70 hours pumped into Assassin’s Creed Origins and have gotten the platinum trophy. I still haven’t done every side quest in the game, and I still haven’t played any of the first expansion (The Hidden Ones). But it is a game that routinely keeps you coming back and it will remain in my rotation until I complete every side quest and eventually begin a New Game + in the future (and probably on Nightmare difficulty). Eventually, I’ll move on to The Hidden Ones and then The Curse of the Pharaohs (which sounds amazing).
Origins has breathed new life into the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and as the result is the best Assassin’s Creed game to date. That’s saying something, because we’ve scored three other games in the series five stars as well (Brotherhood, Black Flag and Syndicate). Going forward, I hope to see the series continue to expand on the RPG features while also bringing back some of the “base camp” city upgrading from the previous games (things like fixing up the homestead in AC3).
If you still haven’t played it yet, you owe it to yourself to experience the world of Origins. If you’re like me and are a fan of both the setting and the time period, you’re probably still enjoying it. Overall, with continued improvements, Origins is one of the best single player games of the current generation.
Assassin’s Creed Origins gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.