When I found out I had to review Assassin’s Creed Origins I was both excited and filled with dread. I love these games, and even though they fell into parodies of what open world historical games could be, I still believed that they could one day come back to what they once were. The Assassin’s Creed games used to be really fun, even if they were a little repetitive, because of the characters and the amazing world and plot they built up. This steadily disappeared as Ubisoft focused more on getting them out to make money and less on the amazing world they created.
This game is a stunning return to form but is also riddled with hiccups. Origins has amazing combat, story, characters, and even a main character that isn’t mind-numbingly dull (looking at you, Connor). In this game you play as the original member of the Assassins brotherhood, Bayek of Siwa (something I know because he says it to literally everyone he meets).
Origins follows the founding of the Brotherhood and does it in an interesting way. It does not do it through some self-righteous narrative about a dude saying “I am going to make things better” and then going off and doing it. Bayek sets out on his adventure for deeply personal reasons and ultimately tells a story of revenge and anger.
This story shows the creation of the Brotherhood through fairly ignoble means – after all, you are killing people for Bayek’s reasons, not some vigilante notion of taking justice into your hands. I will leave the rest of the story alone as it is something that you must go into blind to really get the emotion of these characters.
The side missions in this game are fantastic, it is as simple as that. Each is its own self-contained story, with its own points of humour, tragedy, and intrigue. But the best thing about them is that unlike other Assassin’s Creed games you don’thave to do fetch quest after fetch quest with the occasional “follow and assassinate” mission.
Each mission is different, giving you new things to do. One example is in the coliseum missions. In each mission you are given different weapons and different environments to test how well you can actually fight. Each brawl in the arena gets you closer to the boss, which you get a nice little cutscene of before you fight, often showing the gladiator ripping some poor sod apart.
Each side mission gives variety and further helps you to understand Bayek as a character as well. Some missions show his kindness, his smarts, and sometimes his wrath and anger. Unlike the missions from other games which are just to buffer out the game and help you get money, these actually help you to get to know and like our protagonist, something that has been missing really since Ezio.
Origins is an open world game, and boy is there a lot of it. By the time you finish the main campaign (which took me 35 hours) there are still whole sections of the map that have not been touched. When I finished the game there were still 6 areas I hadn’t set foot in. However, because the game is so big the load times are often crippling, meaning that I often ran somewhere rather than fast travel to it. These long load times ultimately took me out of any immersion. The game is also stunningly beautiful, with the urban sprawls and masses of people creating a feeling of a thriving and active city. But because of all this there are often issues with frame rate, which also rip you from the game. This largely happens during the day cycle, when the light causes the game to slow down dramatically at times, sometimes dropping to 5 or so frames a second.
Character progression is based around leveling. With each level you gain health and damage and can use higher level weapons. This is a welcome feature as it gives you something to work towards; something the previous games never really had. It also adds a nice curve to the game, meaning you don’t feel invincible as a little novice assassin. When someone stronger than you attacks you feel the fear. From experience the people higher than you dominate you, showing you time and time again you are not as unstoppable as you thought.
The game plays similar to the Far Cry games in some ways, with large and small bases for the player to scout out with your lovely eagle friend Senu. These bases can be approached in two ways, stealth or all out combat. However, the game heavily encourages you to try stealth first, and only result to combat if you are busted.
Stealth is a major component to the game, with most missions having components of stealth in them. However, unlike the previous games you can’t always one hit anyone with a hidden blade from behind. First off you have to unlock the hidden blade, and then you have to level it up. Through killing animals and looting them to get the necessary hides and such, followed by obtaining iron or bronze in order to give you blade that sharp edge.
Stealth mostly consists of sneaking around in bushes and buildings, killing people when you can with the blade. Or if you are out of reach using one of the bows best for stealth such as the hunter bow, which you draw back to gain more power, but allows you to see more of your surrounding as you stay in third person. Or you can use the predator bow, which does more damage in stealth, but also limits your aim by putting you in first person. If that fails you can always go to hand-to-hand combat.
For players who do really well in stealth missions against bases the game also offers these massive fortresses. These are really hard as to sneak through them and kill the captains, as well as find the loot is really hard. On top of this is that all the people in them are usually higher level people, so if you are caught you are really in trouble. These forts are cool as it provides more experienced players with a challenge and something to work towards, plus there is an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you finally take over one.
Combat in this game is superb, as you spend a lot of the game dodging around the enemy and taking your shots when you have an opening. While there is a block, I never really used it, as it was far less effective that manoeuvering around behind and getting in a cheeky poke with my weapon.
Speaking of weapons, there are an unbelievable variety of them. The basic scale goes from the quick but weak dual swords, to the more balanced swords, spears and staffs, and finally the big damage but super slow hammers, cudgels and so on. Basically there are crazy amounts of melee weapons that you can use to really mess up whoever stumbles across you.
There are also “combat” bows which come in two forms. There is the light bow type which can fire a series of arrows quickly, allowing the player to do lots of sustained damage. The second is the warrior bow type, which fires five arrows at a time acting like a ye ol’ shotgun, giving a large burst of damage to an enemy. All of which change how you approach a situation, adding a nice variation.
The enemies in this game also fight better than the previous installments. They flank, surround, and vary their fighting style. Meaning I cannot do what I always used to do, which was just stand and wait for them to attack me and then counter them. You have to actively engage in all the fights, leading to crazy fast button mashing and frenzied battles. The combat also incurs frame rate issues at times, which are really crippling as the enemies are not effected by it. They still batter you but you are unable to react to it, which quickly leads to your death and having to try the fight again. I had this happen in one really difficult boss fight after I had the guy down to a sliver of health. I was killed and had to go all the way back to the start of the fight.
However, after a while you get used to fighting and will figure out a way to fight. This is where the game decides to test you with the Phylakes. They are bounty hunters and you are their prey, and range in level with the lowest being level 20 and the highest being the level cap of 40. The bounty hunters are bosses that drop amazing loot but are really hard to beat, however, if you manage to take them all down you get a cool looking costume, which is nice.
Following modern Ubisoft protocol this game has a store which you can use to buy in game currency. The store isn’t essential to the game; you can play the whole thing without even going into it. I only visited the store once, which was to find out what it was in relation to this review. Unlike Unity where you pretty much had to buy items or replay a mission five times, this game only features little in-game income boosts to help you out.
I played the whole game and never struggled to make money. Like most open world games if you loot like a madman and then sell all of it to the closest schmuck you can make a decent amount of money. Considering as well that you get most of your weapons in the game by finding them or earning them, the only thing you really use cash for in the game is outfits, horses/camels, and upgrading weapons. All of which you can play the game without doing.
I would also like to comment on the historical accuracy of the game. Coincidentally I study this era of history known as the “Roman Revolution” and they have done a bloody good job with it. The characterisation of major characters such as Cleopatra is very good, as they play with the tropes quite a lot.
When you first meet dear Cleo she says “I will sleep with any man, as long as they agree to be beheaded the next day”, this plays with Cleo’s famous lewd nature. Later on in Origins you will see that she was a complex figure with her own motives and a deep knowledge of Egypt. This is not the only character that they do this with, which is nice as it adds nuance to the characters and stops them from being two-dimensional (like characters such as Karl Marx in Syndicate).
Origins is simply awesome. Ubisoft have created an amazing story and a fantastic protagonist in the form of Bayek. The combat and stealth are fun and filled with variety which is fantastic as all other games in the series do not have this, they are all the same in terms of fighting and how you approach an objective. The map is also massive and filled with unique things to do that constantly distract you, but not in a bad way. When you finish a side mission you are happy, as you have learnt something new and interesting about the world, Bayek, or the story. It is pleasing to see the series have a strong entry after so many missteps and buggy releases.
However, this game is not perfect, there are frequent issues with frame rate when you are running around, and the load times are simply dreadful. Often times I ran somewhere rather than fast travel because it felt shorter and meant I was actually doing something; rather than sit and contemplate which girl I want to choose in Doki Doki Literature Club. The game is also amazingly long, and at times feels a drag. While the game does eventually reward the player with a cool story or weapon, at times it does not feel worth it. Unless you are doing the high level quests the weapons you get are usually low level, stopping me from going back and doing the lower level quests.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins was reviewed on PS4.