My history with the Assassin’s Creed Universe has been a rocky one. Unlike my colleague, I’ve loved almost every single one I’ve played, I’ve always considered myself an apologist for the series. People complained about the original game being too repetitive. I wasn’t bothered by it, since the exploration satisfied another itch and made up for it. Others complained about Assassin Creed III’s Connor, because he was too “whiny”. I was engaged by the twist prologue that had an incredible payoff at the end of the story. Sailing in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was completely relaxing and intriguing while so many despised it. I also found myself in the minority of people who actually cared about what took place outside of the Animus. I walked into Assassin’s Creed Origins expecting to be on the defensive.
Imagine my surprise when I spent the first several hours of my time completely frustrated with the latest game from Ubisoft. They finally listened to those who had complained about the series for so many years. But instead of giving me, a loyal fan, more of what I wanted, they applied the oil to the squeaky wheel. How dare they. I persisted, however, and I’m glad that I did. While it may not be the Assassin’s Creed I asked for, it was exactly the shot in the arm the series needed. Like it or not, the franchise is officially a full-blown RPG instead of a linear experience with optional side quests.
Let’s start with the story in Assassin’s Creed Origins. If the title wasn’t obvious enough, the plot focuses on the birth of The Brotherhood. Our main character is named Bayek, a Medjay in ancient Egypt during
the rise of Cleopatra. We’re dropped right in the middle of Bayek’s first mark, but we won’t learn till later why he wants people dead. As his personal mystery unravels, so does the historical one, which inevitably leads to Bayek’s founding of “The Hidden Ones”. It may take a while to get there, but the tie in to the rest of the games is immensely satisfying.
The combat is the most-notable difference in Assassin’s Creed Origins. No longer will you stand in the center of a circle of enemies waiting for attacks to parry. Instead, Bayek is much more on the offensive this time around. You’ll still have the ability to stealthily kill from the shadows, but more often than not, it comes to blows.
The controls themselves have had a complete overhaul. Borrowing from the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, the attacks have been mapped to the two right triggers on the controller. One acts as your normal attack, the other as your stun or shield breaker. This takes some getting used to for people like me who are terrible at FromSoftware games, but it becomes second nature faster than I anticipated. The left bumper raises your shield and offers a parry attack as well. Just don’t expect to be able to exploit it as much as you have in past games.
Additionally, Bayek has an adrenaline meter (think “rage meter”) that builds with each hit. Once it’s maxed out, you can unleash a more devastating attack depending on your equipped weapon. This definitely feels strange in a Creed game that is known for its stealth. But I kept reminding myself that The Brotherhood wasn’t formed in this story line just yet. This game is leading up to that, and I think it’s better for it.
Assassin’s Creed Origins borrows from other properties as well. For starters, you navigate the menu system with an aiming reticle that feels straight out of Destiny. While some may prefer this, I found myself wishing I could just click around where I needed to go. This is hardly a deal-breaker for me, however. This game definitely feels more Far Cry than any of the previous entries. There are literally “Assist the Rebel” events that appear randomly on the map. I’d also call the skill tree a direct ripoff of that game if it weren’t made by the same company.
Overall, the game just feels more quest-based than ever before. Your map is littered with with side quests to complete that have very little to do with the main story. The feel necessary, however, in order to keep your character’s stats up to snuff. This is actually my biggest gripe with the game. Every side mission was some variation of “rescue this guy from a camp”, “recover this item from a camp”, or “investigate this area”. The cut scenes seemed so meaningless, I wound up skipping them altogether in favor of just looking at the objective and following the marker on my map. On the bright side, every side mission felt very rewarding. The game is pretty liberal with experience points and weapon upgrades if you stray from the main story. I just wish I was more invested in the side stories themselves.
Which brings me to my next point that is vastly different for the Creed series. Bayek has a leveling system, which includes stat-based weapons and shields. While the level caps at 40, it still took me that number of hours to reach it. The weapons themselves have a numbered level to them, which means you can’t use them until Bayek’s level matches the weapon’s. Furthermore, the weapons have varying degrees of rarity, each offering better bonus stats. One might offer additional health upon each kill, while another might give you a combo multiplier.
Previous games in the series offered different weapon types, but not to this level of diversity. Each one in Assassin’s Creed Origins feels completely different and its own pros and cons. Bayek has the ability to equip two melee weapons at once for this very reason. Some situations may call for a quick weapon, while others might require a heavy hitter. Switching between either weapon is as simple as a quick press of the D-pad, which is very welcome. On top of the melee weapons are Bayek’s bow skills, which become very helpful in fights as well as picking off enemies from a distance.
The best part about the new weapons system is how frequently your weapons get upgraded. This hearkens back to my Borderlands days, when I felt like I never used the same gun for more than an hour. Almost every side quest offers a slight increase in weapons stats, and I gleefully swapped out old ones to sell or dismantle for other upgrades. The progression throughout this games is paced beautifully. Every little thing you do has its rewards and makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something. Even after maxing out Bayek’s level, I’m still enjoying discovering all of the secrets on the map and just exploring Egypt. I do wish the level cap were raised, however, as it would give me that carrot on a stick to work towards.
Final Verdict on Assassin’s Creed Origins
I’m baffled by how my feelings about this game changed so drastically. Although the game looks and sounds stunning, it wasn’t a Creed game to me. That’s my caution to fans of the previous games. This series is officially no longer a linear, 10-12 hour experience. It’s much closer to games like The Witcher, Far Cry, or even Skyrim in sheer scope. If those games (or the number of hours it takes to complete them) turn you off, you’ll want to stay away from this one. But if you feel The Brotherhood has been long overdue for a makeover, this might be the one that gets you into this universe.
I balked against this change to the point of nearly writing off the series. But I stuck it out, and I’m glad that I did. Assassin’s Creed Origins may still have some repetitive tropes, but I’m still very much a fan of franchise. This entry into the series shakes thing up in a way that I wound up appreciating way more than I expected. It’s become my second favorite game to bear the Assassin’s Creed name, and I hope that Ubisoft takes another year off before bringing us their next adventure. Until then, I’ll be happily exploring Egypt.
This review was based on a retail Xbox One copy of “Assassin’s Creed Origins” on a Day One Xbox One console.