Assassin’s Creed Origins Review- Cradle of the Creed

Posted November 13, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release date: October 27, 2017

Available on: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

Back in 2007, Ubisoft introduced us to the world of the Assassins and the Templars in Assassin’s Creed, as we joined the character of Altair on his journey through the Holy Lands. The sci-fi saga of an ages-old conflict between the two groups, the corporate giant of Abstergo, and the use of the Animus to access dead ancestors memories proved to be enough of a hit with gamers that a franchise was born. In the decade that followed, the franchise introduced to us memorable characters and took us to various points across the globe. We traveled through Italy with Ezio Auditore, played pirate with Edward Kenway in the Caribbean, and romped through Victorian London with the Frye twins, Evie and Jacob. We also had the parallel modern day story of Desmond, his escape from Abstergo, and the race for the alien artifact, the Apple of Eden. The franchise spawned multiple side games, comic books, novelizations, and even a big screen adaptation. But as the story inched closer to its modern day setting (starting in the 1200s with the first game and ending in the 19th century with 2015’s Syndicate) it began to get a bit convoluted.

One had to wonder where Ubisoft was going to take its franchise next.

The answer to that was to back to its beginning. Not the beginning of the franchise, but the birth of the Assassins Order. And what better place to begin the Assassins than in the cradle of civilization, the world of Ancient Egypt? In celebration of the franchise’s 10th anniversary, Ubisoft has given us Assassin’s Creed Origins. In going back to the beginning, the conflict between Assassins and Templars, and their race for alien technology, has been largely pushed aside for a more grounded tale of a father’s quest for vengeance for his murdered son. We still get some glimpses of the modern day story through the eyes of Layla, a former Abstergo employee who has gone off on her own and developed a more portable version of the Animus. But the game’s main focus is on that of the Medjay, Bayek of Siwa.

Bayek comes up against an insidious order backed by a corrupt Pharaoh and one that extends even beyond Egypt, involving both Greeks and Romans, and, naturally, some well known historical figures. His quest for vengeance takes him from the small village of Siwa to larger cities such as Alexandria and Memphis, across the desert sands, through long forgotten tombs and bandit hideouts. The good voice acting brings Bayek to life, and as a father seeking justice, Bayek feels a bit more relatable than some of the franchise’s other characters. As a Medjay, he feels compelled to help others fight against oppression and to right the wrongs done to them. This makes a lot of the side quests a bit more varied and more memorable, a good thing as you’ll need to play these side quests in order to be able to tackle the main story line.

While the other games always had some RPG elements, Origins really does become more of an action-RPG than its predecessors. You earn experience points for a variety of things, including the successful completion of quests, discovering new areas on the expansive map (the largest in the franchise’s history), or engaging in combat. As you level up, you’ll gain Ability Points, which can be applied to any or all of three distinct skill trees. You can fill out one tree or mix and match them, as it fits your own play style. The Hunter tree allows you to become proficient with the bow and the use of your hawk, Senu. The Warrior tree allows you to become more skilled with melee weapons, such as your sword or axe. The Seer tree enables you to use tools like sleep darts, get better deals in the market places, or even tame wild animals.

The skill trees help you develop as you wish and give you various options in taking out your enemies. You can plow through them, slicing them with your sword, or use a sneakier approach by poisoning them with darts from the shadows. Unlike past games, you really do have the freedom to take down enemies as you see fit.

This leads to a nice variety of gameplay, as different situations may call for different tactics. A small bandit camp can be approached head on, but that will get you killed quickly in a large fort filled with many guards and soldiers. I generally approached areas through stealth, trying to take out guards one at a time quietly. Of course, things can (and often do) go sideways, which means I made use of my bow or melee weapon of choice.

In addition to fighting enemies, you can also hunt to gather materials for crafting, which can give you stronger armor, increase the size of tool pouches, or increase the effectiveness of your hidden blade.

Combat has been revamped from the Arkham-style combat of past games that focused on one-on-one fighting. This is more akin to the Souls series, where blocking and parrying are just as important as striking. Enemies often surround you, and they will work together to kill you. Some have larger shields that require you to charge up your heavy attack to break; others will retreat swiftly and use a quick bow to attack. Combat requires a bit more thinking than just fast fingers, and it’s often best to observe first and come up with a plan of attack prior to striking.

There are multiple ways of dealing with enemies. You can loose a caged animal, a la the Far Cry games, to create some chaos, or you can sneak in, use a sleep dart, tame the animal, then let it loose to aid you. Or you can use poison, either on a corpse to infect any who find it, or through use of a dart. This can quietly and rapidly clear out a bunch of foes, though you do need to be careful where you use it. Use it in an area where civilians are about, and you can infect them as well, along with any animals nearby (which saddened me one time when it happened to a kitty who decided to follow me around). Unlike past games, there are no berserk darts, though you can inject soldiers you first put to sleep with a berserk toxin. Problem is, injecting them wakes them up, and often they end up focusing on you instead of other guards or soldiers. The berserk dart had been of my favorite ways to thin out the crowd in previous titles, but here I used it less. Poison became my friend, however, even if it was a more insidious way to attack a base.

Movement also feels smoother in Origins. Any surface that looked climbable was, and rarely did I have Bayek jumping in an undesired direction. And there are plenty of places to climb, including massive temples, cliffs, and even pyramids. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and while you can take the longer way by doing it on foot (and swimming across bodies of water), you can also summon a mount with a simple button press. Once on your mount (a camel or a horse, or if you indulge in a microtransaction, a unicorn), you can manually take them to your destination or hit a button where they will automatically follow the road to a marked place on the map. This can allow you to sit back and take in the scenery (which is quite nice to look at), but it’s not completely hands off as you can come under attack by bandits or animals. But that gives you the freedom to deal with such threats without also worrying about driving. There are also boats you can use to cross bodies of water (both with or without sails), and chariots, which you can also race in the Hippodrome. Chariot racing can take a bit getting used to, but once you have the hang of it can be a fun diversion to engage in.

The world itself is nicely varied, as you encounter shimmering sands in the desert, rocky mountainous areas, swamps, farms, large cities, small towns, caves, and tombs. Secret tombs hold some nice surprises (which I won’t spoil here), and are worth seeking out. Papyruses containing puzzles can also be found, and can be interesting to solve. There are also stone circles holding their own secrets to be found. The game itself just begs to be explored, and I often found myself heading to check out a question mark on the map, even while in the middle of a quest.

The quest system is nicely designed, allowing you to sidetrack off of one on to another without any penalty. Thankfully, the despised tailing missions have been done away with, and hopefully they will stay gone for all future titles in the series. It’s easy to get sidetracked from the main story, as anyone with an exclamation point over their head will open a new quest for you to undertake.

This is the first Assassin’s Creed game that allows you to choose a difficulty level from the outset, rather than have the game scale to match your skill. This, and its less convoluted story, make it a bit more accessible to newcomers. It helps that the story is well done, and even the side quests are nicely varied. They may not approach the side quests in The Witcher III for complexity, but they often do go beyond the simple “go here, fetch/fight that” type of quest that is often prevalent in RPGs. While there are some quests of that variety, there are also some that involve exploration, and one even had me appeasing a group of children by jumping from high places. The various characters always feel likeable, even those that sound somewhat the same or had similar complaints (a relative was killed/captured by an oppressive group). A couple of quests even provoked an emotional response, and the other main characters in the game were well defined and acted.

In addition to Bayek, you will sometimes play as his wife, Aya, or as Layla in the modern day story (which is kept small and rarely intrudes on the events in Ancient Egypt). Aya is as determined as Bayek to gain justice for their murdered son, though she doesn’t have access to as many options that Bayek has. You don’t play as her often, but with her we do get some naval battles that have improved on those used in Black Flag. The interplay between her and Bayek feels natural and not forced just for the purposes of the game to give you an alternate character to play as. While you don’t get to jump back and forth between them as you could between Evie and Jacob in Syndicate, they do make an engaging pair and add some emotional weight to the game.

Even the game’s villains feel nicely fleshed out, with some inhabiting the morally grey area between wrong and right. While their group is indeed focused on acquiring an all powerful relic, they still feel more grounded, as they corrupt the politics in various regions and seem to seek control for what they believe is for a greater purpose. Through it all, we experience the creation and the demise of alliances and friendships will on the quest for justice. The revenge saga may not be wholly original, but it is used quite effectively here.

The bottles battles are decent, though not exceptional. Most just become a game of timing and than landing a powerful attack. A couple do stand out, and those are best discovered on your own. Certain events also can have you coming against a special boss, but you best be leveled up for those encounters.

The game does suffer from some technical problems, most notably long load times after cut scenes, and I did encounter some minor clipping, pop-ins, and frame rate slowdowns. None of these flaws marred my enjoyment overall, but they do hold the game back from being perfect. For myself, playing on an original PS4, the game seemed to run better than past entries, though others have reported more issues than I encountered. Nothing seems atypical for a large, open world game, and no game breaking bugs were evident in the 43 plus hours it took for me to complete the main story.

For the tenth major entry in the franchise, Origins manages to give the series a fresh shot in the arm. The game has an engaging and more grounded story and a great lead character in Bayek of Siwa. The quest system is well designed, the overhauled combat works nicely, as does the tweaked movement system. Making it more of an action-RPG was a good idea, and Ubisoft has given us the largest map to date in the series to explore and get lost in. There always seemed to be something to distract me during missions, whether it be finding a new region, uncovering a new side quest, or finding hidden treasures in a tomb. It takes the best of the franchise and folds them into one game, making it the most accessible of the series for newcomers yet rewarding for long time fans as well. This is one not to miss.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus