Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Over the past decade we’ve watched the Assassins and Knights Templar go head-to-head in some epic battles during some of the most interesting times of world history. From the era of the Third Crusade and the Renaissance to Colonial times and the French Revolution, the Assassin’s Creed franchise now heads to ancient Egypt.
Egyptian mythologies and philosophies
Assassin’s Creed Origins takes place during Ptolemaic Kingdom era of Egypt, specifically during 50-30s B.C. You play as Bayek, the last Medjay of Egypt. The Medjay were a sort of police during Egyptian times serving the pharaoh and protecting his people. In Origins, Bayek goes rogue, giving up his Medjay duties, on his own mission of justice. I won’t spoil much of the story here, but there’s an inciting incident that pushes Bayek towards a revenge tour of sorts, taking out people who are responsible for a crime against his family. In the midst of this revenge tour, he uncovers a bigger conspiracy that is the foundation of what we now know is the Knights Templar. And as with most with Assassin’s Creed games, he hunts down each guilty party.
The story overall is intriguing as any revenge tale, but what makes it unique is its setting. You can tell from the outset that the folks at Ubisoft did exhaustive research of this time in history. Egyptian culture, along with Greek culture, is intertwined within the story and side missions. The details in which characters dress, behave, worship, and go about their daily lives in village to village and city to city feel authentic. Each hidden tomb or bowel of a pyramid has scrolls and items with their own story and history with references to actual Egyptian historical figures and mythology. This just adds to the immersive nature of the game. I'm also appreciative of the characters having dark skin, loc'd hair, and facial features that coincide with history instead of going down the same route as Hollywood's effort to whitewash the region and its history. Although the accents for some of the characters seemed to range from African to Caribbean and then a Cleopatra with a British accent (uh?), at least everything visually was looking right.
One of the story elements I never liked in Assassin Creed games is its existence in present day and everything around the Animus and the Abstergo Industries plotline. I wish the franchise would have just stuck with the historical fiction stories instead going back and forth. I also believe that’s why the Assassin’s Creed movie didn’t connect with folks because the whole situation of changing the past through the Animus seemed just kind of silly. That’s another story, but I say all that to say that the present day plotline in Assassin’s Creed Origins is minimal and that’s appreciated.
Egypt is the place to be
Assassin’s Creed Origins is gorgeous, by the way. From the sand dunes of the Egyptian desert to sprawling cities of Alexandria and Memphis, the art and design team did an exceptional job creating this world. There’s a photo mode within the game that I found myself using more than I thought I would. Whether it was perching on top of a synchronization point or climbing to the top of one the pyramids, I was going into photo mode trying to find the best angle to act was wallpaper for my PC or my cellphone.
Overall the world is an active one with each village or city bustling with activity. Farmers farming, soldiers patrolling, vendors selling goods, and even a variety animals running across the roads are a constant in each town, along with their own unique traits. For example, Alexandra is known for its Chariot Races at the Hippodrome so there’s a lot of activity around that event. And later on in Krokodilopolis, the fights that happen in the arena is the city’s biggest draw, so the energy in that city is all about the gladiators throwing down.
At the start of the game, after its introductory fight, you’re in the small village of Siwa. This where you kind of get a feel of how the open world and missions are structured. There’s a ton of things to do and exploration of the world is strongly encouraged. The game pretty much nudges you to explore. And it’s a gigantic world that will have completionists salivating. A compass at the top of the screen details side quests with an exclamation point and the distance, but it’s the question marks in the compass that gets you moving away from your current objective to discover a new area, a secret entrance, a hidden cave, or the depths of a tomb. These new areas have more loot, maybe a mission or two, and the hole just gets dug deeper. Bayek’s companion, Senu, is an eagle who also helps you scan the area to see what chests, soldiers, underground entrances, scrolls, and even more questions marks are in the vicinity. The hole gets deeper and deeper. It’s guaranteed that you’ll spend countless hours off the main storyline exploring. Like looking for the Stone Circles or trying to complete the Taste of Her Sting Quest.
Skills like an Egyptian
The XP system in the game offers a good balance in terms of what you earn when you play. Every mission you complete, every new area you discover, every kill you make, every marked chests you open, and menial tasks like saving someone from an alligator attack or helping farmers take down some bandits, earns you XP. As you level up with XP, you gain ability points to use in Bayek’s skill tree.
The skill tree consists of three disciplines, Hunter, which focuses on your skills with your bow and arrow and ranged attacks, Warrior, which specializes on Bayek’s melee combat skills, and Seer, which hones in on Bayek’s tools (like fire bombs and sleeping darts), traps, and spells. Early in the skill tree, the skills cost one ability point and later move up to two and three ability points. If you do enough side missions to increase your XP regularly and find ancient tablets in pyramids and hidden tombs, which rewards one ability for each tablet you find, near the end of the game you should have most of your skill tree filled out. Here's a solid route to acquire skills.
Early on, I focused mostly on the Warrior skill tree, since more than anything I was finding myself getting dirty in the sand rumbling with soldiers and bandits. Later on, the Enhanced Predator Bow Skill, where you can control the arrow after its shot, under the Hunter Skill tree almost became a necessity on some missions. Then to change things up a bit, I acquired the Animal Taming Skill under the Seer Skill Tree, which allowed me to tame some of the wild lions, hippos, and hyenas in the area and have them attack unsuspecting bandits on patrol.
While it does take some time and work to earn XP and ability points, I never felt like I was grinding. Even though some of the side missions are similar - find this item, rescue this person, investigate this mystery - most of them have a funny, intriguing, or entertaining story to go with it. One story tasked me with finding a wife’s husband who was missing. When I found him, the guy was surprised to find out he had a wife, claiming he was a virgin. Without spoiling the mini-story, the whole circumstance was hilarious. In another mission, I was trying to solve a mystery of where these fake idols that vendors were selling were coming from. One vendor told me to meet him outside of town offering to help me solve this mystery. All the sudden, the guy tries to have me jumped! Of course, I was ready. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
Egyptian fighting style
Speaking of getting jumped, the combat mechanics in Assassin’s Creed Origins have been overhauled and are the best the franchise has ever seen. Melee attack has been regulated to two moves, Attack and Heavy Attack, plus you’re able to block attacks with a shield, dodge incoming attacks, and unlock a Parry skill. Ranged attack not only lets you fire off arrows, but fire bombs (Molotov-like), and poison and sleep darts. The combat felt so natural, it felt more fluid, and a lot more fun than previous games. If you need help "getting it," check out some of these tips.
But going head-to-head is only one option in taking out foes. I loved stealth killing an enemy and poisoning his body so that when other enemies came to check out the body they’d get poisoned too, walk away and die, and then their dead body is poisoned as well. Then another guard would check out that body, and before you know it, a whole unit is down. On another mission, I threw a fire bomb into a room filled with soldiers and hay on the ground. The whole room went up in flames and took everyone out. I once pushed an an enemy into a couple of cobras lurking in a corner. Another time, I was being chased by a unit of bandits, so I rode through a herd of hippos in a creek bed and let them animals take them out. In the end, there were dead hippos and dead bandits and a bunch of loot for me to snatch up. The game is a blast, guys.
Overall the controls are tighter, more responsive, and absent of jittery movement that plagued past Assassin’s Creed games. The gameplay as a whole feels better than ever before.
In addition to the new moves, there’s an RPG-like weapons and gear system that offers a nice variety of swords, spears, axes, scepters, bows, scythes, and shields. They all come with attack and damage ratings with different perks and each item can be upgraded with in-game currency that you earn by looting. Other gear, like armor and your hidden blade, can be upgraded with material you get from hunting animals and hijacking material bandits and soldiers. It’s not as in-depth as I would like. For example, it would have been nice to add perks or mods to some of my favorite weapons. Adding poison tips to my favorite dual blades, or adding a health perk to my favorite sword would have been ideal.
Despite how incredible Assassin’s Creed Origins is, there were still a few bugs and glitches in the game. I was playing on Ultra-High settings using a desktop PC with a 1080ti, 16GB of RAM and an i7-7700k as well as playing on high settings on an MSI GS60 laptop with a 970m. Non-playable characters would end up stuck in tables, enemies were floating above their horses, and a horse and carriage I was stealing got stuck in a bush and I couldn’t hit reverse or turn around. I had to start the entire mission over again to get out of the mess. Fortunately, the glitches weren’t frequent enough to disturb my enjoyment of the game, plus the game never crashed. That’s always a good thing on PC. Some players have experienced some extreme framerate drops and slowdown while playing the game on PC, but on the desktop I held a steady framerate between 50 and 60 and on my laptop I never dipped below 30 FPS.