The Assassin’s Creed series has had a tumultuous past. While the initial few titles were all bestsellers, everyone knows the debacle that Unity was. And the series, much like a few other Ubisoft titles, has seen its fair share of repackaging accusations. So, after another average outing in the Victorian UK, when Ubisoft decided to go back deeper in history with Assassin’s Creed Origins, fans of the series were definitely excited. And by the time the first look and gameplay trailers were available, everyone was hooked. But does the latest instalment in this well-established series deliver on its promises? We played Assassin’s Creed: Origins to find out.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins takes the game back to Ancient Egypt in the Ptolemaic era. The story focuses on Bayek, a medjay, and his journey to avenge his son’s death and deliver Egypt from its oppression at the same time. Your enemies are an ancient organisation, even before the Templars, known as the Ancient Ones who have used everything from sheer power to shadowy tactics like poison and more to have their way. Along the way you meet many eminent historical characters like Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, as you travel across famed historical locations like Memphis, Pompei, Alexandria, Giza and more.
One of the strongest things about the story in Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the conviction with which Bayek’s character has been created. He is compassionate and vengeful at the same time, helping those in need while reserving his true rage for the people who have taken his happiness away from him. He comes across as human in his quest for closure, cracking jokes and being affectionate with his loved ones one moment and channelling his rage into his blade the next.
Throughout the game, whether on the main quest or on one of the game’s numerous side quests, you will come across issues like racism, misogyny, classism, imperialism and others that have been depicted as earnestly as possible, while, at the same time, characters have been made to question the same. While experiencing the story of the protagonist, you go through a lot of these as well with him hailing from a small town in the desert and being an outsider at most of the places he visits. The depiction itself makes the actual quests more believable, with the oppression and troubles of the people being apparent right in front of your eyes before you accept their requests.
Overall, Origins weaves an interesting tale, one that could very well have the most character and depth of any Assassin Creed game so far.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins sets out with one goal – to redeem the AC franchise. It seems, that in a bid to do that, Ubisoft has added heaps of new gameplay mechanics and features. Not that we are complaining, it only makes the game more enjoyable and fresh, as compared to previous instalments which suffered from repetitive experiences across missions. A standard mission is still of the ‘Reach a place – kill (some) people – free some people/get some object etc’ structure, but certain missions take you into alternatives modes, like the exploration and investigation modes. Both of these are area locked modes, which means that the tasks required of you are to be done only within a certain area on the map, where the investigation of clues or exploration of the area will reveal further clues/objectives as and where applicable. The investigation mode, in particular, is very interesting as it has you looking for clues in your environment that lead you to the conclusions of many a mission. Word of advice – if you’re planning to do only the main story in a speedrun, you might actually end up being bored by the long distances you’ll have to travel on your mount with not much to do in between – unless you change your mind and go for side missions and explorations.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins goes for an RPG-esque approach on top of the usual Assassin’s Creed fare, with elements like crafting and looting being quite important to your gameplay. You also have an ability tree and level gating thrown into the fray. Each level you gain gives you ability points that you can use to unlock specific abilities, like the predator-bow mid-air control, sleep darts, or even just a half filled adrenaline gauge at the beginning of combat. This way, every person playing the game could be levelling up Bayek in their own way, making their own unique assassin for the game. Level gating does not mean that you’re stopped from playing missions – they’ll just be insanely difficult – especially when it comes to the combat. You have to play side missions to level up for the main missions, which sometimes have gaps of around 3-4 levels between them. Attempting a mission that is more than one level higher than yours is always a pain. This can lead to a disconnect between the passionate central storyline and some menial side missions. But most side missions involve combat and taking down smaller, less significant oppressors like tax collectors, bandits and more, which keeps things interesting.
The fights in Assassin’s Creed: Origins is another area where you’ll notice considerable changes from previous entries in the series. Your armoury is quite diverse with melee weapons ranging from dual swords to power axes and everything in between, and ranged weapons ranging from rapid-fire light bows to the guided predator bows. Even the shield and tools you equip matter quite significantly and will affect how you dispose of your enemies.
The lock-on mode that has been seen in quite a few melee combat focused games makes its way to this one too. Although it is quite useful when fighting a boss or a bigger enemy, and certainly a boon for horseback fights, it can be quite a limiting factor when you’re surrounded by enemies and would rather have a broad, tactical view of the battlefield. As mentioned earlier, level matters a lot in combat in this game, with assassinations and shield breaks downright not working against enemies who are stronger than you by more than a level. So it’s a good idea to stick to missions that are of your own level. Although, you might catch a lucky break and directly get to assassinate who you’re supposed to kill, or follow an exact path that leads you to the objective while avoiding the guards – that would be as rare as some of the rarest weapons in the game. Ingenuity – like shooting a fire arrow at the hay that your enemy is standing on, pushing an enemy into the water instead of duking it out with them or shooting an arrow through a flame to set your enemy on fire – will help you throughout the game.
Another deviation from usual Assassin’s Creed fare is the lack of focus on stealth. Distinctly missing are the various ways to hide, with greenery and an underwater dive being almost your only options. But then again, losing the ability to just walk with a group of monks and hide your identity was probably a good riddance.
The wonders of nature
The game puts a lot of focus on getting its natural elements right – and we are not just talking about the visuals here. Starting off, you have an eagle, Sinu, who is perhaps as significant an element of the game as your hidden blade itself. Sinu is useful in scouting the area and can be used to mark your enemies – a feature not uncommon in Ubisoft’s games. You can also unlock abilities under the Hunter section of the ability tree to allow Sinu to attack enemies you’re fighting and stun them from the air as well. She is highly useful and we found ourselves switching to ‘Sinu-view’ even in the middle of missions to get our bearings and chart out escape routes. On the other hand, your mount is crucial to your journey – which can be quite long and sparse at times if you don’t have too many fast travel points available. And if, just for the fun of it, you try to drown your horse, you’ll find it swimming across to perfect safety, although you should probably seek help at that point.
But there are elements beyond your control as well. From a desert sandstorm that makes you crawl to random packs of hyenas, a herd of hippos, a float of crocodiles or even a lone lioness, don’t be surprised if nature takes you down before your enemies can. To be fair, it is equally likely that they’ll attack your enemies or anyone who ventures too close. On the other hand, hunting down these very animals will give your crucial elements for crafting, that is necessary for upgrading things like your health, blade damage and more. In the wildly diverse landscape of Egypt, Origins gets full marks for its fidelity to nature.
Graphics and Sound
Assassin’s Creed: Origins pays a lot of attention to detail. Famous cities and towns are densely populated with people from all stratas of the society, with almost every person you interact with feeling and sounding unique. Each region has its own feel, with the quaint, homely streets of Siwa filled with colour and life in stark contrast to the dying and decaying alleys of Memphis. From people resting on rooftops in Egyptian slums to arguing with scholars in Alexandria to soldiers having lunch together on ramparts, to fishermen hauling in the daily catch cursing at you for blocking their way, the game has been designed to look and sound authentic. Which is why its problems stand out even more.
The sheer vastness of this game is new to the series, which makes you feel at times that entire areas and sub-sections within regions have been templatized to speed up development. After a point of time, quite a few bandit caves and soldier camps feel almost exactly the same. And repetitiveness isn’t the only issue. In its bid to be an authentic game, Origins ends up ignoring certain design elements, especially its cutscenes, significantly.
During cutscenes, we saw clothes flying unnaturally, even going into the body or leading to a couple of virtual wardrobe malfunctions. Lip syncing is often off the mark, which is a shame with the beautiful voice acting that has gone into the game. And once the cutscenes are over, on several occasions we saw people and elements pop out of the ground and continue their normal routine. And since we are at the flaws here, a better way to get rid of the current mount when you switch mounts would be to have it ride out of sight, just like how it arrives, rather than disappear into thin air which feels very out of place in a game this focused on details.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Verdict
Assassin’s Creed: Origins bites big, and does a surprisingly good job of chewing it as well. With a few graphical hiccups here and there, the game stays true to the historical approach that the series was originally known for while bringing in a whole new level of depth to the series. Be it the well-designed locations, the immaculate portrayal of Bayek by Abubakar Salim, the numerous gameplay mechanisms that the game throws at you or even the classic assassination missions, there’ll be something in this game that brings you back to it again and again. Who knows, you might just have a thing for standing atop the Sphinx’s head, gazing into the distance wistfully while an eagle rests on your hand. Hey! We don’t judge!
|Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Price: Windows – Rs. 2,999 Xbox One and PS4 – Rs. 3,599
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