STAFF REVIEW of Assassin's Creed Origins (Xbox One)

Monday, November 13, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Assassin's Creed Origins Box art I'll admit it, I’ve been a massive Assassin’s Creed fan since its first inception a decade ago. Since then we’ve had numerous titles. Some of them have been absolutely amazing, such as Black Flag, which took us to the pirate era, and some no so great, such as Assassin’s Creed III. Even with its highs and lows, I've played and completed every yearly entry, but even for a massive fan like myself, series fatigue was starting to set in. Ubisoft decided to take a year long break from the scheduled annual release and put extra time into its next entry. So, here we are, essentially two years since the last main Assassin’s Creed title, hopeful that the extra time away would help refresh the series and bring it back to what it once was. With this in mind, I am happy to report that the extra development time has indeed done this, as Assassin's Creed Origins is one of the best, and most ambitious entries in the series yet.

The two main facets of the series that I’ve always looked most forward to, aside from the gameplay, is its historical setting, adding a fictional storyline that’s intertwined with factual events and characters, and the game’s ‘real world’ storyline about the evil Abstergo corporation. The Assassin’s Creed franchise as a whole weaves a tale about the eternal conflict of Templars versus Assassin’s, but Assassin’s Creed Origins does things a little different, as it goes back to its roots to show you the actual origin of the Brotherhood, a tale that’s previously not really been delved into in much detail. Taking place in about 50 BC, ancient Egypt is the newest backdrop for Assassin’s Creed, adding a completely new and unique landscape to parkour and explore, almost to the point of being too big, but more on that later.

Set long before the events of even the first Assassin’s Creed, you play as Bayek, a seemingly normal man that is consumed with a quest for revenge. Why is part of the mystery, so I won’t spoil much more about his motivation. Bayek is a Medjay, which is sort of the equivalent of a sheriff of today, but as he meets new personalities along his journey, such as Cleopatra and other historical figures, his authority rises as well.

As the narrative unfolds, he uncovers a huge corruption that engulfs the land of Egypt, and he is tasked with protecting the people and making things right in the world, along with satisfying his own vengeance as motivation. Expect to explore the vast world, or Origins, as if you can see it in the background you can most likely go there, even the massive pyramids in the distant horizon when you begin. You’ll uncover many secrets, help countless people, and witness the birth of the Creed. Even though sometimes you’re performing simple tasks, like helping local farmers or saving people from bandits, you still feel like you’re a Medjay making an actual difference. As for the ‘real world’ storyline, it’s finally been changed and is nothing like the previous games, which is completely refreshing, but I don’t want to spoil anything else related to this segment, as it’s a pretty big deal in the grand narrative.

If you’ve played an Assassin’s Creed before you’ll feel right at home, for the most part, in relation to the parkour traversing. The main change is that you no longer need to hold the Right Trigger for high profile movement, as climbing is simply done with the ‘A-button’ and descending with the ‘B-button’. It’s intuitive, and the fluidity has been vastly improved, even since the last Assassin's Creed title. While not perfect, Bayek will mostly move where you want and how you want without much effort.

There are some vastly different mechanics to learn this time around, even for series veterans, such as the new RPG leveling system, Destiny-like loot, and a completely revamped combat system that takes some getting used to. Now you can customize your abilities, unlock skills from a large skill tree, loot legendary weapons and armor, and even use a crafting system that encourages you to explore and hunt off the main path quite often. There’s almost too much to do. My first dozen hours or so was simply learning the new mechanics, hunting animals and completing nearly non-stop side quests to gain experience. This isn’t simply just another re-skinned Assassin’s Creed.

Like the last few titles in the series, Origins follows the same structure, where you have a main objective, but also a slew of side quests to keep you busy. Whereas in previous games, side quests were completely optional, which they technically are here, but you’re going to want to focus on completing as many as possible simply for the great experience and rewards upon completion. Missions, main or side quests, have level suggestions, not requirements, and make sure you are within the appropriate levels to try and tackle them, as even a quest that is a level or two higher than you can become incredibly difficult, especially early on when you’re becoming accustomed to the mechanics and don’t have great gear sets. There’s actually so much side stuff to do that it’s almost overwhelming coupled with how large the world is you have to explore.

In previous Assassin’s Creed titles you were able to use Eagle Vision, a way to see though walls to track targets and objectives in the environment. Gone is the status quo, as you now have control of your pet eagle, Senu, whom you can control to get an aerial view of anywhere you want to from the air. There’s no limit to Senu's range either, that I’ve found anyways, and you can tag enemies you see to track them easily when sneaking and hunting as Bayek. Senu can fly nearly anywhere, and even hover in any spot for you to search the area for more targets and objectives. Your other animal companion comes in the form of a horse, or camel should you choose, which will help you quickly traverse the vast deserts if you don’t wish to fast travel. The best part about this is that you can have your mount automatically run to a waypoint for you, allowing you to bask in the absolutely stunning environments as you pass by.

Combat has been completely revamped and requires some learning to grasp its mechanics. In previous Assassin’s games, each enemy would essentially attack you one at a time, for the most part, allowing you to parry and attack with ease. This time around Bayek will get attacked from all angles by multiple enemies, or animals, at once. You’re now equipped with a light and heavy attack, shield defense, ranged attacks, dodge, and even an attack that can be unleashed for massive damage. There are multiple types of weapons, from spears, axes, swords, pikes and more, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Finding the right weapon for the situation you’re confronted with is half of the strategy of combat, as sometimes you’ll need a faster sword as opposed to a slow lumbering axe.

Levels of you and your foes play a huge factor into battles as you can see the level and health bars above each enemies’ head, allowing you to strategize the best route of attack. If an enemy is much higher than you, a red icon is placed above their head, and they should be avoided at all costs. The multiple types of bow and arrows play a huge factor in combat as well, as there are multiple types for different types of situations. You’re able to lock onto enemies, which makes attacking much easier, though in close quarters this can be a little clumsy with some wonky camera angles in the heat of battle. Luckily this isn’t the norm, but it does happen from time to time.

You’re an assassin though, so stealth is also an option, and usually encouraged, but this has changed in some ways as well. Previously, if you could assassinate someone it was an instant one hit kill, though now the level differences play a huge part on your damage, even from your iconic hidden blade. If you don’t level up your hidden blade’s damage, and you perform an assassination on a target, it may only take off a small chunk of their health, instead of the instant kill. This is usually only the case with targets much higher than you, but it’s quite the shock the first time it happens.

Then, there are the Phylakes. Once you progress into the story to a certain point, elite bounty hunters will be strolling the land in search of you. If your regular enemies manage to call for backup by lighting a bonfire once you’re noticed, expect these servants of death to be in your vicinity shortly after. These named enemies are no joke, as I’ve died multiple times by their hand. You’re given a large warning when they are near, so you're best to hide from view of any of them passing by unless you want a serious challenge, best suited until endgame when you’re a higher level and have some upgraded gear.

Speaking of gear, this is a whole new mechanic to the series as well, and one that I really enjoyed. As you kill enemies, loot bodies, chests, and complete quests, you are rewarded with level appropriate gear, varying in rarity from common to legendary. Yellow (legendary) gear is usually the best you can obtain, having extra passive bonuses to enhance Bayek in combat such as fire damage, damage reduction, poison on block, and much more. This tiered loot reward is addicting, as you’re almost always upgrading your gear from drops, though if you find a weapon or shield you really enjoy you can spend your hard earned money to upgrade them to be much better.

Because you’re constantly earning new weaponry, there’s little reason to upgrade your weapons until you are near the endgame with the best loot, though you’re able to do so whenever you wish. Gear you don’t want can be dismantled for components to craft and to improve your other items, like hidden blade damage, health and more.

There’s a ton of costumes Bayek can earn and purchase throughout his journey, though they are simply cosmetic and meant to suit your style. There are even skins that can be purchased for your mounts, offering a unique visual style for your ride, but this also plays into the included microtransactions that have since become the norm as of late. You can purchase Helix credits for real money, allowing you to purchase exclusive skins, gear, skill points and even time savers like crafting resources. Yes, these are optional and not forced, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted a few times to buy some crafting materials to save some time, though I didn’t.

The other massive change to the series is its RPG elements, allowing you to earn skill points as you level, spending them on the skills you want that cater to your play style. There are three separate trees you can spend points on, each focusing on different ways to play and abilities to boost your play style. You don’t start out with many abilities, but spend some time leveling and you can gain access to fire bombs, sleep and poison darts, combat upgrades, unique bow skills and many more. While the skill tree is basic, and nowhere near what you’d see in other RPG focused titles, it’s a welcome addition and I hope to see it improved on moving forward.

The extra year of development, along with the recent release of the Xbox One X, has brought some absolutely stunning visuals, especially with the enhanced patch that brings 4K Assassin’s Creed to fans. To say the world looks beautiful is putting it mildly. The large landscapes and backdrops may have that grey and brown overtone to it, but stop to look at the finer details and you’ll be more than impressed. Exploring the inner maze of a gargantuan pyramid with just your torch for light is captivating, or running through the wildlands with packs of hyenas or hippos ready to attack is also quite the sight to see.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is so large that it’s almost overwhelming at times. I tend to stay to the main path in most games, but I’ve easily spent hours doing side quests, hunting crocodiles, and exploring ruins for treasure. This may be the largest world to explore in the series yet, but it’s not all just about mass, as each area is filled with a living and breathing ecosystem. The cities and towns feel alive, not just simply populated, and traversing across the barren deserts offers a stark contrast.

If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan like myself, and thirst for any new entry, Origins is an absolute no-brainer, as this is easily one of the best in the series. Mechanically there’s so much new here that the series once again feels fresh, and the world so large that there’s always something new to uncover and explore. If you’re new to the series, or haven’t played the last few ga,es, Origins is a great point to jump in, especially since the narrative takes place before others and sets up the subsequent games in the timeline. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that it is easily one of the best looking games on the market right now, not just for the series, but playing on an Xbox One X in 4K is amazing.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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