Reviewed on PS4
After a brief two-year hiatus, developer Ubisoft Montreal returns with another entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While many — myself included — were clamoring for an Assassin’s Creed set in the Edo/Meiji Period of Japan (approximately between 1603 and 1912), Ubisoft saw it fit to tell the story of the origins of the assassin’s brotherhood. Thus we’re dropped into what many scientists believe to be the motherland of humanity: Egypt. And though this is the most realized world we’ve seen in Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft can’t seem to escape the crux of its games: icons and markers. Assassin’s Creed Origins is, really, just another Assassin’s Creed — nothing more, nothing less.
You play as Bayek of Siwa, an Egyptian Medjay (protector) who is in charge of the safety of the Siwans. Bayek is a humble man, a respectful, pensive, due-diligence kind of dude. He exerts force only when necessary and rarely causes a ruckus — up until his son, Khemu, is killed in front of him. Heartbroken and seething with rage, Bayek and his wife, Aya, don the assassin’s garb and hidden blade, and piece together the hierarchy throwing all of Egypt into disarray, with the ultimate goal of eradicating those who unjustly took the life of their child. What follows are a series of escort missions, investigations that are all-too-similar to each other, marker chasing, and lots — and I mean lots — of unskippable walking and talking. It is here that despite all of Ubisoft’s attempts to revitalize the franchise, Assassin’s Creed Origins is still Assassin’s Creed, and all of the issues that have plagued previous titles rear their ugly heads.
In typical Ubisoft fashion, you have synchronization points that reveal more of the map. And, of course, once the map is revealed so too are the subsequent icons and markers you’ll inevitably chase after, presenting one of the game’s biggest issues: No matter what you’re doing, you’re always chasing an icon or a marker, to either find some collectible or trigger the next quest. Although Assassin’s Creed Origins is an open-world game, Ubisoft’s insistence on icons and markers limits the scope of the world, narrowing the vision. Instead of freely exploring this expansive Egypt, you’ll set your quest, track it, and run (or ride via horseback or, yes, camelback) indefinitely in that direction until you reach your destination. Rinse and repeat. Sure, you can ignore the objective, but a glance at the compass will tell you otherwise. You need to only open the map to see the plethora of icons and markers littered all over and, in many instances, jumbled together. It becomes a burden to just explore when there’s always another marker to unveil. Still, roaming can be exciting when you stumble upon, you guessed it, enemy camps that contain, you guessed it again, more icons and markers.
Combat in Origins has been radically changed. Instead of the one-on-one dueling system we’ve seen in previous Assassin’s Creed games, Origins says to hell with all that and gives you hit boxes and light and heavy attacks. Now, instead of comboing an enemy to death — Assassin’s Creed Syndicate — or damn-near auto-killing every enemy that approaches you — the first three Assassin’s Creed games — Origins focuses more on commitment to attack, dodging, positioning, and timing. Here, if you swing at the air, you’re hitting the air, leaving you open to a counterattack. The same is true of the enemies, making combat more engaging, dynamic, and strategic — until you realize just how exploitable and incompetent enemy AI can be. In many fights where you’re outnumbered, the AI will crowd around like high schoolers during lunch while you and one guy duke it out to the death. It’s a shame because Ubisoft has spent a considerable amount of time overhauling the combat mechanics and progression system, only for it all to feel utterly pointless when you can spam heavy attack to kill just about every single enemy in the game.
Origins does allow you to better personalize Bayek to your playstyle, though. There are three skill lines — hunter, seer, and warrior — with a plethora of perks in them ranging from a riff on the classic double assassination to slow-mo. While there are some useful and throwaway skills, it all doesn’t matter in the end because you can max Bayek out rather quickly by paying for helix credits, Ubisoft’s purchasable currency, and buying a pack of three skill points. Participating in this severely undermines the play experience, especially since the game expects you to meet a level requirement before attempting any mission. Preventing story progression by demanding you to level allows you to explore Egypt a bit more and experiment with the game’s various mechanics and systems, but Origins begins to slow the rate of experience you gain later in the game, making helix credits look more enticing. Of course, you can just complete every side mission, finish every Hippodrome race, compete in every gladiator match, and uncover every marker and icon to acquire your experience points, but these accomplishments and feats net meager experience. It all feels worthless when many of these activities are multi-part events, again making the skill point pack more enticing. However, buying them enforces the idea that Origins can be pay to win: If you pay enough money you can have a fully maxed Bayek before hitting the halfway mark. That is, if you want to make it to the halfway mark.
The biggest problem I’ve found with Origins is its incredibly boring and predictable narrative. This is nothing more than a revenge tale, with little added to the themes of that narrative formula. There are no excitements. There are no twists. There are no edge-of-the-seat moments. This is a canned, linear, and strict story, which creates a bit of ludonarrative dissonance. The game — and Ubisoft itself — would have you believe Egypt is totally open and free to explore, and it is, but the game’s story tells you your actions outside of main story missions affect nothing. Hell, once side quests are completed and characters are rescued — or killed — nothing changes. In a post-Witcher 3 world, I find myself wondering whether Assassin’s Creed has to be an open-world franchise. Perhaps this now decade old series would serve better as the linear game the stories tell, as Origins’ open-world design seems to purport nothing but repetitive fodder. And that’s a shame because this is one of the most flesh-out worlds we’ve seen in Assassin’s Creed. But just because the world is fleshed-out doesn’t mean the narrative must be so rigid.
No matter how I look at it, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a linear, open-world game. It’s significantly more enjoyable than previous Assassin’s Creed entries, and its lead is more likable than previous Assassin’s Creed leads, but Origins still suffers from all the same problems. Technical proficiency means nothing if the writing is not captivating, and solid gameplay means nothing if the gameplay loop itself is linear. Sadly, Assassin’s Creed Origins just another Assassin’s Creed game. Nothing more and nothing less, and maybe that’s a problem.