Before I was completely blown away by Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, my favourite Assassin’s Creed game was the original. Yes, it was buggy, repetitive, and outlandish in its ending, but it had a lot of good stuff, too. The game world was amazing (especially if you’re into your history, like I am), the gameplay loop was fun (and the closest thing to contemporary Prince of Persia), and I defended Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad as the best assassin with best character arc until Black Flag’s Edward Kenway.
Where fan-favourite Ezio’s arc went from spoiled brat to charming assassin, Altaïr’s arc had the arrogant pup stripped of his rank and abilities (a clever power reset) and forced to eat humble pie as he climbed through the ranks, [spoilers, if you never finished the original game] only to discover his mentor was misleading him [end spoilers]. Get rid of the convoluted future stuff which, unfortunately, plagues almost every Assassin’s Creed game, and Altaïr’s arc is still just as memorable today for me as it was when I first played it.
The reason Edward Kenway’s game is the best of recent years, though, is because it was two games rolled into one, and the second game—that awesome pirate simulator—distracted you from the shortcomings of the Assassin’s Creed part of the game. For all intents and purposes, that still suffered from the same sins of, well, every other Assassin’s Creed game: hard-fail tailing missions, buggy free-running, and unchallenging combat. Fast-forward to more recent times, and Ubisoft opted to take a year between Assassin’s Creed games, and Origins is the result of that additional development time.
Not so long ago, I had an hour of hands-on time with Assassin’s Creed Origins in 4K. And, yes, it looks just as fantastic as it does in those guided gameplay trailers. What’s more impressive, though, is the much-needed refinements to the franchise formula. You can climb pretty much anywhere that looks like you should be able to climb it, and I didn’t encounter any of those clunky moments where the climbing or free-running failed to match my movement intentions.
I played in one region of the Ancient Egyptian world, and it was massive. Like Red Dead Redemption, sparseness plays a part in this game world, so it’s not like it’s a bustling mega city where there are people and structures around every corner. But nor would you want it to be that. The space between places of interest provides some nice breathing room, a chance to soak in the game world, and an opportunity to ride a camel. Up until that point, I didn’t know how much I needed a camel as a mount until I rode one in Origins.
More importantly, the map is separated into regions with specific difficulty levels. You can, if you so choose, walk into an area that has enemies who are a much higher level than you. Or you can accidentally stumble into one and suffer the consequences. I tested my mettle against one of these encampments, and regretted it the first time. The combat has been improved in Origins, too, as enemies feel like they’re working together to take you down, rather than waiting around to be killed by a stringed-together post-counter combo.
You’ll have to wrap your head around the new combat controls, too, which includes light attacks, heavy attacks, and a shield blocking option. The second time I tackled that higher-level fight, I took a smarter approach to it, picking enemies off from afar with bow headshots, before isolating the higher-level lieutenant and giving him the fighting respect he deserved. There are neat little touches, too, like how you can hover your arrows over a brazier to light your arrows, or how enemy levels are displayed above their heads so the scouting player can determine which fights they want to take, and which ones they may want to return for.
I got to test out one main mission, and it was pretty neat. It involved some light detective work, some interesting characters, and entertaining dialogue. New protagonist Bayek is already on track to becoming a new contender for fan-favourite assassin and, unlike a lot of cutscenes these days, I didn’t feel the urge to skip them, because I was genuinely interested in what was being said, who was talking, and the background politics.
Assassin’s Creed Origins has also seemingly taken a leaf out of Tomb Raider’s scroll, as it now has tomb raiding. I snuck in to a mini pyramid (not one of those towering main ones), which was still actually quite big, in pursuit of treasure, and was forced to solve mini puzzles to get my reward. Along the way, I also found some new gear, which plays in to Origins’ customisation mechanic that has a welcome injection of RPG mechanics, courtesy of gear rarity levels, crafting, loot drops, and stats boosting (plus perks). Only having an hour with the game, though, I didn’t get to play around with that these systems too much.
It’s worth noting that while I started out as a big fan of the franchise, my love for the series diminished with each entry until Black Flag, and then dropped again with Unity and Syndicate. The combat and gear systems add some much needed depth to the usual Assassin’s Creed formula, and if the hour I had with it is any indication, Origins is poised to become, at least, the best Assassin’s Creed game since Black Flag.