Review: Assassin's Creed: Origins takes the series in the right direction, but not without a few bumps in the process
Improvement is a process, not an overnight job.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
2017 will go down as a year where gamers will be spoiled by greatness. With titles such as Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Persona 5, and even Wolfenstein 2 (among many others), it’s easy to overlook the plethora of second-tier titles. Assassin’s Creed won’t likely have that problem by virtue of its name, but it’s ultimately where Origins ends up sitting when all is said and done.
As we know by now, Ubisoft has taken an extra year to give Origins more time to take the series in a bold new direction, and it does just that. At least within the confines of the series itself. While it’s quite different from every game in the series to date, Origins is a smörgåsbord of features and mechanics from established games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and even a little Batman: Arkham Knight with an Assassin’s Creed flavor. The result is a game that is equal parts rewarding and clumsy, almost as if Ubisoft is trying to teach the series how to walk again.
Origins’ version of Ancient Egypt is painstakingly detailed and is easily the biggest world that Assassin’s Creed has ever made. Knowing that the team accurately rendered real tombs and cities makes them all the more thrilling to walk through, even if the game’s quest design can easily narrow your focus to a “dash towards the map marker” type of behavior. It’s not the most organic exploration you’ll find, but you’ll no doubt be impressed by the many sights and sounds of Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
The series’ shift to a Hit Box system opens up combat and invites new problems.
If you’ve ever played an Assassin’s Creed game, you know the mild immersion breakage that comes from being surrounded by enemies you know should attack you, but seem to be polite enough to take turns in doing so. Those days are gone.
Combat scenarios are more dynamic this time around, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t take the time to quietly subdue enemies before you go running in. If an enemy spots you, they’ll shout, and more will come running. The fixed camera that accompanies the Hit Box can make things a bit difficult since it restricts your vision, but popping in and out of the enemy lock can give you a quick survey of your surroundings. The problem is, the controls aren’t always 100% responsive, so jumping in and out can be easier said than done.
Timing is a big part of succeeding in Origins’ combat, and mastering your Blocks, Dodges, and Parrying is of the utmost importance. Blocking can reward you by taking the arrows that an enemy archer fires at you and placing them in your inventory while dodging is the most effective means of getting out of harm's way. Parrying is the most satisfying of the three to pull off, as shielded enemies are left open to your attacks, which can be a quick way out of a sticky situation. However, problems emerge with all three.
You’ll notice in your inventory that shields have their own HP, which tell you how much they can withstand before Bayek staggers. The game doesn’t tell you when you are reaching this point, nor when Bayek rebuilds his resistance, though experience will refine the educated guesswork it takes. But until that happens, you’re likely to find yourself getting staggered and beaten more times than you’d like. This could be an intentional design choice, in which case, it’s a matter of taste, but it is worth mentioning.
Dodging can be problematic, namely due to the fixed camera that comes with targeting enemies in the Hit Box system. Since you can’t see where you’re rolling to, it’s easy to roll into another enemy if you are taking on several of them at one time, resulting in some backstab damage. The timing of Origins’ parrying system can feel off, as weapons will glow yellow the instant before they strike you. It’s natural to take that visual cue as the moment to parry, but this isn’t the case, at least not most of the time. As a result, it seems as though there is a split second differential between the moment the cue emerges and when you should perform the action, which I found made me parry too soon or too late more often than not.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins can be a tad rough around the edges.
If you end up in combat, surrounded by enemies, they will not hesitate to charge at you (most of the time), and as a result, there’s a particular difficulty spike, which also ties into the game’s new leveling system. While this sounds nice on paper, in practice the system is brought down by some AI inconsistencies and some sluggish controls that you’ll need to adjust in the Settings Menu.
The standard camera sensitivity for Bayek is slow, so much so to the point that it can’t keep up with the movement of enemies as they strafe around you. I ended up increasing it in the settings, which feels odd having to do so on console. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but if you are the type of player that likes to mix it up in combat (shifting between bows and melee), it’s a necessity.
Enemy AI can also have some weird quirks, as there are times when you’ll be surrounded by 4-5 enemies who won’t hesitate to try and take your head off. But other times in a one-on-one situation, where an enemy will just keep backpedaling away from you in its combat stance and into a wall, and occasionally get caught on the geometry. It’s almost as if the computer can’t decide if it wants that enemy to retreat and light the pyre to summon reinforcements or just to fight you straight up. Either one would work, the AI just needs to commit to a direction.
One of the new features that Origins introduces is the automatic mount ride. Summoning your camel is a lot like calling Roach out of the ether in Wild Hunt. Origins attempts to improve the mount experience by adding what they call a “Follow the Road” mechanic, where your camel runs automatically towards whatever destination you’ve set. In theory, this works out great, because as you wander the desert, you will find yourself under attack from bandits and engage in galloping arrow fights until you either kill them all or break line of sight.
Problems pop up however in bigger cities such as Alexandria, where the confines of the streets, which would seem to make travel more direct, can easily confuse the camel’s AI. I’ve literally been carried away from objective markers that were within one hundred meters of me for no apparent reason. You’ll also find your mount will plow over innocent civilians in some of the smaller streets, especially if you are behind the reigns of a dual horse chariot. In fact, the chariot can easily get stuck on the geometry in these smaller areas as well, so it’s something that Ubisoft will need to work out with a patch.
Uncovering new loot in Origins feels just right.
As with any RPG, loot is a core part of the Assassin’s Creed: Origins experience, and I’m happy to say that the game has found a pretty masterful balance between finding/upgrading equipment and being challenged with the stuff you have. Side quests are a big part of this loop, and with games of this size, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Fortunately, getting distracted is incredibly rewarding as the temples and camps you scrounge almost always have something new for you to use, so the next nugget is never far away.
Origins does a great job of giving you different kinds of locations to loot. You can dive underwater and into sunken temples, or head into a heavily guarded camp, and sneak (or fight your way) to the treasures it holds. Camps and temples are worthwhile in the sense that they always offer an incentive to accomplish all of the tasks. When you enter them, a prompt will appear showing the number of treasures you can uncover as well as the unique high powered officers that you can kill (if it’s a camp). Doing all of the things on the checklist gives you a small bit of extra experience, and running through them to completion can mean the difference between a vital level up on a story mission or being underpowered.
New powerful equipment can be had via the game’s Loot Boxes, but I never found it necessary to dive in and purchase anything (not that I would have anyway), as the thrill of always knowing there was a new sword or Predator Bow around the bend was more than enough to keep me invested. As is the usual schtick, Loot Boxes are optional time savers, and with Origins’ dynamic difficulty settings, spending extra cash is purely the responsibility of the player.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins was built for 4K.
I can’t tell you how much I wish I had either a PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, or decked out PC to play this game on because there is so much here that Assassin’s Creed: Origins feels like a gateway game into the 4K Era. Between the scale of the lands, the emergent nature of the events of the world (crocodiles that pop up and snag unaware sailors from their boats), and the hundreds of NPCs that dot the land, a lot is going on here. As a result, it feels like the game was built for high-end tech and then scaled down for standard consoles. Little details like flames, or birds flying overhead, or the cloth that flaps behind Bayek as he commits to a Leap of Faith all have a noticeably transparent mesh quality to them that makes you feel like Ubisoft was looking for little ways to get this game to hold a 30 FPS framerate on the regular consoles.
That’s not to say that the game is poor to look at all the time, but it does make you think that what we hear as “premium” consoles are in actuality the standard that this game was meant to be played on.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is not the dramatic overhaul that many were probably expecting. It still feels like a traditional Assassin’s Creed game that incorporates many Action RPG standards we’ve come to expect from the genre. Senu is more or less a mobile enemy and objective marker that expands on the pre-planning mechanics that The Phantom Pain introduced two years ago. Running through a camp and stealthily taking down all of the enemies within, doesn’t feel all that different than stalking the rafters as Batman in the Arkham games, and everything being predicated on Hit Points officially puts Origins in the same family as Wild Hunt and Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Fans of the series should be satisfied with the experience it offers, not to mention the intrigue of witnessing the beginnings of the Brotherhood they’ve been following since 2007. Ten years is a long time for any franchise, and many don’t make it this long without trying something new. Thankfully, Ubisoft is onto something with this new direction; they just needed more time to work out the kinks and quirks. I hope this course sticks because if Ubisoft commits to it and spends a few years refining its new systems, the next Assassin’s Creed could be something extraordinary.