assassins creed origins

assassins creed origins
When the last game in the series came out, I said that one of the next possible locations I was looking forward to was Ancient Egypt, and with Assassins Creed Origins, I got my wish.

Just as a side note, I'm going to be using a lot more images in this review than I normally do, and all of the image are ones I've taking using the rather addictive in-game camera mode. Which isn't always perfect, but does occasionally produce some stunning images.

And, as always, there will be some partial spoilers, but I'll try to avoid anything truly major. But proceed at your own risk.

As with all Assassins Creed games, it revolves around the protagonist, in this case Bayek, the last of the medjay (a kind of "elite paramilitary police force" according to Wikipedia, but more like a kind of sherrif in the world of the game).

assassins creed origins - bayek in the bathhouse
Bayek is lovely.

He's also probably the closest we've been to Ezio in terms of characterisation... with a little more angst and seriousness, but still a very likeable protagonist. Like all AC heroes, he starts off with very little in the way of skills and gear but it ramps up fairly quickly, provided you do a few non-story missions early on.

I also loved the weapon choices, which I'll talk about a little later, but it's possibly handled in the best way so far in the series. I'm slightly torn about the outfits in this game though, since none of them provide any kind of boost to your stats, so you could play most of the game with Bayek in a towel if you liked (and I'm sure that there were at least a few people who probably did exactly that), or just keep him in his starting gear throughout the game (which is what I did).

And plus, as per the above image, he's not hard to look at... at least once the early scruffy haircut and beard gives way to the shaved head and clean shaven look.

But while I enjoyed Bayek, the game did have some issues around character. Specifically the character of Bayek's wife, Aya.

assassins creed origins - the best actual image i could get of aya
Most of the time it feels like Aya is given to you as some kind of unearned punishment.

When she first shows up, you discover she's already murdered two of the characters that Bayek has been searching for. And then doesn't give you the opportunity to play as her in those assassinations. So within minutes of meeting her she's already taken game play away from the player.

Secondly, the next two or three times she shows up, it's in pure ship-to-ship combat sequences. Now, I enjoyed AC Black Flag quite a bit...  but I feel like the developers took the wrong lessons from it's success. We didn't need more ship combat. Possibly ever again... we had none in the last two games and they were just fine. Especially since those sections could have been Aya's assassinations instead.

Then in the late game, you're forced into Aya again, and made to fight the main boss of the game. As Aya, who has no additional weapon choices, none of the additional skills you've spent the whole game working to acquire, and it's a fairly brutal final fight.

Why do you hate me Ubisoft Montreal? What did I ever do to you?

That final fight, amongst other things, made me put the controller down for quite a while before I went back. I'd had the snot beaten out of me a number of times and wasn't eager to go back to it. Of course once I did, I figured out the rhythm of the fight almost immediately, but still, it was a slog rather than a victory moment.

Also the entire end section of the game is about Aya... Aya and her relationships with contemporary historical figures, including Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. Anyone who knows their ACII lore should know what that means about Aya (which I won't spoil here, but to be honest, I worked it out completely on my own while playing the game).

Even the last shot of the game is of Aya, not Bayek (or at least the last memorable shot).

So why wasn't Aya the main character? She could have been. I think they could have easily meshed the two characters storylines into one and had it turn out the same.

They could also have very easily gone down the AC Syndicate route, and had two playable main characters. I'm guessing that the game was already too far down the development rabbithole for them to change to that model at the stage where Syndicate came out, plus they probably didn't want to be accused of just rehashing the previous game. They could also have just given you access to all of Bayek's abilities when you were playing as Aya, which would have been infinitely better.

None of which is to say I disliked Aya... I really liked her, she's a great character, it just felt like the game was punishing me every time I had to play as her. Which is bad game design.

assassins creed origins - combat
Let's talk about combat.

Even though this was a completely different system from any AC game thus far (under the hood), the combat felt like AC Unity to me. Perhaps that was because, like Unity, I spent the whole game wielding a spear... but at the same time, like in Syndicate, I was also the master of the ranged stealth kill thanks to Bayek's predator bow (ranged headshots for the win). It was much the same as the way I played Evie to be honest... sitting high atop spots, sniping out various guards until I could just walk through a totally empty fort or stronghold.

It's just the best way to do things... I mean why stealth through the middle of a group of enemies when you can just wait far out of their reach and take them all out one by one.

The AI enemies felt a little smarter in this game, but honestly, not by a great deal. They at least reacted to and tried to track Bayek down if he killed someone at range when there was a guard nearby, but they also don't seem to care a whole lot if they don't see the kill, although they do pick the bodies up and move them to a different location.

One thing that did bug me at the beginning was the fact that you have no way of doing the "beserker poison" at range. If can only be done via melee stealth, which meant that I never did it at all in the game. But the sleep poison made a welcome return, which I didn't often use, but I like having it around anyway.

The other thing that felt very AC was the crafting of your gear. It was mostly an AC3 and Black Flag mechanic, find animals and other resources in the world to allow you to upgrade stuff. In this case it's defence, combat strength, ranged ability, quiver and pouches. And it never felt like a total grind the way it occasionally did in previous games.

What I really liked was the way they handled the weapons themselves. Its always a real pain finding the weapon that does exactly what you want it to do, but then levelling up past that weapon and having to trade to something else is always much less fun. Thankfully Origins gets rid of that by having upgradable weapons. So I think I used a total of three different spears through the whole game, since I was able to keep them tracking with my level.

And the weapons seem to be randomised, so you never know what exactly you're going to get... which annoyingly meant that I saw a lot more high level swords through the game than spears.

For me, the best weapons are some combination of "Bleeding on Hit" (10-40% chance to make target bleed), "On Fire" (chance to set enemies on fire) and "Health on Kill" (recovers 15% health after each kill). What I never really used was the Adrenaline system which is supposed to do a massive hit... but I usually forgot about it, plus the L3 + R3 button presses were hard to get right when I did, so I just swung away like a maniac instead.

They also definitely got the skill tree right this time around... it's divided into Hunter, Warrior and Seer (or range, melee and other skills) and you can definitely pick up a lot more skills this time around. In fact I ran out of individual skills I wanted about halfway through the game, but thankfully you can spend points on the three tree title options to give you a 1% better ability in that area, and given you can take that option multiple times, it's not a bad way to spend extra points.

assassins creed origins - pyramid sitting
The world of Origins is definitely what I'd call a "guided open world"... once you're actually let loose from the starting area into the whole map anyway. Sure you can go straight from there to the area designed for Level 40 characters, but you won't even be able to see the enemy levels, they just show a skull icon indicating that this is a Very Bad Idea.

The story itself mostly moves you through the areas, but as always, I wandered away from the story fairly early on to start trying to gain some levels and gear so everything just gets a little easier.

In previous AC games, the distinction between story missions and non story missions felt very cut and dried... the line is a little more blurry in Origins. It's still fairly obvious, but there are a lot of "bonus missions" in this game that seem to have been given much the same weight as story content, but less rigidly arranged than they were in Syndicate. And a lot of the missions you pick up are multi-part quests, so it's easy enough to either work all the way through something or just pick and choose whatever might be nearby your location at any moment.

As far as the quests go, they're mostly standard AC fare... go here, speak with this person, assassinate that person, steal this object, follow a crazy man around the map until he finds the person he's been talking about the whole time who turns out to be a camel. That kind of thing.

I did do essentially every single possible thing though... with the exception of the war elephants (big, high level, non-story related boss fights), the god battles (even bigger and higher level than the elephants) and the battle arena and hippodrome (because it was just irritating but fortunately not compulsory). I mean the map was basically cleared once I was done.

The "modern day" sections are back much more like some of the earlier Desmond sequences, with an interesting new protagonist, Layla Hassan, a "researcher at Abstergo's Historical Research Division". Most of her backstory is told through text items on her in-game laptop, and even though a lot of it ties in with the very lackluster liveaction movie, Layla is a character I look forward to running into again in future games.

There are also the usual enemy encampments of varying levels, treasures to discover and, given that this is Classical Antiquity Egypt (as opposed to actual Ancient Egypt), tombs to explore. The tombs are the real puzzle set pieces, although they're not quite as arduous as some of the puzzle locations from earlier games, they're also the places with the most AC lore dumps. In addition there are also animal lairs which are basically small enemy encampments of animals.

assassins creed origins - senu
Speaking of animals...

Senu the Bonelli's eagle is Bayek's constant companions throughout as well as the game's replacement for the Eagle Vision of previous versions. Instead you get the actual vision of an eagle.

I like the mechanic, you can fly halfway across the map if you really want to to scope things out, but pinpointing entire enemy encampments from the air is really where Senu comes into her own. There were times I missed the Eagle Vision ping to show up enemies, but that still exists, it just shows gear and coins you can take instead. And if you leave Bayek standing idle for too long, Senu swoops down and perches on his arm, which is sweet.

The other animal based ability I like is the ability to set a waypoint and have your camel (or horse, but really, it's Egypt, why aren't you using a camel) run there on it's own... which is fantastic, especially for places you haven't already fast travelled to yet. Or if you need to get up from the couch and get a drink while nothing is going on.

There's also an ability in the skill tree that lets you tame any wild animal you come across... which is fun, for about five minutes. I mean if you're a melee focus character it might have advantages, but it never kept my attention, plus I think it stops working if you hit a cut scene, which is unfortunate.

Also, you can pet the myriad of cats that are running all over Egypt... because why wouldn't you want to do that!

assassins creed origins - dawn/dusk over the pyramids
Origins really is a beautiful game. The weather isn't quite as dynamic as say London or Paris (as in there's no rain, unsurprisingly), but watching a sandstorm roll in across the desert and reduce everything to a golden haze is amazing. And the deserts are full of weird mirages if you stand still long enough.

In fact the lighting in general is gorgeous across the game.

And as you can tell from these screen shots, they really have put a lot of work into making the desert, pyramids, mountains and river valley feel alive and unique. Depending on if you're in the more urban areas, out in the mountains or down along the coast, NPC dialogue and looks are completely different (a little like London).

To be honest I think I expected a much more desert focused game, but it does a great job of dividing the map up. It's a really large map... the biggest of any of the AC games from what I understand. It definitely feels it. And while you can find a spot with a lot of people (nowhere near the London or Paris crowds though), you can also find spots with nobody at all, which feels about right for this map.

They also kept the ability to hold your breath and swim underwater from earlier games, which leads to some really pretty moments as you explore underwater ruins (provided you take out all of the crocodiles in the area first).

assassins creed origins - the hidden ones
When I was finished the main game, I decided to pick up the first of the two DLCs for the game, The Hidden Ones.

As far as the lore of the start of the Brotherhood of Assassins is concerned, this is much more about that than the main game was (although it was interesting in the main game to discover exactly where the assassin's symbol comes from).

Because this takes place a few years after the end of the main game (like both the Syndicate and Unity DLC that I've previously played), Bayek finally gets a prototype of the assassin's outfit we know and love from all the other games. And Aya returns, in a much more dominant outfit (although she looks amazing).

There are also moments in both games where you find characters that seem like they'll be the founding members of the brotherhood, but the DLC is a little more explicit about it.

The DLC shifts the location to the much smaller Sinai Peninsula (which makes sense) and also provides the opportunity for a much more vertical game, with a lot of rocky terrain and climbing.

As far as the story goes, it's not hugely different from the main game (I think they're saving that for the other DLC, The Curse of the Pharaohs, which is much more mythological and fantastical), the interesting part for me was aforementioned start of the brotherhood.

assassins creed origins - morning view
I very much enjoyed my time in Egypt with Bayek, and it'll be interesting to see how they develop the storyline going forward... I still want a feudal Japan version, as well as a 1920's New York game though... but we'll see.

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