November 14, 2017

Assassin's Creed Origins - Review

When it was announced Assassin’s Creed was taking a year off, part of me celebrated that fact, I love the series, but it has really started to show its age. When it was announced that the team behind Black Flag was working on Origins, excitement grew for a single reason, Black Flag is regarded as one of the best in the series.

This time, the game takes us back to the sands of Egypt and into the sandals of Bayek, a Medjay a protector of Siwa, thank ancient police and you have an idea. When the game starts out, Bayek has taken the life of The Heron, one of the five men who kidnapped Bayek and his son. They have done so in an attempt to have Bayek open a vault located beneath the city, but during their attempt to free themselves, Bayek kills his son, so he seeks out his revenge. His wife, Aya has also been out hunting down other men from this group and when Bayek takes down the man he believes to be the Snake, he is informed that he is wrong, and the group are far more expansive than he thought, and his revenge is not complete. As Bayek seeks his revenge, he is tasked by Cleopatra, a recently deposed ruler of Egypt to help her win back the kingdom, from her Ptolemy XIII, the new Pharaoh of Egypt and he does so by helping the people, by taking down his own enemies.

While all this is taking place within the Animus, in the present, Abstergo employee Layla is working on her own project, with the help of her friend Deanna, in order to prove herself to the higher ups in the company. Sadly, when they do not check in, Deanna is killed, and Layla has to fight for her life, and upon succeeding, she re-enters the animus to learn more. While the story of revenge and how the Assassin Brotherhood is formed within Ancient Egypt and beyond, the modern-day story is kind of bland and seeing them force that upon players again, shows a flaw with the game, it is still anchored to its past.

Exploring the open space of Egypt is incredible, the beginning city of Siwa is bright and cheery, even with the threat of death in the air, the city of Letopolis is filled with people who are fighting to reclaim it back from the desert and even when the game sneaks of too other locations, each feels unique and worthy of your time to explore. How the game varies from the past, is that now you can deviate from the main quest, in order to discover things for yourself, including helping out the people of Egypt. Some of these quests can come in the form of extracting the populous from unjust imprisonment or helping them track down a member of their family, each person that you meet provides you with a reason to want to help, even if it’s as simple as because they make spiced bread.

As you explore and level up, you will uncover near items and weapons that you can use in your quest to exact your revenge, these are given ratings, like mmo games and the better the rating the better it is for you to use. Now, locating a sword that has a slight increase in damage and a lower attack speed, can force you to really think about whether or not it is worth replacing against your current weapon. This system has been in place for years in other games and its addition here, made it feel like all the choices I was making, actually mattered, even if it was a slight change to my weapon setup. Of course, with a system like that in place, materials will also play a much larger role, thanks in part to the games focus on hunting and gathering. If you gain enough materials, you can upgrade the damage that your hidden blade can do, or add more protection to your breast plate, letting you stay in the fight longer. Each mission rewards you with XP, which in turn lets you level up your chosen skills, which grant you better ways to combat the forces you will face across the world, even discovering a bandit camp can help you grow, so you will want to get out there and explore.

The problem with the gameplay, is that while it has taken some major steps forward across the board, it not only has one foot anchored in the past, its locked down in concrete. The world suffers from the same annoying people that every game since the original, people will repeat the same three phrases if you get anywhere near them and if you run at all, people will behave like you are out to kill them. Guards will also call you out, no matter what you do, of course you can ignore them and move on, but now as more guards are on the roads between cities, they will yell at you to get out of their way, if you even think to look in their general direction. The game is back to suffering from the odd climbing mechanics, that were fixed in Syndicate, there, you could hold a button to run up or down, now however, you are back to either climbing at a snail’s pace, or you randomly jump around, while it is more refined than in Unity, it is a shame to see the series take a step back.

Visually the game borders on stunning almost all the time, the locations are worthy of your time to just stop and admire everything, with the photo mode allowing you to really scope things out. Each of the worlds larger cities has a feel to them, that the game helps to sell, thanks to the visual touches. Memphis is darker than most, because it is a city that is ravaged by evil, Letopolis is usually surrounded by sand storms, so it has this orange hue to it. Entering a new location, only to be stopped by the sheer beauty of the vista, is something I never got tired of, however the game has issues there and they are the same issues again, coming from other games. The people, outside of some of the main characters are basic in their animations, I saw a lady who was meant to be pregnant, push her arm through her baby, people would look in different directions to where Bayek was in a cutscene, but worst of all, was that a lot of the cutscenes, would glitch and restart. Interacting with a character would see the cutscene start, only for it to begin again a few seconds later, with characters, dialogue and more to reset and start again.

The voices are also a mix, Bayek, Aya, Cleopatra, Apollodorus and the others, all sound great, with accents matching their supposed historical places. Sadly, the bulk of the populous does not meet those same requirements, the often mutter phrases are all said with an accent, but most are accent free, even if they proclaim to be Egyptian or Greek. The music however makes up for a lot of that, as it is a wonderful score, each of the tracks is something that I would love to listen to on its own, it’s just that good. There are times when the score hides in the background, with only the sounds of the open desert or city to occupy your ears, but when it does return, usually in combat, it just gets the tone and mood right.

Assassin’s Creed Origins has taken a lot of care in how its changed some of the core parts of the series, with it feeling more like Far Cry meets the Witcher now, but sadly, it is still trying to stick to its roots. When the game removes that shackle of history, it feels amazing, the combat is counted there, but sadly those moments are few and far between.

Review copy provided by Ubisoft

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