Ed goes hands-on with Assassin’s Creed… for the first time.
I don’t have anything personal against the Assassin’s Creed series, despite what the title of this article might imply. When the series first started heating up, I wasn’t writing about games, so I had no work obligation to play them. I think at the time I just had a ton on my backlog, and just never got around to the first couple. All my friends were super into them though, and by the time the series hit like four or five games, I just felt overwhelmed with feeling so behind on the story and not wanting to play all these games to catch up. So it just sort of snowballed into a sense of resignation that Assassin’s Creed just wouldn’t ever be my thing.
However, now I am a games writer, and work does occasionally lead me to scenarios where I need to play games that I’m not necessarily an expert on. That’s what happened this past week with Assassin’s Creed Origins.
The one AC game that almost got me on board was AC IV: Black Flag, which was also helmed by the game director of AC Origins, Ashraf Ismail. Black Flag took a lot of risks, similar to what Ismail and his team are doing with Origins. A lot about Origins is new, and will probably feel foreign to returning fans. The controls for example have been redesigned. I’ve heard complaints from fans that traversing and parkouring in the past was frustrating, I didn’t feel that way with the new controls in Origins. The controls were intuitive and what I would expect from a game releasing in 2017. Parkour was as simple as walking up to a surface and pressing A/X to start climbing, vault over something etc. Combat controls were also pretty standard. There’s a lot of things you can do in combat, whether it’s switching between melee/ranged, blocking, being mindful of not getting surrounded, etc. So it took me a little to get used to it, but there are no “issues.” If you hate the new controls though and prefer the old way, there is a legacy control option there.
On the topic of combat though, I don’t think the demo we played put its best foot forward. We were fast forwarded to a point further in the game and ability nodes from leveling up were already filled out. So I couldn’t really play a character that felt like it was mine. The result of that was I wasn’t really able to take advantage of what is a major touted feature of Assassin’s Creed Origins, the RPG elements. In our interview with Ismail, he was very enthusiastic about people being able to spec out their own super-assassins that can do crazy awesome things. It appears that the foundation is there for players to do that, but I didn’t get a great sense of it, nor did I have the time to fully appreciate it. So instead, I plodded through more or less just fighting at a very basic level, which was nothing earth-shattering. Simple, light attacks, heavy attacks, blocking, shooting. The fun part, I imagine, will be when you get to higher levels and are able to play with a build that you created through your abilities and equipment choices, not necessarily the basic combat.
Instead, I was way more into the aesthetics and open world. Assassin’s Creed Origins is probably the most beautiful depiction of Ancient Egypt I’ve seen in a game to date. Even if the combat doesn’t end up resonating with me, I can totally see myself biting that bullet to experience this world that Ubisoft Montreal has created. The synchronization vista points that were around during the demo were marvelous to behold. Ismail mentioned to us that the team has on-staff historians as consultants to accurately depict Ancient Egypt as best they can. I didn’t live in Ancient Egypt as I’m sure you can probably figure out, but hell I’ll take their word for it because it looks fantastic. I got to explore one of the pyramids which, of course, had a secret passageway which, after completing a puzzle, led me to a secret treasure which contained a bow which was an upgrade to what I had. The pyramid was super pretty like everything else, but the puzzle was kind of basic and tedious. It was just moving barrels onto and off of weighted lifts to get me around. A little danger perhaps, considering I am in a badass ancient pyramid, would have spiced it up a bit.
Senu, Bayek’s eagle companion I’m told, is reminiscent of a staple feature called Eagle Vision. That too, was a feature that I really enjoyed. It adds an extra layer of depth to the stealthy gameplay. Senu can tag enemies, hover in place for better surveillance, and can also be upgraded to attack and perform other commands. Aside from it just being another way to take in the gorgeous Egyptian landscape, flying around as Senu and commanding her on paper sounds a lot more engaging than just magically having this ability as it is in previous games.
Finally, I got a little taste of the game’s story. The section we played followed Bayek as he reunites with his wife Aya to investigate a murdered bull which holds some importance to the townfolk, and to the Cleopatra. Cleopatra has been exiled, and she’s trying to make a run at getting her seat of power back, and Aya is her loyal servant. There’s a bit of tension between Aya and Bayek. Aya seems to prioritize her work and loyalty to Cleopatra over her relationship with Bayek, although she clearly does care about him too. Bayek is very in love with her, and seems driven to assist her more by his love for her than anything else. At least that’s how I took it.
The one aspect of Assassin’s Creed that always enthralled me despite never having played it is the alternate history. That I imagine will be a major selling point of Origins as well. Although my time with the main story was short, I got a decent feel of the characters and they appear complex and likable. I got to meet Cleopatra and heard of Caesar, Ptolemy XIII and I’m eager to see how they play into the story and the larger paradigm of Assassins versus Templars or, as Ismail put it for Origins (since those factions don’t technically exist yet), control versus free will.
So walking away from this demo, I’m already sold on the recreation of Ancient Egypt, and exploring it is definitely going to be a feast for the eyes. Also, I like the sense I got of the direction of the story and its characters. My main concern is the combat and puzzles. I certainly didn’t play enough of it to be able to condemn it, but I wasn’t inspired or excited by it either. It seemed a bit trite on the surface. I will admit, though, I could definitely see it being more enjoyable had I started from level 1 and built up my own character rather than inheriting someone else’s.
So will Assassin’s Creed Origins be the first game I actually play beginning to end? It seems like a good starting point considering it’s an origin story (duh). I’ll still need to wait and see how the combat ends up coming together, because as pretty as it is, and as engaging as the story could be, slogging through boring gameplay to get through a story is never fun no matter what, regardless of the series.