Twinfinite recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk Assassin’s Creed Origins with game director Ashraf Ismail. The topic of the day was change, and the shift to more RPG-like gameplay. We also did our best to pry some juicy tidbits about some of the game’s most anticipated story elements such as the connection to the present day, but Ismail understandably kept that information closely guarded. Without further ado, let’s jump into the full AC Origins Q&A!
AC Origins: The Setting and RPG Elements
Ed McGlone from Twinfinite: I think one of the most intriguing features about AC Origins is the setting, late BCE Egypt. Could you give us some specific details about how this setting will permeate throughout AC Origins whether it is story, visuals, combat, etc?
Ashraf Ismail, Game Director of Assassin’s Creed: Origins: The setting is something we were really excited to do for a very long time. The thing was it was always a technological challenge. How could we build a massive countryside, because it’s not really a city, it’s a countryside. To be able to fill it with gameplay, fill it with AI, animals, and all that. By the time we finished Black Flag, we felt that we were at a stage where, okay, we can take that challenge on. We learned a lot from Black Flag and because technology has improved, we felt we could take that challenge on.
And then it was a question of what time in Egypt. When in Egypt? Egypt is four or five thousand years old, where do we go? We chose around the end of the last era because we felt that first, it has these bigger than life characters like Caesar and Cleopatra. So naturally players should feel that in the story. But also, it is a good place for us to tell the birth of the Brotherhood as an origin story. It just made sense at this historic moment that was so intricate and crazy, that something else popped out of it.
Having said that, we did a ton of research. We spent two years on pure research on Egypt, on this time period. We have historians with us embedded in the team. We have artists who did work for us, to showcase what life was like there, what the architecture was like. A lot of these temples and tombs were beautifully painted and over time that has been lost because of wind and sand. So recreating that, bringing that back to life. We tried to intimately fuse this concept of Egypt in everything we did, from the weapons you use in combat, to the characters you meet, and the sidequesting actually. Quest structure is new for AC Origins.
Twinfinite: How so?
Ismail: It used to be a mission structure. The difference between missions and quests is a mission is a singular story, within a larger story. Whereas quests, they are smaller stories. This is the first time in AC that we actually have a quest structure where you can select a quest you want to work on. They’re all active and all running. You can technically be involved in a quest even if you aren’t actively tracking it. The tracking part is really more for the user interface. The idea is that the player picks up a lot of quests.
One reason we went to that kind of structure is that is when we were doing our research on Egypt we found all these wonderful little moments, characters, people, really unique stuff, and we thought how can we represent this to players in a way that they can consume it properly. So a quest structure made sense for us. A lot of the quests are based on anecdotes, or little things we found in researching Egypt. So I think people should be able to feel Egypt in pretty much everything we try to do.
Like I said, we spent years researching and coming up with a lot of details that we squeezed in. Even the temples, and the tombs, and the pyramids, all of the architecture that’s actually known is represented 100%. We didn’t just make up the interior of the pyramid, no no, we took what is known, put it in there. Of course we add our own secret chambers that have not been found yet. We add our own lore into it, but we try to also respect what’s actually there, what we know is there today. We really try to bring Egypt to life as authentically as we can.
Twinfinite: Speaking of the quest structure, AC Origins almost feels like a genre switch for the series. It borrows very heavily from action RPGs. You have quests, and now skill trees, leveling up, and gear. Do you see this as something as a permanent shift for the series, or something you’re experimenting with AC Origins?
Ismail: Right now we’ve been working on this series for four years and really focused on this AC and shipping this AC, and it’s almost there. We’ll see what the future holds but most definitely this is not a barometer check. This is not an attempt to see will this work or not. No, we assumed this path and yes we’ve gone to a much more action RPG philosophy, and for me as the game director and the guy who has been working in the series for two games now, this is a natural progression for us. This needed to happen. We needed to modernize AC to bring something fresh and new to our fans.
And every game needs to do that, to ask themselves: how can we bring a new experience to our players? But for me, most definitely the action RPG element of the game is a natural step for AC to go, and we should keep that going going forward.
Twinfinite: Today we learned a little bit more about how historical characters such as Julius Caesar and Cleopatra will fit into the story of AC Origins. Where will those two characters fit in the overall AC paradigm of Assassins & Templars? Are they Templars or are they Assassins? Where do their allegiances lie?
Ismail: [laughs] Well you don’t want me to spoil anything for you for sure. So from a narrative point of view, our protagonist is Bayek, and he’s on a personal journey. Something happened to his home. Through this journey, through his wife Aya, he gets to be introduced to Cleopatra and eventually to Caesar when he shows up. And… let’s say the root cause of his issues, that he’s investigating, implicate all of Egypt and that’s why he gets to eventually meet such bigger characters.
What their role is within the concepts of AC – because they aren’t called Assassins and Templars at this time period – has always been control versus free will. This is the idea that this has permeated throughout time and here it’s the same thing. So for sure, these two characters have a version of their perspective of [control versus free will]. We won’t ruin what that is, and how that plays out, but for sure you can expect that there is a connection there, and there is a progression in the narrative that plays with that.