After a year's hiatus, everything has changed for the return of Ubisoft's much-loved stealth franchise.
Kit Kat’s ‘take a break’ slogan is wiser than we appreciate. It solves everything. Whether you’re having a hard time at work or struggling to beat that damn Cuphead boss, taking a time-out will leave you feeling reinvigorated so you can later bulldoze through any obstacle in your way.
So after the Assassin’s Creed series’ loss of momentum in the past few years its developers decided that a year-long break was the best move – and how right they were.
After spending four hours playing Origins, I can confidently say this is the most promising Creed game in absolute yonks. And that’s not just down to the scenic Egyptian setting.
With significant updates to the combat, the introduction of a deep RPG system and a world that truly feels alive, I’m so impressed by the results of this one-year hiatus that I’m seriously considering taking one myself. Sorry, boss.
WELCOME TO EGYPT
Ubisoft has swapped the claustrophobic city life of recent Creed games for the sweeping-desert vistas of Ancient Egypt, and by doing so, they’re on to an absolute winner. Pyramids. Sphinxes. Tutankhamun. The possibilities are genuinely exciting.
It all looks spectacular, too. You can see every individual glass of blade bend as you crawl through an oasis, as well as specs of sands as you slide down dunes. And all the pyramids and mountains on the horizon? Ubisoft assures me that every one of them can be explored.
Predictably, the story takes advantage of this Ancient Egyptian setting, as you assume control of a Medjay (aka Egyptian mega-soldier) who gets dragged into conflict via the typical Assassins-versus-Templars struggle.
Even if the plot seems to be the Creed formula of old at its core, I’m still eagerly waiting to delve more into this corrupt world as the brooding hero Bayek. And for bonus points, there's no Animus in sight!
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
With Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn setting a high standard for open worlds, Origins has decided to up its game in this respect. While previous settings such as Jerusalem and Venice were wonderfully realised, they never truly felt that they thrived beyond our presence.
Egypt’s different. There were many occasions when I stumbled on tax collectors pushing about civilians or crocodiles attacking fisherman. These weren’t necessarily side quests either. You could intervene, watch from afar, or simply move on.
To push this immersion even further, Ubisoft claims that there’s no “game over’ screen if you fail a mission – unless you die of course. Failed to stealthily follow your target or perhaps they managed to escape? The game will continue, only for you to locate your target again within the sprawling map.
Your actions will shape the world too, but you may also suffer consequences as a result. Keep causing trouble and someone will call in a bounty hunter to take care of you. Hiding from them won’t give you much joy, as they won’t disappear. They’re ever-present on the map, doing their best to find and kill you. Think of them like the police in GTA.
LOOK BEFORE YOU CREEP
Think you can simply kill the aforementioned bounty hunter? Think again. Thanks to a new RPG system, yourself and every single enemy has an assigned numerical level representing their strength and difficulty to kill.
When attempting to infiltrate a camp of bandits significantly stronger than myself, I thought the old-fashioned stealth approach would do the business. But upon sneaking up on the bandit leader and attempting to gut him with my hidden blade, I discovered that he was strong enough to survive the attack. Sure, I still wounded him, but it mattered little since he went on to bash my skull in with a mace.
The new system means you need to be extra careful when targeting enemies – even a couple of levels difference can be a proper struggle. While this does add in a new-found feeling of progression for the series, it also means you’ll have to grind by completing tedious side missions.
This may be off-putting for some, but when the rewards include unlocking abilities that allow you to curve your arrows or infect corpses with contagious diseases, I was happily slaying hippos for NPCs in distress.
Assassin’s Creed’s combat mechanics have been completely revamped for Origins, with light and heavy attacks mapped to your right-hand triggers, and a shield-based block placed on the top-left trigger. It’s now a lot more tactical than previous games, where you could fend off several guards with nothing but a cutlass.
As a result, combat feels substantially more realistic and challenging. Time your move wrong and your average grunt could easily lop your head off. You’ll have to adopt a far greater reliance on blocks, counter-attacks and Witcher-style dodges than in previous Creed titles, but this just makes it more engrossing and entertaining.
You get a greater range of weapons in return too. Use two short knives for quick, but less damage-inducing strikes, or perhaps use an axe for slower but more lethal attacks. There’s even a large selection of bow types to choose from, each with their own range and hit points.
There’s such an emphasis on combat here, in fact, that Origins appears to be tilting away from its usual stealth focus and instead becoming more of an action game. Of course, you can still sneak by your enemies rather than engaging them in combat, but you’re going to have to upgrade your hidden blade via crafting to silently kill your enemies without raising alarm.
ASSASSIN'S CREED ORIGINS INITIAL VERDICT
I gave up on Assassin’s Creed a long time ago. Each installment was just a facelift in a new setting – the actual gameplay rarely changed. Following my four hours with Origins, though, I’m already planning the reunion party.
This feels like a completely new game - and one that does a lot to address the many foibles that have turned fans off AC titles in the recent past. I can’t wait to unlock more abilities through the RPG system, test my sword prowess further with the combat and explore more of the immersive Egyptian world.
If there’s any criticism to be found here, it's that Origins may have strayed too far from Creed formula, especially for die-hard fans of the series. But for those who are striving for change, then you certainly have it here. In fact, if Origins continues the high quality of the demo throughout the rest of the game, it may well be the best Creed game since the second installment.