Published on February 5th, 2018 | by Ian Goodwillie0
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Assassin’s Creed Origins takes us back to the beginning of the story so we can see how things got started. A darn good game too.
I’ve never been a devoted fan of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise. While I enjoyed actually playing as an assassin in the past, I found the parts of the story in the present to detract from the gameplay. Those aspects of the story always felt boring and unnecessary to me.
But after taking some time off from the series, I came back for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and quite enjoyed it. Victorian Era London combined with engaging lead characters really worked well for me. Honestly, I thought they couldn’t make an entry in this series that would be in my wheelhouse more.
I was wrong.
Two years after Syndicate, Ubisoft dropped their most recent release in Assassin’s Creed Origins. It’s set near the end of the Ptolemaic period in Egypt, a fictionalized version of real events featuring Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. You play primarily as Bayek, a Medjay who has transitioned his role from being a protector of Egypt to assassin avenging the death of his son. I say “primarily” because you occasionally play as his wife, Aya, something we’ll discuss later in the “what the fuck is going on” portion of this review.
Bayek and Aya are ostensibly the founders of the Brotherhood of Assassins who fight to protect the world from the Templar Order. The origins of the Templars can also be found in this game as The Order of the Ancients.
While it’s a neat idea to explore the origins of the Assassins and Templars, they could have done a bit more to flesh that out. A particularly disappointing moment was the lack of origin given to the hidden blade. Aya basically finds it somewhere and gives it to Bayek. There’s no real discussion of where it comes from beyond that and who designed it.
But that’s a small issue in an otherwise engaging story with a shockingly status quo title. An origin story titled “Origins.” Who would have seen that one coming?
First off, Origins has everything you’d expect from an Assassin’s Creed game. Sneakily stabbing villainous jerks from a variety of angles. Collecting experience and leveling up skill trees. Finding stuff. It’s all there, but this time in Egypt. And it’s a lot of fun playing through the game, in story mode or roaming the desert to engage in random quests. The gameplay is smooth, having been refined over the last decade of games in this series. It just plays well. Period.
The world is beautifully rendered. Each environment and city has it’s own unique feel. It’s impressive given the era. Egypt, at this point, had experienced a lot of influence from other cultures like the Romans and Greeks, and you see that clearly demonstrated throughout the game. The first time it takes you into Alexandria is awe-inspiring.
And then there’s Bayek. The “dead child” motivation is about as conventional a trope as you can find but it works in this case. He’s an engaging character who starts out as Egypt’s protector but finds himself on a more selfish mission of revenge. By the end of the game, his revenge mission has come full circle and made him a protector of Egypt again, behind the scenes as one of the Brotherhood of Assassin’s founders.
As you traverse Egypt, you develop Bayek by filling out his skill tree and gaining experience through completing missions. There are a wide range of weapons, outfits, and gear as well as the ability to find crafting material so you can customize him. Again, this is standard fare for an Assassin’s Creed game but it all works nicely after years and multiple game iterations of refinement. So that kind of makes you wonder why literally none of it was applied to Aya.
Welcome to the “what the fuck is going on” portion of this review.
You play as Bayek for about 90% of the game. At seemingly random points, the game forces you to play as Aya, Bayek’s wife, mother to a slain child, and co-founder of the Assassins. Much of this time is inexplicably spent fighting with a boat. To be clear, I mean using the boat for combat, not fighting on the boat or physically punching a boat. Some of that time, you actually get to use her for traditional Assassin’s Creed sneakiness and fighting. The problem is how little effort went into her character and how tacked on she feels.
Aya has no skill tree, inventory, or access to any of the other resources Bayek does. You can’t level her up or give her better weapons. No matter what point you play as her at in the game, she is the same as when you left off with her. There is no development whatsoever for her. If you kill a bad guy and collect a better weapon, you can’t even equip it.
And to make matters worse, the game forces you to play as her in its finale.
You spend the bulk of the game building and growing Bayek, giving him the best possible gear and weapons, only to have that all disappear leading into the end of the main story. You are trained to use Bayek’s eagle, Senu, to survey the field of battle before entering to mark off potential targets. Aya doesn’t have that so Romans are literally tripping over you at times. You don’t see them coming. The basic mechanics of the game are taken away when you are forced to use her in the game’s final moments, which doesn’t make it more difficult just more annoying.
Syndicate splits time between Jacob and Evie Frye, which worked well because you could switch between the twins and develop them equally. In Origins, the developers treat Aya like an afterthought, including her because the mechanic worked in Syndicate so a slapdash version ended up in the next game. The boat combat in Origins serves about as much of a purpose, existing only because people liked it in Black Flag. Neither Aya nor the boat combat add much to Origins because of how limited they are yet they play a huge role in the grand finale.
Due to these mechanics, the ending of an otherwise epic game lands like a dead fish on the floor, with a slimy splat.
Thankfully, you spend little time in the present with the person du jour who has jammed themselves in the Animus to explore Bayek’s memories. That’s always tiresome, serving to build a largely unnecessary aspect of the Assassin’s Creed mythology. That being said, the Animus and the Isu are a whole different rant that relates to the overall franchise better left for another time.
If you ignore the tacked-on boat combat, the inexplicably underdeveloped female protagonist, and absurd choice to include both in the main story’s finale, Assassin’s Creed Origins is solid game in a beautifully rendered world. The skill tree and leveling system are by no means ground breaking but they are well executed. And it is truly a joy to roam around Egypt in this era as Bayek in what is, for the most part, a great game.