Assassin’s Creed, a series now ten years old, has long appealed to the, for lack of a better term, antiquarian in me. The series has allowed me to blend seamlessly into the crowds of Jerusalem, trot on horseback through the Tuscan hillside, thwart an assassination attempt on the father of his country George Washington and navigate the notorious Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy.
Now, I can happily say I’ve had the chance to climb a pyramid. Sure, that mightn’t appeal to some of you, but pulling myself up the sheer side of the man-made marvel, and the resultant picturesque view, was well worth the time invested. It was a cavernous labyrinth where the end goal, an ancient tablet, was a handful of physics-based puzzles away. It felt a whole lot similar to Tomb Raider’s, pardon the obvious phrase, tomb raiding, except this time it’s in an actual tomb.Memphis stretches out far and wide, a mixture of lush, exotic city and barren, hot sand swept desert. From the top of my perch, I could see it go for miles, and Memphis is but a small taste of the Origins journey.
My playthrough placed me, for the first time, in the shoes of new protagonist Bayek, the last Medjay and all-around good dude. I was placed in control of a felucca, one of the game’s wooden boats. I was told there were faster ones, complete with sails, but for now, I was happily propelling myself along through the narrow channels of Memphis as I rowed nearer one of the city’s stunning landmarks, the Temple of Ptah. Walls higher than buildings surrounded the sacred site as beautiful ornate statues backed onto it, making it a sight to behold. It was there I met Aya, the loving and clearly powerful wife of our protagonist Bayek.
I was quickly tasked with trying to get to the root of the troubling and suspicious illness of Apis, a revered and holy bull. A small ‘investigation area’ is designated in which you must unearth a series of clues that’ll lead to the revelation of who is responsible for Apis’ dire state. This might sound like a tedious game of hide and seek, but holding up on the d-pad releases an Animus pulse, which isn’t too dissimilar to echolocation in other games, as it spreads quickly through the game’s landscape, placing beacons on areas of interest. I spoke to key witnesses, dug up peach pits and found the telltale necklace that inevitably pointed the finger at the culprit.This sure beats staking out someone silently on a bench in the hopes of overhearing a vital slip of the tongue.
After catching one of the twin priestesses red-handed, the two girls banded together claiming they were left no choice after their brother was snatched up and held for ransom. The price? Poisoning Apis. Not prepared to let this injustice slip through to the net, Bayek ventures off to rescue the girls’ brother, Panchrates. I used my trusty eagle pal, Senu, to survey the area. He’s essentially a feathered drone as he makes short work of the objective, discovering the boy hunched over, under the watchful eye of armed guards.
It wasn’t recommended that I launch into the rescue attempt swords blazing, but I know no other way. Besides, flexing the muscle of Origins’ revamped combat mechanics was atop my list of things to do.So, beyond reckless, I stormed in. I was as subtle as a sledgehammer as lookouts quickly made me public enemy number one. Guards descended upon me like an armoured tidal wave, or at least that’s how it felt. Origins’ new combat system is harsh and unforgiving where even the slightest lapse will see you sent to an early grave. Dodging and catching enemies on their blind side is the method that worked for me, but I found some of the higher level enemies a real task. It’s when a group surrounds you that things get real hairy. Ten years ago, I saw Altair’s work with a blade as a beautiful, intuitive system but sadly that just wouldn’t measure up by today’s lofty standards. The team’s work now lets Origins stack up against today’s leaders with a new system that’s, for the most part, actually challenging, nuanced and feels a lot more intimate than combat did in previous Assassin’s titles.
Before too long, I finally cut down every guard I could and slung Panchrates over my shoulder. Weakened and starved he told me the harrowing story of his captivity, which he claimed was ordered by a priest of Anubis. I returned to Pasherenptah, Cleopatra’s trusted advisor, with that information as he realised, much to his chagrin, that the priest in question is one of his closest advisors. He points Bayek to where he might be found, wishing him strength before he takes his leave.
My blade, sadly, would not get to taste the blood of the naughty priest as the story portion of my demo came to a close.
I spent the remainder of my time, for the most part, walking through the streets, drinking up the deep-rooted culture that has been so painstakingly implemented into the city of Memphis. From the praying stations to the embalming of bodies to prepare for mummification, Origins is littered with little details that are sure to floor any of the history buffs that come its way.
To finish my hour-long journey, I made sure to hijack a faster felucca and hit the open water. It was out there I discovered the sunken Temple of Ramses, one of the game’s many lootable areas. With the game’s new levelling system, there’s even more need to seek out tucked away places like this. For one, they’re stunning and speak to the scope of Origins as this significant slice of human history is, with great care and detail, recreated so wonderfully for us to traipse through. Secondly, and just as importantly, there’s delicious graded loot to be found.
I happened upon a lovely looking and rare sickle sword but as I resurfaced to catch my breath and equip it, I was hugged to death by an overly affectionate crocodile, which brought a close to my time with Origins.
I let the game idle as I spoke to some of the Ubisoft team as Senu swooped down to perch on Bayek’s arm. A few in the crew gathered to appreciate what is, apparently, a random event as Bayek gave his feathered friend a loving pat. This made it abundantly clear that this is a team who love what they do; crafting unbelievable replicas of bygone worlds and filling them to the brim with these small touches.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins releases October 27 on Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 and PC.
Press Start is attending Gamescom 2017 as a guest of Ubisoft. This does not prevent us from covering titles exhibited by other publishers, nor does it hinder us from providing honest impressions about Ubisoft’s show line-up.