I’d fall into the basket of Assassin’s Creed fans that didn’t quite vibe with the vast, content-packed open world of Valhalla. When a game’s title screen first appears hours into the game, it’s probably a sign of big things to come and sadly, it was all so overwhelming and I never did see a fraction of what that game offered. Instead, it left me thinking about what Assassin’s Creed, as a franchise, used to be and longing for simpler times.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is seemingly that love letter to the series’ roots, trimming the fat that bloated the more recent iterations and renewing the focus on what began as the central pillars for the series in parkour and stealth. That’s not to say Mirage retreads old ground, it’s set to feature a new original story featuring Basim, one of the big players from Valhalla. Despite the character serving as a bridge to the last game, and bridges to other games in the series existing, Mirage is a self-contained narrative that’s expected to deliver a different view of Basim, a rather divisive character.
Mirage marks a return to the Middle East, where it of course all began. While the first Assassin’s Creed took us to its twelfth-century Holy Lands, Mirage is set in ninth-century Baghdad. The city is apparently scaled similarly to Unity’s Paris, which feels like a sweet spot to me.
What’s most encouraging with Mirage is a renewed focus on the basics that made the franchise into the mammoth seller it has been. Parkour looks like a mix of old and new, with some old animations making a return while new additions such as the crossing pole aim to keep things fresh. Whether it’ll eclipse the series’ peak parkour in Unity remains to be seen, but there’s some promise that it’ll at least feel better than it has.
A lot of effort has been put into making sure that this Baghdad provides every opportunity for players to reach that flow state, with nooks to pass through and beams jutting out to scramble across. It’s clear that it has been carefully crafted with parkour and traversal at the front of mind, meaning it’ll be a pleasure to get around.
Unlike Valhalla which, through its pretty advanced systems, placed swordplay at the forefront of the core loop, Mirage sees combat as a fallback system for the game’s main intent in stealth. Obviously, tools like blow darts, smoke bombs, and throwing knives return to discreetly put guards down, but effort has been put in to ensure that stealth feels predictable and reliable. Mirage also sees the return of crowd blending, which the demoist used to infiltrate palace grounds.
We also got a good look at some more advanced crowd reactions after you shiv a target in broad daylight, which all feeds into the improved detection A.I. and notoriety system in the game.
Keep a few coins in your purse, however, you’ll want to bribe a herald, or two, to forgive your misdeeds.
The way the game is structured definitely feels like a return to Assassin’s Creed of old, with bureaus making a return. These hideouts provide Basim the means to collect and turn-in contracts and chew the fat with the brotherhood among other things. There’s also an investigation board that you’ll use to keep track of targets and their place in the bigger picture. As these games always tend to do in presenting these slices of alternate history, Mirage features a number of recontextualised historical figures including Ali bin Muhammad and Abu Jafar.
While we didn’t get an enormous breakdown on how simplified Mirage’s combat systems might be, there were no shortage of swift, one-hit assassinations that really reminded me of the older games. With no health bars or graded armours, as far as I could tell, it marks a return of the more believable scenario where a hidden blade to the head might mean a fast end. There is a skill tree that you’ll be able to fill with points throughout the journey, though it didn’t look enormous in scope suggesting a shorter experience more in line with Assassin Creed’s original twenty-some hour length.
One shortcoming with Mirage might be in its presentation. Character models are beginning to look dated, lip-synching is a bit of a problem, and things don’t have the new sheen you’d want from a game being co-developed by a dozen studios. I don’t think it’s the fault of the team, I think supporting old hardware is just beginning to show cracks in projects like this.
Despite that, I still expect Mirage to feel like a warm blanket for those who’ve really missed what the early games brought to the table. If the camel mounts and roaming donkeys in the street are anything to go by, I do expect this Baghdad to feel like a kind of homecoming for the creed.