assassin's creed mirage

Assassin’s Creed Mirage Hands-On Preview – Knives Back Out

What’s old is new again in this lavishly-focused return to Assassin’s Creed of yesterday.

I’ve missed Assassin’s Creed. It’s an odd thing to think, really, given the ubiquity of the franchise across its now sixteen-year run. Assassin’s Creed never went away, if anything it became even more entrenched in wider gaming culture thanks in large part to its smartly-timed pivot to an open world, action RPG format. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the most recent entry in the series has made over a billion dollars in revenue and solidified the series as a household staple in the AAAA game lineup, so Assassin’s Creed is big business. And yet, I’ve missed what I once understood to be Assassin’s Creed. Or at the very least, what I remember it being.

Ubisoft Bordeaux is a team largely comprised of people like me, folks who’ve missed a certain kind of Assassin’s Creed. We recently had the chance to spend the day with them in their Bordeaux office, going hands-on with a few hours of their efforts to recapture a more traditional assassin experience, Assassin’s Creed Mirage. This smaller scale title has been marketed just so; a discounted entry (clocking in at around 70 bucks locally), Mirage represents a concerted effort to provide fans with an old-school experience. No DLC, no pre-planned post-launch content roadmaps, stripped back RPG elements and a renewed focus on stealth. This is ostensibly the exact experience many have claimed to want for years and after some time with the game, it’s hard not to buy into this mirage.

assassin's creed mirage

Much ado has been made about Ubisoft Bordeaux’s recreation of ninth-century Baghdad. Western media has an abysmal track record in how in represents Middle Eastern cultures, but this is Baghdad as we’ve rarely been allowed to see it before. A vibrant and lush sprawling intersection of cultures and colour, Ubisoft Bordeaux has spent years piecing together its best approximation of the golden age of the round city, working closely with historians and cultural advisors to best capture a place so thoroughly scrubbed from history by war and time. This isn’t a yellow filtered landscape but one of diversity, its biomes and people and tone all thriving and all primed for our new-ish protagonist, Basim Ibn Ishaq.

One of the first thoughts I had playing Mirage was that fuckboys are back on the menu in Assassin’s Creed. Despite his introduction in Valhalla as a master assassin, the Basim we meet in Mirage is all youth, bluster, and potential. A far cry from the antagonistic stoic we crossed blades with in the British Isles, Basim’s street rat youth on the streets of Baghdad immediately calls to mind the charm of Ezio Auditore da Firenze or the swagger of Arno Dorian. Actor Lee Majdoub’s first turn in the role is of a piece with the kinds of men this franchise used to trade in, too – wise-cracking, warm, talented, and just a little bit of a shithead.

assassin's creed mirage

Majdoub’s Basim is something of a palette cleanser then, a refreshing reminder of the playful tone that used to be second nature to the franchise before its turn to self-serious, lore-driven protagonists. Which isn’t to say that Basim is carefree. This is a man haunted by spectral nightmares and poverty, his induction into the soon-to-be Brotherhood, seen in Mirage as The Hidden Ones, a necessary step for a man of his social standing and proclivities. This melding of tones is complimented and elevated by the legendary Shohreh Aghdashloo’s work as Basim’s mentor and surrogate mother, Roshan. The two share an almost Jedi-like cadence, her rules and raw skill pushing him to better himself but not without some tension.


This dynamic ripples through one of the extended set-pieces we played in our preview session, as Basim trains with the Hidden Ones at Alamut, the stronghold of the assassins. Mirage’s answer to The Witcher’s Kaer Morhen, this still-under-construction temple is nestled atop a criss-cross of cliffs and mountains, making the perfect playground for a young assassin to prove his worth. Here, players guide Basim through a series of small-scale quests, fetching items and chatting with other members of the organisation as he learns the ways of the assassin, including some combat tutorials and a very cinematic montage. This early-game section is a mission statement of sorts too, Mirage leaning heavily into the mythology of the series, culminating in Bassim’s inauguration replete with gruesome, and cool, interactivity.

assassin's creed mirage

As a long-time player, if not always fan, of Assassin’s Creed, it’s a surprisingly effective moment and does wonders for Mirage from the jump. This is undoubtedly in part thanks to Aghdashloo’s performance, her stern dedication to the creed felt in every moment, but having the player take an active role in Basim’s big moment is a stroke of genius. The sombre tone contrasts with the game’s opening missions too, in which we catch up with a younger Basim and mate Nehal running small-time thefts in their hometown. This was a much shorter segment but offered a window into the relationships of Basim’s youth; a stern older man objects to him taking on bigger jobs and Basim teases him about his growing fears, “My worry is the same,” he replies, “I’ve only grown too old and too tired to hide it.”

These worries, at least for now, are relatively unfounded as Basim proves to be a rather capable assassin. Mirage is pointedly returning to the series’ stealthier roots, something of a course correction felt necessary by a large, and vocal, collective of fans. It’s impossible to deny how hard of a left turn the franchise took into approachable action design philosophies but as with most things, the way we remember something is rarely reflective of its reality. Assassin’s Creed II was far more bombastic and loud than we often recall, Assassin’s Creed Unity’s parkour far slower too. Mirage feels like an idol to the memory of the franchise then, a collectively agreed upon ideal Assassin’s Creed that selectively remembers in order to craft something closer to those rose-coloured monuments in our minds.

assassin's creed mirage

And it whips. Basim is a glass cannon character, sporting a range of neat little tricks and tools to sneakily get in and out of a situation but rarely able to survive for longer than a few minutes when dragged into the light. During one mission I had managed to manoeuvre my way into a nook and had two guards perfectly within my sights just across the courtyard. Reflexively I opened the weapon wheel to pull out the now-series-staple bow and arrow and immediately grimaced with delight; Mirage doesn’t care for quick and easy solutions. I spent the next ten minutes deliberately plotting my way through the play space, starting with the use of my eagle Enkidu to scout and mark foes. Certain strongholds will attempt to shoot down Enkidu, marking the marksman for you to take out before you can continue your recon work.

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The feathery companion concept is a favourite of mine for the series, a shortcut to both mechanical approachability and a cool pet. Enkidu’s abilities can be modified through Mirage’s skill trees, a scaled back and far more digestible bunch of traits that fall into Phantom, Trickster and Predator subcategories depending on your preferred play style. These range from simple things like unlocking additional tool belt slots, to more powerful abilities like Enkidu’s sight being able to mark guard’s movement patterns. No matter how you spec your Basim though, you’ll not be making him into a traditional badass as combat is always a last resort. You can technically fight, and the game has a generous and rewarding parry and melee system, but you’ll be quickly overwhelmed more often than not.

assassin's creed mirage

Of all the things I ever imagined a modern Assassin’s Creed capable of making me feel, genuine tension was not one of them. And yet, Mirage pulls it off, giving me the exact set of tools to make a particular kind of power fantasy achievable while constantly pulling on the leash to keep me in check. To balance your relative weakness in active combat, Basim is a beast in stealth mode. The Hidden Ones workshop grants you access to a small but highly effective loadout of tools, like sound makers to distract guards, a blow dart pipe that can be upgraded to do poison or berserk damage, the classic smoke bomb, and a bunch more. The best of Mirage is when you have a large enough play area to use all of these in an interlocking stream of silent death. Conversely, I was also able to dispatch a small battalion of guards by hiding in a giant bush and whistling them over to me, making a progressively larger stack of bodies. We’re so back.

Perhaps the biggest concern going into Mirage, given its use of the Valhalla engine and systems, was that parkour and traversal wouldn’t be as engaging as previous, stealth focused titles. It’s a fair point and one I still have after some time with Mirage; Basim doesn’t control poorly but he is less reactive than I would have liked. The streets of Baghdad provide a vibrant and engaging playground for parkour, but Basim’s pathfinding is a little wonky, resulting in a few mildly annoying missteps while clambering around. Few being the optimal word there though; Unity set a benchmark for uniquely player-involved traversal and Mirage’s simplicity in that regard is at least mitigated by its fantastic world design.

assassin's creed mirage

Mirage’s Baghdad is a playground of classic Assassin’s Creed tomfoolery and some refreshing new mechanics though. Pickpocketing has been completely reworked with a QTE minigame that flashes a prompt as you try and nab someone’s stuff, requiring you to hit the shown button at just the right time or else get caught. Some truly gaudy UI aside, this small addition turns a basic function of the series in an engaging, endlessly repeatable moment. Social stealth makes a return too, Basim able to slip into crowds, and even hire some, to mask his movements through the city. Elsewhere citizens can doll out side-quests and activities, tailors can dye your clothes, and cats can be cradled. These small slices of Baghdad life eventually lead you back into the game’s black box missions, major set piece assassinations that require a fair amount of pre-planning to execute.  

The Hidden Ones are in active pursuit of Mirage’s big bad, a collective dubbed the Order of the Ancients. These gold mask wearing antagonists have become something of a running bit for the franchise but here, the stakes surrounding them feel appropriately to scale with Mirage’s focus on Baghdad and her people. The lavishly-rendered Bazaar marketplace plays host to Basim’s strike on the Order as he moves about this large play space collecting information on the target and adding it to the Investigation tab in your menu. While on this mission I saw several times things could have played out slightly differently; a cinematic auction offered me to the chance to bid on an item sought after by the Order if I’d had the coin to do so. Only time will tell if these small variants are more than smoke and mirrors but it’s a good sign for now.

assassin's creed mirage

A second black box mission saw Basim infiltrate an ornate garden, needing to remain unseen as he rummaged through supplies and whatnot for clues and information on a botanist. Much like the Bazaar, this garden was gorgeously-rendered and painted a vivid image of Baghdad ripe for exploration. Mirage is, so far at least, a largely successful interlocking set of mechanics and tone, but its single most astounding element may just be its sound design. Micro details like Basim’s breathing changing based on his skill-level are bolstered by a score unlike anything I’ve heard in the franchise before, a haunting, yet rousing blend of Annihilation-style horns and series staple sweeping orchestra.

During my extended time with the game, I got a clearer idea of Mirage’s intentions and a better appreciation for that advertised 20-ish hour runtime. Even when it goes big, this is a game about small, bespoke moments meant to highlight the sharpest edges of Assassin’s Creed’s blade. It’s a leaner experience, keenly aware of its fans and hyper focused on its self-constructed identity within the franchise. In countless ways, Mirage feels like a game ripped from an alternate timeline I’d very much like to visit. 

Assassin’s Creed Mirage launches on October 5th, 2023 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC. Amazon has physical pre-orders for $64 including shipping.

The author travelled to Bordeaux as a guest of Ubisoft for the purposes of this preview content.