Since the release of Black Flag, arguably the last great entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the property as a whole has laboured. Intrigue washed over me when rumours of a Ptolemaic Egypt set origin story started doing the rounds, and I’m so pleased to say that Origins is the shot in the arm Assassin’s Creed needed. No longer need fans of the series settle for hardship.
Though Bayek is a strong, noble character, a lot of Origins’ allure is thanks to its world. Assassin’s Creed has always had a knack for taking fascinating slices of human history and bending it to bleed together with their own mythos in a seamless fashion. The series’ ability to toe the line between fact and fiction has always been part of its appeal, and Origins is no different as it weaves the stories of historical giants, like Cleopatra and Caesar, and plays them out in the background of Bayek’s narrative in a masterful tapestry of storytelling.
Origins even attempts to course correct the strange, wayward modern-day narrative that underpins all of the Assassin’s Creed games. When the series’ original protagonist Desmond was unceremoniously written out of the franchise, this meta-plot lost its way and became rather convoluted and nonsensical. The introduction of Layla Hassan, an Abstergo employee exploring the memories of Bayek in secret in an attempt to prove her worth to the Animus Project, is refreshing and clear in its aims. So Origins manages to tick all of the right boxes, re-establishing a lot of the Assassin’s Creed mythos that got lost along the road.
Though the game’s story progression is still fairly linear in its delivery, there is a plethora of side content that you’re drip-fed as you go. Given you level up as Bayek this time around, a lot of the story missions will be too hard for you as they become available, which kind of forces your hand to explore the world and gain experience from other activities within it. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into, from simpler side quests to hidden secrets that require unearthing. There’s a lot of variety afoot as a lot of the bite-sized tasks have their own entertaining, self-contained stories which help in keeping that dreaded feeling of repetition at bay throughout your adventure, while doing a considerable amount of world-building.It’s a world that can be seen from a multitude of angles. Though you’ll spend a vast majority of your time dredging through sand-swept dunes on camel-back or fumbling over rooftops and even knee-high walls with a parkour engine that is still, at times, frustrating and imprecise, but thanks to Senu, Bayek’s eagle companion, you’ll experience a lot of stunning overhead views of Egypt. The views are one thing, but Senu’s practical application is just as helpful. By scanning the world below, you’re able to identify key targets and objectives making recon a simple yet rewarding task. Though Senu is a silent companion, he’s ever present and ready to swoop down and perch on Bayek’s idle hand and receive a caress.
Unlike Ezio and Altair before him, Bayek has a more in-depth grasp on wielding a blade. The core mechanics have been built from the ground up and makes for a more satisfying, challenging and nuanced fray. Fighting is made better still by unlocking branches in Bayek’s skill tree, opening up even further avenues for combat in Origins. The series has come a long way from waiting patiently as your enemies circle you and politely attack you one at a time. Your aggression is matched by an enemy whose level scales alongside your own, making Origins rewarding to its final moments. Of course, as is par for the course these days in games with resources, level ups and anything that requires any amount of farming, Origins has the dreaded microtransactions. As usual, they’re optional and are there, for the most part, in the interest of saving time for those who would like to get through the game quicker than intended. My stance hasn’t changed. It’s a single-player game, it hurts no-one.
Plus, there’s a wicked set of horse armour that gives it snakeskin and fangs. So, you got my money there, Ubisoft.
The world is so broad, vast and full of wonders. I can’t heap enough praise on those who poured countless man hours into making the Egypt we see in Origins as authentic and lifelike as possible. From the dirty, bustling streets, littered with merchants and paupers, to the edge of a limitless desert that stretches farther than the eye can see. It’s not all sand and stone though, as a great deal of Egypt, at this time in history, was lush and exotic, full of vegetation and teeming with wildlife. It’s a beautiful slice of history, brought to life by a dedicated bunch of artists. Thank goodness for the inbuilt photo mode, but also damn it for slowing me down so much. The game is so picturesque I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I spent a lot of time just admiring photos others had taken, as they appear as pop-ups on the world map. I’ll always hold Italy close to my heart, but Egypt has become a series benchmark for setting and it’ll take some doing to top it.
I wasn’t sold on Bayek at first. His ‘by the books’ and rigid code of ethics made him jarring for someone like me who prefers roguish heroes that sling insults and one-liners like it’s going out of style. But as his motivations were revealed, his world-weariness was justified. He became real and believable. Clearly a well-travelled man, Bayek is fleshed out further by his well-written relationships as he constantly happens upon friends from past lives. But no other relationship defines him quite like the one he shares with his beloved wife, Aya, who is the perfect foil for his jaded tenue. Though Origins has no shortage of strong, female supporting characters, Aya shoulders a bulk of the responsibility and executes with poise.
Sarah Schachner’s score, in keeping with the rest of Origins, is wonderful and grandiose. Though it is its own beast, it explores themes and motifs from past soundtracks in the series to the point that it’s nostalgic. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty highs of Jesper Kyd’s infamous scores from the series’ earlier entries, but it certainly fits the bill.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW
I fell out of love with Assassin's Creed a long time ago, but Origins has recaptured the magic that made the series a powerhouse all those years ago. With its humble protagonist, whose outlook on life is clouded by relateable and crushing heartbreak, and a world so detail-rich, it's hard not to be floored by everything Origins manages to be.
Assassin's Creed Origins is the definitive action-adventure game of the year. It's a wild power fantasy that satisfies not only a curious thirst for knowledge but both bloodlust and wanderlust to such lengths it's almost gluttonous.