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Assassin's Creed: Origins (PC) artwork

Assassin's Creed: Origins (PC) review

"An extra year of work and this is all they could come up with?"

Donít get me wrong. No matter what I say about this game it will be painted with a certain brush of bias. Iím a well known fan of the entire AC franchise and I possess all but maybe two or three of the more minor ones like those side-scrollers or one-offs like Russia, India, and Freedom Cry. I collect them like Pokemon cards and largely, I enjoy the series as a whole and the only one I donít overtly like is probably AC3. The franchise as a whole is perfectly fine if youíre a stealth based player such as I, whom will roll rogues and thieves at any moment in any RPG that allows me to do so. There are some missteps and Origins is not necessarily one of them.

Yet I cannot help but feel a tad underwhelmed. Itís more or less the Mass Effect: Andromeda problem all over again but in a different flavor of disappointing. Of course, I liked that game too but it did have a recurring feeling of ďIs this it?Ē

I will mention that Origins isÖ fine. Itís more Assassinís Creed in the same way Andromeda was ďjustĒ more Mass Effect. If youíre a fan of the franchise then youíll be at home here but with an adjustment period. Every compliment I have might have an underhanded semi-complaint chasing them every step of the way but do not forget that I am writing this review while paused during an enemy fortress incursion. The game is loaded and I am actively playing it between paragraphs so that certainly says something for the game as a whole, to be sure.

Chronologically Iím not sure where this story even takes place. Even as an active player of the franchise I have yet to actually beat Syndicate so as far as the ever-present and ever-boring modern segments go, Iím not entirely sure whatís going on. Abstergo industries, the Templars-in-plain-sight of the modern setting still seem to be active as we play as a ďLayla HassanĒ, an employee of theirs exploring an Egyptian Tomb. The tomb of Bayek, the man you play as in ďancientĒ Egypt. Thatís in quotations but the actual setting is a moderate cop-out, on the very occasion of Romeís invasion and occupation of the country because developers canít seem to have a people of color story without peppering white people in at every provocation. Still, it does give us an excuse for gratuitous historical cameos like Cleopatra (yes, that one), Julius Caesar and more.

The game begins with some spastic storytelling between teaching you how to play and vomiting flashbacks that barely constitute as flashbacks considering they are seemingly from mere months ago, though long enough for our man to grow a full beard. Still, the game picks itself off its feet when the first act ends and the story sends you off to Alexandria (yes, that one) which is where the game seemed to actually wake up for me. Basically, Bayek has lost a child to a shadowy masked group and he is systematically eliminating them for the sake of vengeance. He is a ďMedjayĒ to boot, which I assume is some kind of knight with how people treat him. Protector of the people and all. Everywhere he goes people instantly recognize the sigil he carries around.

As the story goes on it becomes quickly apparent that Origins means exactly that. Weíre essentially watching the founders of the Assassin order, though that word has yet to actually be used in my playthrough but I know it eventually does. At a certain point he even cuts off his index finger on accident on a slightly botched assassination which doesnít really get mentioned but obviously leads the way for the ritual of dedication later in the Crusades age. Thereís a lot of forward referencing like that dotted around and it is neat to watch, but the tradeoff is that thereís a skewed ratio of mucking about and actually stealthing that I find consistently irritating. No, game, I do not want to escort this spoiled merchant daughter to buy some linens.

You see, Egypt is a very dreadful place. All mention of the practice is slavery is gone unmentioned but the tone of the game is still much more dour than Syndicate was. It seems every side quest is based around some form of misery. Once, I saved a woman from bandits who killed her entire family. In another quest I carried bodies from a swamp because hippoís were aggravated by more bandits and led them to attacking a village. I had to carry corpses to a cart. In another quest, some Roman officer had pushed a woman off a tower becauseÖ racism, essentially. Every other quest I encounter is some variety of the above, usually highlighting the brutality of the occupying force. Other times it becomes quite apparent that the country is on the brink of collapse as you get embroiled in political intrigue and the shadowy organization that haunts Bayek at every turn. Itís all justÖ dreadful.

Yet itís as youíve seen across screenshots and trailers, the landmass is incredibly pretty.

Yet even this has an undercurrent problem. Itís really not prettier than sayÖ Renaissance Italy all the way back from AC2. The roman architecture is still in full force here as you run across expansive cities. The various oasis (what is the plural for that anyway?) help mix it up a bit but ultimately much of the game in my first dozen hours or so have felt like things Iíve seen and felt before.
In an attempt to alleviate this, the game has introduced a Photo Mode. At the click of the button the world stops and pauses and youíre free to roam and manipulate to a limited degree that helps you capture more majestic views and vistas. I heard there was even a mode where you can turn off all HUD and presumably combat entirely just to wander the world and just take in all of the nuances the NPCís might be programmed with. Iíve personally witnessed musicians, chatting traders, and a tanner. Granted theyíre all speaking a different language half the time but the world is a pretty place, at least until you actually get back to playing and discover a burned down village with patrolling Romans and finding letters in loot about how the invading forces are treating the populace. Back to the more depressing episodes of the History Channel.

The game itself feels a lot more RPG heavy than its predecessors. There was a fairly neat talent tree present in Syndicate but it felt far too easy to max things out and most upgrades just amounted to ďmore knivesĒ, ďsneakier stealthĒ and ďextra gang matesĒ. Here, itís a little more focused. Thereís a bow tree, a melee tree, and a tools tree and they all interconnect and youíll be expanding into each of them at some point regardless of your playstyle. Buying various upgrades will change the way your ďadrenalineĒ attacks work (something you build up over time in open combat), taming animals, poisoning corpses, Slow-Mo bow using, chariot riding and much much more. Iím not sure how to describe it but it is both expansive and focused at the same time while Syndicateís sytem was fairly straightforward.

Thankfully Origins has pulled back on the whole toolset which was a growing problem in previous games. I donít remember who the worst offender of the franchise was but Revelations does come to mind when it introduced a whole bomb crafting system which I barely used because smoke bombs were all I truly needed. So on and so forth. Origins continues giving us the eternally useful sleep darts and smoke screens. Thereís a couple other addons that donít really even give you any extra buttons, but actually just affect how other skills act under certain circumstances.

Even the gear thing is more expanded on in a very RPG like capacity. Unity is the closest comparison but instead of one to five stars, gear typically levels with you and I do mean that quite literally.

Origins is a massive world with dozens of zones, each of them a certain level range. As you move on in the world, enemies become tougher but will drop better loot. Thatís also something I havenít really found a spot to mention, but the combat is changed to reflect this RPG style; thereís no more countering to a degree. There is a parry skill you can buy early in the game (itís one of the first things in the warrior tree) but it ends there, as it doesnít instant kill anyone. Combat itself is more reminiscent of Dark Souls games, as thereís a lot of flurry attacks and dodging to get out of the way of heavier classed enemies slamming their giant axe down on you. Instakills are now more reserved for your hidden blade and really well placed bow shots. I still have yet to get a full handle on the parrying which I know is vital for survival. Thereís a very subtle graphical cue that is so quick I havenít been able to nab a single screenshot of it. You see a quick red circle around the hilt of the enemies weapon that usually signifies the window to use your Parry but just like any other game, Iím complete shit at it and miss seventy percent of the time. I typically rely on dodgeroll survival and heavy attacks to break defense. Iím sure there will be a boss fight later in the game that will punish me for that.

Due to the new combat system, it changed how enemy AI works. In previous games, being caught would alert the immediate area. Instead, I noticed that they can be quite deaf at times to balance out the slightly harsher combat. I once assassinated a guy right next to his patrol buddy and his mate kept walking right along. This is a mixed blessing with how Iím not too great at the actual combat. On one hand, I am punished less for screwups but the tradeoff is that getting caught in open combat means enemies will run towards beacons (Shadow of Mordor/War style) and summon a handful of extra enemies that will patrol the area looking for you. In this way, the game is probably the heaviest in the stealth category as most of the franchise is, and thatís why I like Origins the most when it actually remembers that fact.

One of my favorite tools so far is probably Senu, Bayekís pet eagle. Turns out it functions exactly like the drone in Ghost Recon: Wildlands but with no battery and unlimited range. And I do mean unlimited range, as that little bastard can go across the entire world as you see fit. This can set up a lot of great screenshot fodder if youíre just really interested in seeing the well crafted world itself for a couple of hours. I might take this tour myself some day but for now, Iím fairly content on finding encampments and wiping them out which Iíll elaborate on shortly. Senu herself can scan for enemies, treasures, and various ballistas that you can use while your infiltrating.

In fact, even she has her own level up. As you capture Eagle Points (which do the usual of mapping the area and revealing side missions) her ability to scan areas becomes more useful. In the beginning you practically have to stare at an enemy in open view before itíll begin Ďtrackingí them. Now, after a dozen or so eagle points explored I can sort of slowly case an area in Senuís hover mode and itíll continually scan enemies even outside the reticle. I liked the drone in Wildlands and I like Senu here, itís a good mechanic if a bit of an overpowered one where you wonít often be surprised by enemies if youíre patient enough to scan as many as possible.

As time goes on you can even upgrade her to pester enemies in combat and helps you hunt. She oneshot a deer at a certain point and I wasnít even expecting that. Good girl!

I mentioned earlier that I find more joy in enemy fort clearing. This hearkens back to a similar problem I had with Syndicate. It was a great game and I thoroughly enjoyed the city takeover stuff (which I did twice!) but once I controlled the whole map the story missions themselves just felt dull and forced. I feel the same way here for the most part as I started having more fun when I actually begun to treat Origins like an actual RPG. I stopped trying to blunder my way through story missions and instead focused on exploring the map, unlock eagle points (that continue to act as fast travel points that will make future questing slightly more convenient), pepper in some side missions and mostly stealth through enemy encampments with various degrees of success. Itís like the game becomes fun when it actually remembers itís supposed to be in the stealth genre, and I even said in my Wildlands review that Ubisoft does a decent job with stealth as a mechanic that itís kind of become their cornerstone. Yet they feel this constant need to stuff the game withÖ stuff. I spent a whole five minutes staring at a blank rock trying to get to an early game eagle point and I was just so damn bored.

Donít let me take away from its accomplishments though. The combat is frustrating but refreshing. The world is lovely to look at and travel through. The stealth is as fine and ever and it takes some notes from recent RPGís (Breath of the Wild comes to mind while playing) and employs them in a seamless manner. The characters are fine and the assassination missions are varied and interesting. The dozens of enemy encampments offer unique challenges, treasures, and strong captains to kill. It does of course, have a lot of loot to play with. The Photo Mode is a fun toy to play around with when youíre not too focused on other things.

It is however depressing, dull, run of the mill and it feels like it was just factory stamped out of Ubisoft like a few of their others. The pacing is sluggish and thereís no sprint button, youíre stuck with a slow moving camel as your main mode of transport until you can afford a horse. The autorun is useful but fickle and doesnít always take you where you want to go. The glitches are present and have forced an exit or death more than once. Enemy levels are damn near unfair at times with super units that wander around the world that are typically several levels higher than you or the zone youíre in, making them more like a flash flood to avoid.

Origins has its place in the franchise, I simply do not believe that itís a major step forward. More like a tiny skip.


Zydrate's avatar
Community review by Zydrate (November 15, 2017)

Zydrate is most active on Steam and Tumblr.

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