The first few moments of my time with Assassin’s Creed Origins might just be the most empowering I’ve ever spent with the franchise. Trotting along the sandy shores of a river, I steered my steed towards a small makeshift port with a small ship docked to it. My current objective was out at sea – within sight but too far for a dangerous swim. I dismounted, took a few steps and seamlessly transitioned to sailing, catching the wind and picking up speed quickly to close down the distance between me and my marker. The destination wasn’t important. Instead, the way in which origins made me enjoy the journey for the first time is what really captivated me during my short time with the return of the franchise.
Origins is a bouncing off point of sorts. Hurtling back in time to tell the tale of the formation of the Brotherhood of Assassins, Ubisoft is clearly trying to both dive further into their established lore and offer a nice starting point for relapsed or new fans alike. Bayek, Origin’s stoic and noble protagonist, even gives off the same sensation that Altair did those many years ago. He’s there to help those that can’t help themselves, albeit without the chip on his shoulder and a real hate for the savagery that plagues his land.
It’s a land ripe with opportunity too, and an especially strong desire for you to explore it. With this new found sense of exploration freedom, Origins actually gives you reasons beyond map icons to stray off the beaten path. Hidden treasures in crocodile infested waters might reap beneficial weapons, armour and more, with the same standing for chest strewn across expansive deserts or otherwise richly populated settlements.
This shift to loot driven gameplay is easily the biggest change Origins introduces, and it takes some time to get used to after the franchise so strictly stuck to a pretty standard set of tools and armaments to play around with. Items fall within a spectrum of rarity, enhancing your damage output and changing your play style in the process. Two slots for bows, for example, allowed me to keep a suitably strong one for long range combat, while also giving me the option to spray the immediate area in front of me with a flurry of arrows using another.
Switching out equipment as you loot bodies and enemy camps feels strange in an Assassin’s Creed game, but it certainly gives you more to think about when it comes to combat. Ditching the wait and parry system of past games, Origins adopts a more focused and direct approach. You lock onto enemies with a single button press, with Bayek raising his shield and blocking attacks from the front automatically. He’s able to fire off light and heavy attacks in alternation, while also being able to open up enemy defences with a well-timed parry.
The difference might not sound drastic on paper, but in action, it’s as close to a revamp Assassin’s Creed has come in this department. Combat isn’t exactly difficult still (which could also just be a result of the demo not attempting to be too difficult), but it certainly feels more involved now. Dashing to avoid enemy attacks and countering with a keenly timed heavy attack feels less automated in every way, and lends its agency to the choices you make when deciding what weapons to take into a fight.
Still, it’s stealth that Origins emphasises, and it’s here too that affairs are sometimes a little too straightforward. Bayek can call on the aid of his eagle companion, who soars above enemy camps and outpost and allows you to mark patrolling enemies. They then remain that way on your map, which makes picking them off entertaining but trivial. The core loop is fun to engage with, as is the setup of infiltration and execution. But a little more challenge might be welcome, which could certainly still be present in bigger, more involved quests and enemy engagements.
And yet despite that, Origins still managed to impress in surprising ways. Ubisoft is clearly serious about reigniting the franchise in a smart way, giving returning fans and newcomers alike a springboard into the complex and fascinating lore the games have always added to. The ancient Egyptian setting too fits as the perfect piece of land to get really lost within, while the game itself does a good job of giving you the ease and tools needed to make that journey far more exciting than the eventual destination. The year-long wait might have felt long, but it’s certainly not looking like it’s going to waste.
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Last Updated: June 13, 2017