A civilisation dating back over 5 000 years. Thirty three dynasties of different royal families starting from the Third Millennia BCE. Three Kingdoms and several other signature time periods, before, in-between and after. Yeah, the history of Ancient Egypt is intimidatingly vast! So how did the makers of upcoming action-adventure/RPG Assassin’s Creed Origins decide on the specific setting of their game?
Critical Hit got to speak to game director Ashraf Ismail recently in London. He explains, “We settled on Ancient Egypt very, very quickly, effectively right when we started the project [after completing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag]. It took a bit more time to figure out when in Ancient Egypt. We wanted an Egypt that was filled with a lot of lore and mystery. We researched the building of the pyramids time. We went to different periods asking ‘What kind of game could we have in this setting?’”
Eventually the developers chose 49 BCE. This puts the story of Assassin’s Creed Origins in the tail-end of the 300-year Ptolemaic Kingdom, in what can also be conveniently called “Cleopatra’s time”. Not the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC), famous for its pyramid-building. Nor the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC) a glory age with pharaoh megastars like the mighty Rameses II (possibly Moses’s nemesis), rare female ruler Hatshepsut, boy king Tutankhamun or his weirdo, cultist father Akhenaten.
The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a time of Macedonian Greek rule (post-Alexander the Great’s conquest), when the descendants of Greek general Ptolemy I assimilated large chunks of the local culture, and dubbed themselves divinely-ordained pharaohs. By the time of Cleopatra though, Egypt was in a state of Civil War, as this trailer for the game makes clear.
In short, by 49 BCE, brother and sister co-rulers Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra had turned on one another, and Cleopatra was forced into exile. Onto the scene arrived Roman commander Julius Caesar, who (at least officially) needed a stable Egypt to supply grain to Rome. Although nobody realised it of course, these were the final ever days of pharaoh rule in Egypt. Ismail explains, “It’s the end of the Old Era; the New World is coming. It’s a really epic time period and you get to have people like Cleopatra and Caesar being part of that experience.”
It’s worth noting that the Assassin’s Creed series has always leaned towards historical settings saturated with conflict, and poised on the brink of massive societal change. Some of the epochs that have served as game backdrops include the Third Crusade, the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and Renaissance Italy. Origins is continuing that trend, once again focusing on the clash of opposing ideologies: control vs. free will.
This said, there’s also a simple logic to placing the action of Assassin’s Creed Origins in the last great period of Ancient Egyptian history. By doing that, you have access to everything that preceded it on the timeline. This makes for a richer game world stuffed with surprises.
Ismail says, “[In Cleopatra’s Egypt] the pharaoh-dom is still there, the pantheon of gods – mythology was still very important at this time – and the world was truly filled with wonder. You have the Pharos in Alexandria, the Great Library, Memphis that’s already 3000 years old. The world was a wonderful place to explore and discover – even for a native Egyptian like our protagonist Bayek. There’s the idea that even this guy could be in awe of his own country, and that is why we settled on this time period.”
So does that mean players can send peacekeeping hero Bayek all the way down the Nile to check out the temples and tombs of Luxor (AKA Thebes)?
Nope. Or maybe a better answer is not yet… Potentially.
The map for Assassin’s Creed Origins spans north to south from Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, down to the Faiyum Oasis. That means no Valley of Kings and Queens, Aswan, Edfu and Abu Simbel. This said, two major DLCs will add new open world regions to the map of the base game. Although the DLC areas haven’t been clarified yet, it wouldn’t be surprising if they extended explorations to the far south of the country – but this is just speculation.
This isn’t to say the player is boxed in by the main game, which features the biggest world of any Assassin’s Creed game by far. The vastness of the map in turn reflects the scope of Ancient Egyptian history.
Says Ismail, “In Alexandria you get a sense of, say, then-contemporary Egypt with majorly Greek influence in the north. But as you go south you feel Ancient Egypt really coming to life. Memphis is a very old city and you have these giant monuments. It’s more organic and chaotic, where Alexandria is more organised and engineered. We wanted to have that contrast in the world, and you feel it in the temples, tombs and all the various locations. That’s another reason why we chose Cleopatra’s time; it’s to have a lot of diversity.”
Players will be able to get lost in ancient time and space from 27 October, when Assassin’s Creed Origins hits stores.
Last Updated: October 4, 2017