Assassin’s Creed Origins: review

Ubisoft comes in for a lot of criticism from certain quarters of the gaming community, but (most of) it really isn’t justified. Assassin’s Creed is a good example of how they seem to be listening to fans to help shape the games they make. Syndicate took place in Victorian London, a long-requested setting; and the grappling hook added a new dimension to the parkour, one which removed the most time-consuming and tiresome of the climbing. Origins doesn’t have a grappling hook (though enjoys painless parkour) but, being set in ancient Egypt, it does utilise another popular time and place.

It also, both for better and for worse, essentially reinvents what an Assassin’s Creed game is.

Let’s talk some more about the setting because it is, undoubtedly, the star of the show. According to people wiser and more knowledgeable than us, it’s impressively accurate (in one instance even pre-empting a real-world discovery). The attention to detail is superb, resulting in the series’ most convincing and fascinating world to date. Imposing structures, lovingly crafted interiors, breathtaking environments, authentic clothes and armour, pyramids to loot and explore, convincing human and animal behaviour… your journey is never less than a joy. The water looks jolly realistic, too.

The oft-criticised combat has been torn down and rebuilt. We now have a light attack, heavy attack, dodge, block, and “adrenaline” which, when maxed out, allows the use of a particularly powerful attack. There’s also a lock-on system… which unfortunately doesn’t work very well. When you’re fighting multiple enemies, it has a tendency to shut off unbidden mid-battle. Combat remains however a huge improvement on previous instalments, particularly when you unlock some further combos and abilities. You get bows too, though limited power and ammo mean that you can’t rely on them too much.

In many ways, this is a step up for the series *gunshot*

Less impressive is the story. Although it encompasses the wonders of Egypt, and even progresses to incorporate both Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, it suffers from stilted delivery. Our hero Bayek’s tale is one of loss, heroism, and tragedy. Unfortunately, it’s basically impossible to follow this through from start to finish without interruptions, should you so desire. Syndicate’s introduction of character levelling returns with a vengeance here, and you’ll regularly run into missions – campaign and side alike – with the recommended level displayed in a warning reddy-orange, meaning you’re unlikely to succeed until you level up further. Our run through the main story, without overlevelling, took about 26 hours (with an impressively huge amount of content still left to experience). At least half of that time was side missions and travelling, which resulted in lengthy interruptions within a story that already occasionally struggled for coherence.

However, the implementation of these many, many semi-optional quests is excellent. Trigger locations are easily found on the map once you’ve scouted the area a little, with their recommended levels clearly marked. Each and every one is fully scripted, with unique dialogue and events (and, often, unique characters or more depth to minor ones). The effort that’s gone into them pays off handsomely, ensuring that these missions never feel like a chore (even if objectives such as ‘rescue this guy from an enemy camp’ are repeated quite a bit).

Two major new game mechanics are Bayek’s trusty eagle Senu, and the new approach to equipment. Senu is treated as an ancient Egyptian drone, used outside to locate and mark enemies and objectives as well as just generally have an aerial view on things at your leisure. Equipment, meanwhile, is likely to prove a love-it-or-hate-it issue. The most impactful change is the seemingly endless variety of swords, bows, spears, heavy blunt weapons, and more that you’ll come across. Each has different stats and, occasionally, special properties; and you’ll need to regularly change what you have equipped to have a fighting chance (geddit?).

Are you eagle to get started yet?

Elsewhere, there’s vaguely Far Cryalike crafting, used to (for example) increase your health or ranged damage. You can even upgrade your hidden blade which, controversially perhaps, feeds in to who you can and cannot perform assassinations on. All this means hunting for materials. Wood and metals can be slowly harvested by destroying weapons, but are more rapidly nabbed by ambushing patrols transporting stock. You’ll need soft and hard leather too, obtainable by finding and killing the right animals. Fully upgrading everything’s going to take an awful lot of wandering off the beaten track. Or you could, y’know, spend some real-world money in the store that the game goes to great pains to remind you is there.

Any negativity we have regarding the game is highlighted only because what it does right, it does wonderfully right. The scope and ambition is incredible. Unfortunately, as a result, it pushes each machine noticeably hard. Origins has been patched extensively in the very brief time that has passed since release (beware if you’re playing without an internet connection), but issues remain. We can only definitively speak for the vanilla PS4 as we’ve played the game on but, there at least, you’re never going to see a consistently silky frame rate; although this never comes close to being bad enough to ruin the experience. However, a handful of times, we’ve had the game freeze for 4-5 seconds while it loads the rest of the area we’re travelling into. We experienced one crash during the prologue, but nothing in all the hours that followed.

Origins gives Black Flag a good fight for title of ‘Best Assassin’s Creed’. It is, after all, rather difficult to dislike a game that combines stabbing people in the neck with subtle consideration of the encroachment of Greek and Roman culture onto ancient Egyptian religion and tradition. It fixes some of the series’ longstanding problems, while abandoning or introducing other elements that perhaps it shouldn’t. On balance, however, it’s a deep and involving adventure that offers undeniable value for money.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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