Featured image credit: Ubisoft
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Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One
PC Release Date: October 27, 2017
Genre: Action-adventure game
Reviewed on: AMD RX 580, Intel i7-4770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 10 x64, Build 1903
AMD Drivers: 19.9.2
Assassin’s Creed series has been going away from its roots for a while. Long gone are the days of famous assassins such as Altair and Ezio when following your target and assassinating it in public square meant something more than pure bloodshed. Assassin’s Creed installments like Unity and Syndicate lacked that sense of mystery and adventurousness that were hallmarks of early games in the series. Hopefully, Assasin’s Creed Origins seems to be taking a major turn in good direction. Being set in the time of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Origins brings back the joy of the adventure set in ancient times that even made its predecessor, Prince of Persia, so lovable. Although some fans will note that Assassin’s Creed is slowly becoming a role-playing game, Origins is a remarkable installment that provides lots of content which is most certainly worth checking out.
To begin our review of Assassin’s Creed Origins, let’s start first with its story. Chronologically, plot of this game is one of the oldest in the series. Taking place in the 1st century BCE, it shows events that took place before formation of the Assassin Brotherhood. Story’s main character is Bayek of Siwa, member of an elite paramilitary police force known as the Medjay, whose purpose was to protect pharaohs and Egyptian people during the time of the Old Kingdom.
During the first couple of hours of the game, which serve more as its introductory tutorial, players learn that things for Bayek and his wife Aya, who is also a Medjay, went south when pharaoh Ptolemy XIII exiled his sister and co-ruler Cleopatra from city of Alexandria and thus initiated a period of Egypt’s institutional instability since Cleopatra’s supporters want to overthrow Ptolemy and secure her right to the throne.
Frequent incursions of Roman Republic into the Kingdom’s territory make situation also more worse in a society that is on the brink of the civil war. In that political mess, Bayek is first left alone, until one day when a group of masked men and soldiers kidnap him and his son Khemu in order to blackmail Bayek to open an ancient pharaoh’s vault in the Temple of Amun which he was the protector. During a fight to free his son and himself, Bayek mistakenly stabs Khemu and kills him, while criminals escape. Fueled with self-hatred and desire to take revenge, Bayek sets out from his village to find men who are responsible for his son’s death.
Story of Origins follows classical type of narrative in which a hero at the beginning of the story suffers a great loss but then decides to take revenge for emotional pain he had to suffer. This kind of narrative is very common in contemporary action movies, but also in folktales from which it draws its roots. This type of narrative also characterizes story of Assassin’s Creed II, so it is not new even in the series itself.
What is new, however, is its execution. Story of Origins is filled with various interesting historical figures such as Cleopatra, Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. All of these characters are portrayed as complex personalities with their own unique attitudes, opinions and worldviews. Even Bayek and Aya are very memorable characters, with Bayek being shown as archetypal Plato’s guardian who with time matures to an authentic existential hero, while Aya is a strong feminine character who eventually experiences radical transformation of her own identity.
Dealing with grand themes such as revenge, passion, treason and civil war, Assassin’s Creed Origins clearly tries to tell a mature story that still wants to stick to series roots. Clear role models for that were certainly Assassin’s Creed II and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Besides usual motives such as hunting the members of some secret order, or revealing Ancient Egypt’s long forgotten mysteries, Origins also provides a very nice depiction of social inequality in Mediterranean antiquity which is consistently intertwined with the consequences of Greek and Roman colonial endeavors. Remote, yet authentic life of peasants in inland Egypt is in sharp contrast to everyday chores of Alexandria’s cosmopolitan citizens whose surroundings are built in the spirit of Hellenistic architecture.
It is also worth to say that quality of side quests in Assassin’s Creed Origins is remarkably improved compared to its predecessors. Each quest has its own small unique narrative line and mostly deals with everyday misfortunes of people in Ancient Egypt. Game’s expansion packs also extend main storyline, although in a different fashion. First DLC named The Hidden Ones tells a story about Egyptian underground resistance movement against Roman invaders on Sinai Peninsula, while second expansion The Curse of the Pharaohs takes a radical turn in the series and tells of an ancient curse that falls upon citizens of Thebes. Second DLC also provides some very original ideas like entering afterlife and exploring unconsciousness of ancient Egyptian rulers.
In terms of gameplay, Assassin’s Creed Origins brings on new gameplay mechanics that make game more fun and interesting to play. First of all, game seems to have a lot of RPG elements among which armor, weapons, skills and exploration are most notable. Unlike previous games, in which most of the loot was money, loot in Origins is more concrete and meaningful than ever. With each completed quest or raided bandit camp, you obtain either a new weapon or components necessary for upgrading you armor. New obtained weapons are usually more powerful, but as the game progresses they tend to become less powerful than gear you are carrying on.
There are swords, axes, scythes, spears and scepters on your disposal. Each weapon can be upgraded at the blacksmith, and by the end of the game you will find weapons with some really special abilities. From ranged weapons you can choose hunter bows, light bows and predator bows. Latter gives you the ability to control arrows via the slow motion camera to precisely target your enemies and preform headshots. Besides lots of outfits for yourself and your mount, Origins also incorporates a very diversified skill tree that enables you to acquire new abilities. Some of them are very useful like changing day and night, performing chain attacks or buying materials at discounted price.
Combat in this game is very dynamic and can give you lot of fun. Before engaging into any kind of operation, your companion, bird named Senu, can scout the area for enemies and possible loot. Flying Senu is an extremely enjoyable experience and also gives you the ability to observe game’s landscape and your surroundings. After that you can either take a stealthy approach and like a true assassins kill your targets from ambush, or you can go full Rambo mode and just jump in and start killing everyone.
Both approaches are viable, and game doesn’t seem to punish you for going in Rambo-style, however, you’ll soon be overwhelmed by the enemies so watch out. Unlike Assassin’s Creed II, stealth in Origins is rather clumsy since controls in certain situations seem to be rather unresponsive and you might show yourself to the guards unintentionally. However, stealth is still pretty functional, especially when using a bow, and should provide you a certain feeling of satisfaction when infiltrating fortresses or large complexes.
Melee encounters, on the other hand, are now much more engaging and provide a Souls-like style of gameplay. You can use shield to deflect attacks or parry them with your sword. Some enemies are not easy to kill and you will need to wait for the opening to strike a blow.
Unlike other Assassin’s Creed games, Origins uses hitboxes in combat, so you can strike multiple enemies with a one blow. This adds a certain level of complexity in combat and makes it much more interesting when facing multiple opponents. You can also chain your attacks by not getting hit, which eventually wills your stamina capacity and gives you the ability to perform overpowered attacks. These attacks allow you to execute enemies and they can be real life savers in tense situations. Overall combat is fast, dynamic and mostly smooth. Stealth is a bit clumsy, but is still very good.
Although simplified, compared to its predecessors, parkour is excellent and allows you to easily climb buildings, mountains and other scalable objects. Exploring world is fun and interesting. Mounts are fast, but not too fast. Encounters with other bandits on horses or camels are fun to get into. You can aim your bow while riding a mount, and even jump on enemy mounts.
World is filled with plenty of locations to explore. There are tombs, villages, cities, animal dens and other interesting landmarks to check out. Most of the side quests are simple fetch quests, but they are fun and interesting to follow. Some side quests are rather complex and multi-phased so don’t be surprised if you won’t be able to finish them in one go. Overall there is plenty of things to do, yet although they are mostly the same, they always feel different due to setting or enemy that you have to face.
Graphically, this game is absolutely beautiful. The sheer size of game’s base map is immense. From lower Nile’s swamps and urban areas of Alexandria, to Black Desert mountains, Faiyum oasis and Desheret Desert dunes, this game offers a visually stunning and historically accurate view of Ancient Egypt’s landscape. There are so many minute details that is hard to count to. On your voyage through Egypt you will encounter crocodiles attacking sailors, peasants mowing their crops and merchants selling their goods on city squares. Egypt in Origins is a livable place, and will be in stark contrast to your previous conceptions of everyday life in antiquity. Besides that, buildings and landmarks are very detailed, volumetric clouds and palm tree forests look amazing, while desert sandstorms from a far look impressive. Lightning system is great and water quality is outstanding.
Building interiors are unbelievably detailed and colors in general look sharp and intense. However, in terms of its technical functionality, performance in Assassin’s Creed Origins is all over the place. Whether is it medium, high or ultra quality, expect you frame rate to dip to 30 or 40 FPS area very often. Even with powerful graphics cards like Nvidia GTX 1070 or GTX 1080, it is hard to maintain frame rate above 60 all of the time. Performance on AMD graphics cards is even worse. This game seems to be very CPU-bound, so quad-core processors without hyperthreading will provide poor performance. If you are interested into in-depth analysis of Assassin’s Creed Origins graphics performance, you should read my article in which I cover all aspects of that story.
In short, if you are hoping for a visually smooth experience of this game, I strongly advise you to buy yourself a G-Sync or FreeSync monitor, or connect your PC to a TV that has 30 Hz refresh rate. Only in these cases you will be able to enjoy this game without any frame rate issues. Finally, it is worth to say that game’s sounds and soundtrack offer a very decent quality level and as such contribute a lot to the game’s immersiveness.
To conclude our review, it is worth to say that Assassin’s Creed Origins represents a great comeback in the series after dull installments such as Unity and Syndicate. Its role-playing elements seem to abandon traditional gameplay mechanics set by its predecessors, however, they are a very welcome novelty that should be carefully implemented in next sequels. Although game’s story is rather predictable, rich historical context makes it more interesting and engaging. Gameplay is great, with some minor technical setbacks, and the amount of interesting content is favorable. Graphics are amazing, but system performance is very poor, and it is a pity that game like this lacks more optimization. This, however, shouldn’t be concerned as a major minus since game offers a beautiful and content-rich experience worth enjoying.