GAMING GREATS: Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017)

After ten years and one underperforming motion picture, is Rod still a willing Assassin? He checks out the latest entry in the storied franchise.

Who made it?: Ubisoft Montreal (Developer), Ubisoft (Publisher).

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows.

Format: Blu-ray, Download. 

Released: October 27, 2017.

Last year, the Assassin’s Creed franchise celebrated ten years with Assassin’s Creed: Origins, a very fitting subtitle, since this latest entry details the birth of the Creed itself, dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt, circa 49 BCE. This time period marks the furthest into the past the series has gone yet.

Assassin’s Creed (2007) introduced players to the centuries-long war between the Assassin Order and the Templars. Through use of a machine called “The Animus,” a former Assassin named Desmond Miles was forced to relive the memories of his Assassin ancestor, Altair Ibn La Ahad, during the time of the Third Crusade in 1191. The saga has featured many different Assassins from the past, and this time around, it is a man named Bayek, a Medjay of Siwa, who was entrusted to serve the Pharoah known as Ptolemy XIII. His is a tale of sorrow, anger and revenge – themes that are present throughout the series. He and his wife, Aya (who you also play as later in the game), go through a turmoil that no-one should ever have to go through. And, as a result, they come to realise that there’s a much bigger scope to the threat they face than they initially thought.

Before delving further into Origins, I would like to acknowledge that the events of the Assassin’s Creed (2016) film are a part of series canon, and so events that occurred are referenced in this very game. They’re not required knowledge, but they do help to explain such things as why the version of the Animus seen in the film is so drastically different to the one in the games. In fact, that version is just another Abstergo (the evil corporation of the series – a Templar front) has created in their long line of Animus machines, dating back as far as the 1980s. Getting back to Origins, the Animus used by the modern day protagonist, Layla Hassan, is actually portable. I won’t spoil what exactly the modern day sections reveal, but Layla’s involvement in this period adds an interesting twist to how the genetic memories of one’s ancestors can be accessed, among other things. This leads me to my next point about Origins, which is that, while I liked the expansion of the lore in the present day, they aren’t as exciting to play through as the modern portions in some of the previous games. That’s mainly because you don’t really do anything exciting in comparison. But this doesn’t ruin the game at all in any way for me, because the main focus is on the past, and what a great time period it is to explore!

Exploration in these games only really became a major element with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013), which gave you a massive game world to explore that was befitting of being the Assassin known as Captain Edward Kenway during the Golden Age of Piracy. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is another game in the series that has a huge universe to explore. Everything about how the environments look add to the authenticity of the time period, creating a truly breathtaking experience. And there is something so awesome about seeing the gigantic pyramids, which you can climb, of course. Not to mention how fun it is to slide all the way down from the tip to the ground. This is the first game in the series to allow you to be a pyramid surfer! But it’s not only the outside areas that are great to explore. Entering various pyramids, and other kinds of underground areas such as tombs, add another layer to just how vast the world of Ancient Egypt actually is in comparison to previous titles in the series. You could spend as much time admiring the view as actually doing the main missions or side quests. Speaking of which, there’s a wide range of side quests that Bayek can complete, and doing these can reward you with XP, loot, or even Legendary Items/Weapons. It is highly recommended that you do as much of these as you can early on in the game to make Bayek more formidable, and so completing these side quests is a great way to aid you in this endeavour. My favourites are Stone Circles, scattered throughout the world of Ancient Egypt for Bayek to discover, and activating these will trigger a star-gazing segment. Each of these gives you a constellation puzzle to solve, the objective of which is to move the camera to the position of a particular constellation’s location, and then move the constellation icon around so that it matches up with the shape of the pattern specific to the Egpytian God that constellation represents. As you solve the puzzle, you can listen to a conversation between Bayek and his son Khemu from the past, which not only gives you more insight into both characters, but also strengthens the bond between them.

Aside from doing side quests, another way to obtain XP is to explore Ancient Tombs which contain an Ancient Tablet that gives Bayek an extra skill point. There are also Ancient Mechanisms that will give the player more information about the First Civilisation known as The Ones Who Came Before. Discovering Hermit Locations will reward Bayek with a skill point to help unlock new abilities. Papyrus Puzzles require you to examine a clue that will give you the location of a piece of rare or legendary gear, and will also net you more XP, as well as more money. In Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014), and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015), you had to be at a certain character level in order to better-handle certain enemies and areas. You could still manage it even at a lower level if you were persistent. But Origins takes this even further and has certain areas where you will literally have no way of surviving unless you upgrade Bayek to a higher level, or have better armor and stronger weapons. These areas will have the enemies marked with a red and white skull above their heads to signify the fact that you have zero chances of winning in battle. In fact, I could swear that one time I almost had the life bar of an enemy with such an icon above their head almost drained completely, but an enemy spawned at random and ended my life!

Origins also expands the skill tree system from Unity and Syndicate by giving the player three different paths containing various unlockable skills. The Warrior path allows Bayek to unlock abilities that are associated with combat, such as a Charge Heavy Attack, giving you the ability to charge up your heavy attacks in order to break shields, and to stagger enemies. Another of the many skills you can attain on this path is the Air Attack, which is self-explanatory really. The Hunter path unlocks abilities that aid Bayek in stealth, such as a Chain Assassination, giving Bayek the ability to assassinate another enemy when they’re in close proximity to an adversary he has already killed. This greatly improves your chances of clearing out a foe-infested area more efficiently and effectively. The Seer path is focused on Bayek’s ability to craft items and poisons, among other things. Dawn and Dusk allows Bayek to make time speed forward to either night or day. Another ability that Bayek can unlock is Flesh Decay, allowing him to infect a dead body with a particular substance that will contaminate nearby enemies.

Other RPG elements incorporated into Origins is a crafting system that allows you to use various materials to improve Bayek’s equipment, like his armour, and of course, the signature Hidden Blade. Some enemies can’t be assassinated in one blow, due to their level being much higher, and so upgrading this is definitely a wise thing to do. Hunting animals is something that returns once again to the series, and there are a variety of animals you encounter throughout the game. Wildlife such as crocodiles, various types of birds, hippos, tigers, leopards, pumas, among others, can be killed to obtain materials necessary to upgrade your armour and weapons, as well as gaining XP. Materials can also be found in jars, chests and be looted from enemies. There are also chariots which can be attacked as well in order to obtain the prizes they contain.

One of the biggest changes to the series has been the Combat System. It adopts an approach that is very similar to Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (1998), in allowing the player to lock onto a target and circle around them, or you can just attack adversaries surrounding Bayek without locking onto just one. An Adrenaline Gauge is incorporated which fills up during combat, and this allows the player to unleash finishing moves, or make Bayek temporarily faster, stronger and much more resistant to taking damage. In addition to attacking with weapons, you can also defend against attacks with shields, and this includes arrows shot at you. There are a variety of weapons available such as swords, bows, heavy weapons, long weapons, and bombs. Some weapons have special attributes that assist in defeating foes, such as poisoning them to deal more damage, or a better chance of achieving a critical hit against your enemy. The change in combat style also means there’s a change in controls. Attacks with your weapons, and blocking with your shield, are assigned to shoulder buttons. This has caused some fans to be turned off by the game. While I can understand how it would have that affect, I personally got used to the change in controls, as well as control style. But there are also improvements in how players control Bayek’s movement.

It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game without theParkour aka “free-running” mechanic, and this time around, it is simplified because you no longer need to hold down a button whilst moving foward to run faster. If you want Bayek to run, just fully push the control stick in the direction you wish to move, or if you prefer, you can make him walk or run slower by changing how far you push the control stick. Ascending and descending is accomplished by simply pressing a single button you no longer have to hold down as you free-run upwards or downwards. Horses return once again as a means of travel, and camels can also be ridden too, but are not as fast as horses of course. You can also unlock horses that wear armour as well as travelling on water using canoes and boats. Underwater exploration has returned as well.

A staple ability of the series is Eagle Vision. In the first game, it allowed the player to see where hiding spots were located, as well as allowing you to tell in a crowd of people who were innocent civilians, or those who were enemies, among other things. As the series progressed, the nature of what you could do with Eagle Vision changed in various ways. But in Origins, it has changed the most. Firstly, Bayek and Aya don’t possess the same version of this skill. You can use what’s called an Animus Pulse to send out a pulse that reveals nearby objects of interest, such as arrows for your bow, and money, as well as highlighting what enemies have dropped after being killed. The actual Eagle Vision in this, though, is literally vision from the eyes of an eagle. This is where Bayek’s pet eagle named Senu comes into play.

Senu can be used to detect enemies, and mark them so you can keep track of where they are. This helps greatly when you are on a mission that requires stealth, because you can plan your moves more accurately, with knowledge of exactly where each enemy is positioned. Senu can also help Bayek locate treasure chests and crafting resources. Once upgraded, Senu can also act as an ally during combat by being able to attack enemies, or even distract them to make your path through an area using stealth much easier. And Senu also provides a great way to just further appreciate the awesome landscapes of Ancient Egypt that have been recreated, by simply flying around at your leisure, since Senu can navigate the entire map no matter how far away she gets from Bayek. However, a downside to Senu’s abilities is that you can’t use her to defog areas of the map in order to reveal where things like Viewpoints are located, and so you will have to travel there by foot, camel, horseback, or boat. Speaking of viewpoints, they are no longer just used to reveal information about an area and its surroundings, but increase Senu’s detection capacity. Once these viewpoints are synchronised, they become fast travel points.

Throughout the Assassin’s Creed series, there have been some amazing scores composed. For this entry, the composer was Sarah Schachner, who has had experience with the franchise before with her contributions to Assassin’s Creed: Unity. There are two tracks that stand out strongly for me in Origins, and since the release of the game, I have listened to them often. The first is the “Main Theme,” a beautiful composition that conveys both the majestic epicness of the Ancient Egyptian setting with a sombre aspect, which makes me think of the tragedy that Bayek and Aya suffered, as well as a strength I like to think represents the rise of the Assassin Brotherhood. And the second is titled “The Battle of Krokodilopolis,” a track which has a powerful, energetic and relentless feel that, to me, represents the unrelenting nature of Bayek and Aya’s vengeance against The Order of the Ancients (essentially Proto-Templars). The use of strings in this give the track a biting edge that can be representative of blades cutting through enemies, especially the Hidden Blade.

Overall, if you were once a fan of the series, perhaps this game is one you should return for because you may find it a really good experience. I am one of those Assassin’s Creed fans who hasn’t suffered from “Franchise Fatigue,” so I don’t know whether or not this entry would make those who are vehemently against the series’ direction actually want to return. It is a major step in a great direction for the franchise, so give it a chance because it might just impress you. I definitely enjoyed the experience, and Origins solidifies exactly the reasons why this is one of my top favourite franchises of all time, and always will be. Remember… “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” But don’t take that literally!

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • Assassin’s Creed-themed content was made available in other Ubisoft games such as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and South Park: The Fractured but Whole.
  • he Hidden Ones is a story-driven expansion that sheds more light on the rise of the Assassin Brotherhood. It is set four years after the events of the main game and takes the player to the new Sinai Peninsula region, where they’ll have to “investigate a clash between a rebel faction and occupying Roman forces.”
  • The second expansion offers gamers a completely new quest to delve into as they travel to Thebes to investigate an ancient curse that is plaguing the land. The Curse of the Pharaohs focuses on Egyptian mythology, pitting players against famous pharaohs and Egyptian beasts, as they uncover the cause of the curse that has brought certain dead rulers back to life.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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