I’ve been taking a break from Assassin’s Creed since Black Flag released. While I enjoyed the game overall — particularly the ship combat sequences — I found the combat and story to be lacking, and many things about the gameplay and structure to be overly derivative of the previous entries. The series needed to do something drastic to get my attention again, and Assassin’s Creed Origins fit that bill.
It was obviously a smart move for Ubisoft to take a year off from Assassin’s Creed, to help them realign and define just what makes a game an Assassin’s Creed game. Origins mixes up the formula in some fun ways, and while the general experience still feels familiar, there’s enough new stuff — and I’ve been away long enough — that I was happy to sink over 50 hours into it. And I’ll probably still come back for more.
The attention to detail has always been a hallmark of Assassin’s Creed games, and Origins is no different. The world of Egypt is absolutely stunning to behold. Going into the game, I was anticipating a lot of desert landscapes, and while pyramids and sand make up a part of Origins’ visual identity, there’s so much more to see. I was absolutely blown away by the sheer variety of settings. There are small fishing villages, underwater ruins, mountains with sheer cliff faces, dank caves, traditional Egyptian cities, cities with Roman or Greek influence, vast fields of grains, hidden jungle huts, swampy rivers, and even a city surrounded by water where the locals worship crocodiles. You can ride your horse from one end of the map to the other and never get bored of the visuals.
Beyond the excellent art direction and design, the game doesn’t look amazing. It isn’t ugly, but most of the character designs and facial animations leave a little to be desired. There are also some muddy textures and framerates dips from time to time. It never truly mars the experience, but it is noticeable. Still, considering how huge this world is and just how much there is going on, Origins is still a technical achievement. Be prepared for some long ass load screens from time to time, though. Thankfully, the open world is pretty much seamless.
Besides the setting, the most interesting change to Origins is the implementation of some RPG-lite mechanics. There’s loot to get and skill points to spend. On the skills front, there aren’t many game changers, with most unlocks simply replacing a point in the story where you’re given access to additional resources. You can add some special combat moves or the ability to tame a wild creature, but it’s not like you’re learning a new magic spell that completely changes the way you interact with the world. I found that most of my choices didn’t fundamentally alter the way I played the game, but the added depth and options are appreciated. You also unlock special items like firebombs, smoke bombs, and sleep darts through skill points, but again, I didn’t find them all that useful. In fact, I ended up using the smoke bombs by accident more often than I did deliberately.
The loot in the game does more in theory than in practice. There are several different types of melee weapons at your disposal, and each controls differently in battle. After unlocking the ability to wield two, I found myself using a one-handed sword on foot and a longer spear or ax while fighting from horseback. The bows work similarly, with different options allowing you to fire quick shots or charge up for more damage. There’s also a predator bow that enables you to control the arrow in mid-flight. It’s fun to play around with, but I rarely needed it while stealthing around.
You can buy weapons from vendors, but you’ll also receive them as drops from plenty of enemies and quests throughout the game. There are the expected rarities, with the highest rarity weapons offering additional parks like poison damage or an increased critical hit percentage. The comparison UI isn’t great, with the “quality” score that’s compared not always being the most important factor in damage dealing. There were many times where I’d get something with a green “up” arrow, only to find out that it wasn’t actually better than what I was already using.
After actively hating the combat in most other Assassin’s Creed games, I’m happy to say that things are better in Origins. Part of this is due to the different weapon styles at your disposal, but things just seem to flow better this time around. The camera is still an issue, though, and the lock-on feature I found to be less than useless. It fails to keep your target in view at times and completely loses lock-on at others. Thankfully, things generally move fast enough and fights are short enough that you’re able to get in and out before the repetition sets in too much. The combat animations all look great, as well, and really add some flair and weight to the action. Bayek has some finishing moves that are absolutely brutal.
Speaking of Bayek, he definitely won’t go down as the most charming Assassin’s Creed protagonist, but he grows on you over time. He starts out like a bit of a boy scout do-gooder, but his quest to avenge the death of his son takes him down a pretty dark path, at times. Still, it’s clear that he’s a good person and I greatly enjoy hearing him react to some of the more idiotic or bad NPCs. He doesn’t put up with bullshit and can be hilariously sarcastic at times.
In some ways, his wife Aya is the more interesting character. You play as her in some ship combat sequences and toward the end of the game when the story dictates it, and she seems to struggle more with the revenge path. The cutscenes where she’s involved are also more engaging than the ones without. I always appreciate strong female characters in games that aren’t overly sexualized, and Ubisoft does a great job of making Aya just as three-dimensional as Bayek. However, playing as her in the late-game is a bit annoying because she doesn’t have access to any of Bayek’s weapons or special skills. That does add a unique challenge, but it also feels like the game is taking away my toys without replacing them with new ones.
The main story doesn’t do much for me. Basically, Bayek’s son is killed by hooded dudes trying to unlock some sort of ancient secret, and Bayek goes about killing them all. Each one he kills opens up the web a little farther to the point where it gets a bit ridiculous at the end.
“You killed my son!”
“No, I didn’t, it was that guy.”
“You killed my son!”
“I didn’t, either. It was this other guy.”
“You killed my son!”
Rinse and repeat about 12 times.
Thankfully, the methods of discovering more information about each target are varied enough, as are the circumstances of the actual assassination. Some of them are straightforward, where you can kill the person in the market and run away, while others require more strategy and infiltration. Some are even more traditional one-on-one boss fights, which make me appreciate the improved combat even more.
There’s a spot near the end of the game where you’re given the “point of no return” dialogue option, but don’t be deceived. That moment sets about the end-game, but there are a good four hours of story left, assuming you stick to the main track the whole way through. Starting that point at 8:30 p.m. had me up well past midnight trying to finish things. The final sequences are certainly action-packed, filled with more assassinations, boss fights, chase sequences, ship battles, and cutscenes than any other point in the game. But the game also introduces plenty of new characters and circumstances in those final hours, and everything takes place over the course of several weeks. It all leads to an ending that feels both rushed and drawn out at the same time.
Maybe this wouldn’t have impacted my experience so negatively if I’d played the end-game like I did the rest of the missions, spreading them out between side quests and exploration. But when Aya tells you, “from this point on, we can’t go back,” that kind of makes me feel obligated to get to the end.
Once the credits roll, you’re dumped back out into the open world. I’ve only gone back for an hour or so since finishing it, but things don’t seem all that different. You’re still able to complete all of the side missions you missed the first time around, and the Romans/Greeks/Egyptians still exist everywhere you’d expect. There is a new “Hidden Ones” shop in the assassins’ headquarters that sells exotic weapons and shields, but I didn’t find any of them to be vastly better than what I was already using.
You may have noticed a lack of comment on the modern day part of Origins. Well, that’s because it’s both completely superfluous and actively terrible. You’re only forced to leave the Bayek world at certain points in the story, but you can choose to leave for the modern world at any point. Not sure why you’d want to, though.
There are tons of journal entries and data points to read, if that’s your thing. Personally, I’ve never found the modern day stuff in Assassin’s Creed to be the least bit interesting, even in the days of Desmond Miles. The voice acting of the modern protagonist and her friend dialing in via Bluetooth are also atrocious, which doesn’t help matters. You just aren’t ever given a reason to give a shit about either character, and the Bayek stuff is so fun that these sequences feel like chores you have to complete before you can get back to the real game.
The ending of the modern day story does tie into some of the larger Assassin’s Creed mythos, and there’s an appearance by a character that will probably have an impact on people who care. I had to look him up online and then lost interest after reading for a few minutes. Seriously, Ubisoft just needs to drop this future stuff. It’s completely convoluted and ruins the experience whenever it rears its ugly head.
The Bayek stuff in Origins does touch on some of the Apple of Eden nonsense, with a few hidden tablets that lead to monotonous voice-over that drones on and on about the great collapse and the chosen one and some other crap. In case you couldn’t tell, I’d rather this stuff not exist. What’s worse is that Bayek has absolutely zero reaction to any of it. There was one time where I found a tablet underwater, and after listening to it for a few minutes, I got bored, activated a special plate, and teleported out of the ruin. Bayek had absolutely zero to say about the experience: how he was breathing underwater for several minutes, how a tablet projected futuristic drawings on the wall, how a voice spoke in his head, or how he magically teleported. I just went back to killing dudes like nothing had changed. Apparently, Bayek gives even fewer shits than I do about this stuff.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Origins is just a really solid open world game. Some of the new gameplay systems aren’t fully fleshed out, and there are still some minor annoyances when it comes to the stealth AI and camera, but the game is a blast to play. If, like me, you’ve enjoyed Assassin’s Creed in the past but have avoided recent entries, Origins might just bring you back into the fold. It has a gorgeous world that’s worth exploring, missions that will keep you invested, and more hours of interesting, varied content than any previous title. It’s a pretty damn good video game.
So, what did you think of Assassin’s Creed Origins? Where and when do you want the series to explore next? Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other video game reviews!