Assassin’s Creed Origins is a world of delicate details

The origin of the ass

Our full review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins is yet to come, but Edwin has been exploring its world on our behalf and sends back this report.

I’ve only had time for a quick poke through the world of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, thanks to a combination of Ancient Egypt-grade download speeds, short notice and a tortuous wrangle with graphics card drivers, but I’m already enjoying myself. This is something of a surprise, as I’ve become profoundly weary of the Ubiworld in recent years and Origins is very much an Ubiworld – a Pharoah’s haul of bite-sized distractions and trinkets that may or may not add up into something genuinely compelling.

The game wastes no time filling your pockets. After around an hour, I’d amassed a couple of swords, an axe, three bows, a spare shield and a tidy amount of gold. I’d also levelled up four times and unlocked six or seven abilities, including a brace of sleeping darts and a chargeable guardbreak attack. If you’re averse to this kind of unrelenting dripfeed, or to icon-stuffed HUDs, it seems unlikely Origins will win you over.

What might win you over is the view.

originsheader

After the briefest of prologues – in which player character Bayek finds his way through a colossal temple and chops down a large man in a hat with whom he apparently has beef – you’re kicked out into a gorgeous if extremely Hollywood recreation of the Egyptian lowlands in the time of Ptolemy XIII. The landscape is a quietly stupefying play of wind-sculpted sand, bleached stone and vegetation, sweeping down from rock outcrops to crowded roads and farmlands thick with palms. It’s a world of delicate details, like irrigation streams winding around hilltop houses, and familiar Ubisoft tactical props, like cages of people who need rescuing.

Verticality is the obvious casualty – there are few clusters of tall buildings, and so far, no old-school Assassin’s Creed synchronisation viewpoints. Right now, though, I don’t miss all that, and besides, I’m sure there will be plenty of architecture to abuse in more built-up regions like the great city of Alexandria at the north of the map. If you’re really hankering for some height, you can always enter the body of your pet eagle, Senu, and soak up the geography while marking objectives.

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I’ve yet to warm to the combat, however, which trades the tightly-meshed, somewhat constrictive feel of older Assassin’s Creeds for what is being described as a “hitbox system”, which puts less emphasis on locking on, and pushes you a little harder to gauge when you’re in striking distance and keep every attacker on screen. It’s too early to draw hard conclusions but this approach seems less elegant – you’re more prone to missing attacks and being blindsided – but possibly more flexible with practice, as it’s easier to disengage from a target and slide through a mob. Area-clearing tactics run the usual gamut of sneaking through tall grass to clobber investigating guards, chasing down craven souls who are trying to raise the alarm and, when rumbled, attempting to quash elites who require more attention while fending off smaller fry who can generally be mashed to death.

I suspect I’ll cool on Origins in the long run, unless there’s something transformative further down the road – it feels like the expected, annual aggregation of all current Ubisoft wisdom about open worlds, applied to a new period and landscape. Still, it has yet to put a foot fully wrong, and after the murk of Syndicate’s London the light and space of Ancient Egypt is a tonic. Watch out for my final thoughts next week.

24 Comments

  1. poliovaccine says:

    I see the character fighting giant scorpions in promo imagery – does that mean this game has more supernaturalish stuff than its equally outlandish but more strictly historical and sci-fi predecessors? Is it still an “Abstergo” game or have they finally abandoned that pretense altogether – is that part of the reinvention they claim? Or did other AC games also have bits of supernaturalia/fantasy before, and I just didn’t see it? I never played this series to death so that’s totally possible, but still, in spite of the whole sci-fi angle, battling giant scorpions with a scimitar just stuck out as odd and new to me.

    • onodera says:

      What would you battle giant scorpions with realistically?

    • Zorgulon says:

      Beyond the Abstergo wrapper, the series always had this implied sci-fi/fantasy super-advanced-technology-as-magic component which I found exceedingly tiresome ever since the first game’s woeful final boss encounter with the magical dividing old man. Pieces of Eden, super-powerful old gods (or are they aliens building the pyramids?) and such like.

      The giant scorpions do seem a leap beyond all that silliness though.

      I really wish they trusted their audience enough just to make damn good historical period adventures without that guff.

    • pendergraft says:

      I think that overt supernatural stuff is being kept for an eventual expansion pack that isn’t necessarily part of the canon, though there may be a few instances of Far Cry-style hallucinogenic-fueled nightmare sequences in the base game.

      The Abstergo, modern day nonsense is back. It looks like you control a character, but at least it’s Egypt-set third person instead of Black Flag’s (I think) atrocious first-person office assistant adventure. If they couldn’t jettison the concept entirely then the least they could do is take after Syndicate’s example, with skippable cut scenes.

      I for one love having the actual game interrupted with a lesser, more restricted version of the game, and do not in any way mash buttons in frustration while yelling, “JUST PLUG ME BACK INTO THE STUPID MACHINE ALREADY!”

    • metapink says:

      I am not sure why they post the picture with the giant scorpions in this article. This picture was released with the promotion for the expansion pack.

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      basilisk says:

      The list of Uplay achievements mentions several “Trials of the Gods”; I assume this is related to those. Some kind of dream/hallucination/whatever.

      It may also be related to the modern-day stuff which they’re so far keeping under wraps as a surprise (the AC series likes to do that). But I’m quite sure I read an interview with the project lead, on Eurogamer I think, where he was asked about these and confirmed this was not meant to be part of the historical story.

  2. Meat Circus says:

    Does the world need ANOTHER identikit Ubisoft openworld?
    Another 100+ hours of tedious, repetitive busywork?
    Another explosive bout of Icon Diarrhoea?

    Does it really?

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Just ignore that bit and enjoy the story?

      • Ericusson says:

        Last time I enjoyed an Ubisoft story was playing Far Cry 3.
        On acid.

      • Xocrates says:

        I’ve played a handful of Assassin’s Creed by now, and while I’m vaguely aware that they had a story I can not for the life of me recall any of them. The closest to an exception I can think is Assassin’s Creed Chronicles Russia, and that’s because I found the premise particularly silly.

        I don’t dislike the Assassin’s Creed games, and will even get one on sale every once in a while, but I will admit they’re amongst the blandest games I’ve ever played.

        They’re really good on the virtual tourism front though.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      I’m very curious about a recreation of ancient Egypt. It’s a really uncommon setting.

    • Tritagonist says:

      … in ancient Egypt? To which I’d say: yes!

      For all its faults, the AC series has done well to bring to life historical locations. There’s no doubt things they get wrong, and the compromises made to make it an enjoyable game will seem more problematic the more one knows about the period, but it’s still something I’m curious to explore.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      As much as it needs any video games I suppose.

    • Flavorfish says:

      I have never seen a studio as full of talented people as Ubisoft devs makes games that feel so uninspired. Despite incredible tech, polish and scope, I come away from Ubisoft open world games consistently underwhelmed. As soon as the endless focus on trinkets, collectibles, and unlocks becomes a blur I am reminded that these games are less then the sum of their many parts.

  3. patrickpeppers says:

    Hmm. I guess when I heard “Ancient Egypt” I assumed they meant the Bronze Age, which sounded slightly more interesting than post-Alexander Iron Age. I like the later time period as well, but I think it would have been more adventurous to go with the earlier setting. You could have even included some ancient greek heroes.

    • Blastaz says:

      According to the leaks that first announced this the idea is to have a trilogy of games the next set in Rome and Greece. Brutus the assassin killing JC is already AC lore and you could tell a great story with a friendly JC fighting the optimates in Athens before he discovers a piece of Eden, goes mad and needs to be put down in Rome.

      Ancient Egypt gives you a more fantastical setting but Classical Egypt gives you many more famous faces and a diversity of settings if you want to franchise it…

  4. Vandelay says:

    Can’t say if it is the right one, having not played it, but I welcome a change to the combat. The fights in the earlier games just boiled down to countering everyone and they were all ridiculously simple. Judging by the Eurogamer review, it sounds like this is a definite improvement on that front.

    Sounds as if it has moved further away from a stealth game though. It was never great at stealth, so perhaps that is the right choice, but I personally wouldn’t have minded seeing them fixing that. Plus, I think I am just bored of these Ubi-open world collect-athons. I’ve tried a couple of times to get into Watch_Dogs 2, which seems like one of the best iterations of the format, but I just grow bored after a single session. This looks to be more of that.

    Which is a shame, as I would love to have a (not so) Ancient Egypt game. Fantastic and under utilised setting (also would have loved a Victorian London one too, but nothing else about Syndicate appealed.)

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