The joy of tomb raiding in Assassin’s Creed Origins

ass_tombs_2

Weirdly, none of my favourite Assassin’s Creed Origins moments so far relate to assassinating. Then again, they never really did in the previous games. Instead they’re about buildings, specifically climbing them and going into them. So it’s appropriate that my absolute second favourite thing to do in Assassin’s Creed: Origins is tombs.

OK, so there are several extremely obvious and, frankly, attention-seeking tombs in Oranges’ Egypt, and because they’re so showy I held off investigating them for a good while. But there are more. The first I stumbled on was one near the opening area of the game, a training tomb, if you will, which featured a room stuffed with mummified cats. And yes, it was plenty to seal my excitement for the whole idea of tomb raiding in Assassin’s Creed.

ass_tombs_1

There are lots of reasons for appreciating a good tomb in Oranges. The big official ones are its equivalent of the big tombs in the earlier AC games and they award ability points. But there are other forgotten places to explore, and they all satisfy some of my innate fascination for blundering into deep passages that wind towards hidden chambers filled with riches. You’ll squeeze Bayek through narrow fissures, watch beetles swarming into the cracks of a wall weak enough for you to smash through, and slide under gaps.

And they’re old. Oranges is set in 50 BC, which is 2400 years after the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, so the crumbling, sand-filled, partially collapsed tombs you visit are already ancient, a bridge to our modern appreciation of ruin porn. Spiderwebs burn as you pass with your torch. Chambers are already looted, furniture shattered.

And then, as you explore a pitch black hall, its broken pillars lit only with your guttering torch, a vast granite statue of a god will loom from the dark, its polished surface burnished in dancing gold by your flame. These moments are stunning. Oranges’ lighting is wondrously atmospheric, and a reminder that games don’t tend to do unlit spaces very well. They can be too dark to be practical, in which case you turn up the brightness in the settings. Or their shadows are just washed out, hardly contrasting with bright areas. In Oranges, though, you need to light the darkness if you want to see.

As such, one of the things I like to do in a tomb is to light them up. Bayek automatically holds his torch to any sconce or brazier next to him to light them. I like the sense that I might be lost down here, with all those thousands of tonnes of limestone above, if it wasn’t for the breadcrumb trail of lights I’ve left that lead out. And it also reminds me of the other thing games often do about light, which is to ask you to believe that the abandoned dungeon you’re wandering is just constantly lit by flaming torches, just waiting for someone to turn up and appreciate them.

Oh, there are problems with Oranges’ tombs. The official big ones are a bit gimmicky, with tooltips explaining what to do. And there’s not really enough varied, subtle and naturalistic challenge in all the places you find, with the same old sarcophagi popping up, over and over. I’d like to face some of their builders’ traps, get lost; I want to map them and wonder how to get to some void my eagle’s sensed deep within the solid stone. And maybe I want to bring back something more valuable and interesting than just a few coins from pots, a blue-rarity spear from a chest, and an ability point.

But as Bayek heads out of another burial chamber, leaving all their piles of actual riches behind, maybe he’s just leaving its wonders for another to claim. I’m happy to wait for another game to try to capture the magic of tomb raiding.

35 Comments

Top comments

  1. ElElegante says:

    As somene who studied egyptology for a while before switching majors to something marginally more sensible, I heartily approve. Raiding tombs is exactly the kind of Indiana-Jones-style shit I imagined I would be doing when I first enrolled. Oh the disappointment of finding out it's mostly about learning dead languages and lines of succession.
    P.S.: I'm kidding, of course. Don't raid tombs, kids!
  1. Unclepauly says:

    The Great Pyramid is *at least* 10k yrs old, along with the sphinx. You’re welcome. I could go on for days about why but most info is online now.

    • IaIaFhtagn says:

      Ohhh, you’re about one ‘WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!’ aware from conspiracy theory bingo :(

    • Premium User Badge

      Earl-Grey says:

      Go on, tell me about chemtrails.
      I can’t wait to have my mind blown.

      • Joriath says:

        Personally, I’m waiting for how you can’t see the curvature of the Earth from the top of a pyramid.

        • SBLux says:

          Because the Earth is actually flat and is spinning on a big stick which is on a giant turtle and then it’s turtles all the way down. I think that’s correct.

    • skyst says:

      There’s some pretty compelling arguments to be made for the sphinx being modified from a lion statue to its current form which really has nothing to do with blowing minds or conspiracies. Regarding the 10k year old claim, there are megalithic sites in the vicinity that date to that period, so it’s not much of a stretch.

    • fray_bentos says:

      But how can that be true if the Earth is only just over 6,000 years old?

  2. woodsey says:

    You missed the best bit: throwing torches into pits to see how deep they are, like you’re Indiana Jones.

    That alone puts most of the “tomb raiding” in the Tomb Raider reboots to shame.

  3. Zenicetus says:

    It’s fun, but it’s also a bit of a twist for a Medjay to be robbing tombs, since protecting tombs was apparently part of their job.

    I know Bayek has gone rogue (to an extent) vs. the establishment, but he’s still acting as the do-good town sheriff with side quests. So it feels a bit weird that he likes looting tombs. The game could use some exposition about why he thinks this is okay, but maybe I haven’t hit that part yet.

    • thanosi says:

      Even worse, so far in my game Bayek has chastised at least a couple of quest givers for raiding tombs claiming that he himself is no grave robber. Two minutes before happily skipping into a tomb and raiding all its pots for coins.

      • Magus42 says:

        It’s certainly out of character, but my greatest joy in this game is imagining the pain that my every action will cause future Egyptologists. What, is that a vase which was 3000 years old during Ceasar’s lifetime? Let’s smash that to see what’s inside. Is that an intricately carved hieroglyph describing an ancient legend? That will make a great foothold as I climb this obelisk.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        Games should just not comment on looting ever. See also Witcher 3 and Mass Effect 2 for cringe-worthy moralizing about looting immediately followed by player looting. Either don’t have an economy built on stealing from corpses OR refrain from commenting on the ethics of looting.

  4. Tyrric says:

    Oranges? Did I miss a previous joke?

  5. Someoldguy says:

    Almost as much fun as tomb raiding in The Sims 3.

  6. Buggery says:

    These bits look like they belong in something a lot better than an Assassin’s Creed game. Lovely and atmospheric – as opposed to the lukewarm beige of AC.

  7. blur says:

    Pretty and all, but what the hell is with those shadows?

    In gifs 1 and 3, the torch seems to cast a shadow of itself in front of itself. It looks like they’ve modeled it as a point light source at the very tip of the flame (which is why it seems to lag behind when the player is moving, and catch up when they stop).

    I can’t unsee that a burning object seems to be casting its own shadow!

    • durrbluh says:

      You’re right, the wooden part of the torch (as compared to the flamey part) casts one hell of a sharp shadow in all three shots. Now I can’t unsee it, thanks!

  8. FFabian says:

    As an archeologist I don’t think it’s funny at all. What if this game leads kids to raid tombs in real life? I can’t condone this…

    • ElElegante says:

      As somene who studied egyptology for a while before switching majors to something marginally more sensible, I heartily approve. Raiding tombs is exactly the kind of Indiana-Jones-style shit I imagined I would be doing when I first enrolled. Oh the disappointment of finding out it’s mostly about learning dead languages and lines of succession.
      P.S.: I’m kidding, of course. Don’t raid tombs, kids!

  9. khamul says:

    Yeah, thanks for posting this article. Because now I need to go play Risen again. Because its tomb raiding was The Best. Which, while I loved Risen to bits for all the atmosphere, is kind of a damming statement for the industry generally, because of all the ways it was so painful to play.

    Why can’t someone make a first-person puzzle game about breaking into (and escaping from) atmospheric and lore-filled ancient tombs full of traps and threats. Without any QTE elements, and with a cool toolbox of powers and abilities to use. Where light is a key element in solving the puzzle. And where each tomb can be approached many different ways.

    Anyone know of anything like that?

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Witcher 3 has some good tombs and assorted mysterious caverns, with occasional ghosts and traps.

    • JigglyNaga says:

      a first-person puzzle game about breaking into (and escaping from) atmospheric and lore-filled ancient tombs full of traps and threats. Without any QTE elements, and with a cool toolbox of powers and abilities to use. Where light is a key element in solving the puzzle. And where each tomb can be approached many different ways.

      Apart from the “ancient” bit, you just described both Portal games.

  10. racccoon says:

    I’m kind of tired of this whole ass creed series, loved the original & the second, but, thereafter, not so.
    I just can not see why players have not got bored of climbing up to high perches & falling into haystacks.
    I do think though by seeing videos that it is a fairly good game.
    As Egypt’s society today is unpredictable its hard to visit it. Maybe this game would be a fun way to play out that dream…of course later, when the price is down! :)

    • Someoldguy says:

      To be fair, modern bungee jumping began in 1979 and is still going strong.

      In this, like many other games, i think they rely on a substantial part of their audience not having played all the previous iterations. I enjoyed Pirates Creed and will revisit the series when one gets an unequivocal thumbs up from the reviewers. It’s not a format I feel compared to play more of every 18 months while titles like Witcher 3 exist.

    • Sartharina says:

      Sorry, can’t hear your bitching over the sound of me bashing bad guy’s skulls in with a giant fucking mace while dressed as an iron cat.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>