Assassin’s Creed Origins is the epic adventure that the series has always been building towards. The FingerGuns Review;
I’d tracked my prey to a large fort. From the bushes in which I was hiding, I could see it was heavily guarded as Bayek reiterated “I need to be careful here”. I needed a strategy so I took control of Senu, my trusty eagle friend, to scope out the joint. I can see from my bird’s eye view that it’s packed. Wall to wall soldiers, archers on every elevated position and a few alarms which could call reinforcements. A head on assault wouldn’t work but there, in the distance, is a secret entrance. I swim up through a well right into the centre of the fort. I whistle to attract a low level grunt who I gracefully throw into the well behind me. I draw my bow. Thud. Thud. Thud. 3 archers dead. All head shots. I’m clear to proceed. I sneak into the main building where 3 soldiers are sleeping. I grab a jar of oil and place it equidistant between them. I arm myself with my bow, light an arrow on fire and loose it on the jar of oil. Boom. It explodes, covering the soldiers. All 3 scream as they burn. The walls, the hay they were lying on, the roof is (literally) on fire.
When Ubisoft announced that they were giving the next Assassin’s Creed game an extra year in development to add new game play aspects, I was probably one of the few people who were apprehensive. Since 2009, the annual Assassin’s Creed game had been my yearly security blanket. It was a series I would swan dive in and out of during the busy Q4 period because I always knew what I was going to get; Maps full of icons, stealthy combat, parkour, a cool historical setting riffing on real world events and the occasional humorous glitch. I’ll admit, I sorely missed my yearly hit of Assassin’s Creed in 2016 (although the Ezio Collection certainly softened the blow) but approached Origins anxiously.
Thankfully, Origins is as familiar as it is original. It’s certainly an Assassin’s Creed game but it’s seamlessly spliced with the DNA from big open-world RPG’s like The Witcher, Far Cry and Horizon Zero Dawn with the combat a mix of Watch_Dogs and Dark Souls. A very heady blend which mixes perfectly with progression and the plot. The RPG aspects feel like a natural fit for the freedom of expression that this Assassin’s Creed is trying to instil. Every action provides experience which can be used to tailor Bayek’s skills to your play style via a branching unlock tree.
The commotion had attracted my target from up stairs. I’m just about to pounce on him when a horn noise blasts. A Phylake (a high level and resilient enemy that hunts Bayek) is close and is making a beeline for my location. I retreat to the bushes outside. I’m so close to my target but can’t risk getting battered to death by the Phylake before I can take him out. So I wait. The Phylake walks around the burnt building, examining each dead body before heading in my direction. That’s when I strike. I first try and assassination attempt but he’s too strong and while it takes a large chunk of his health away, he’s still alive. I walk backwards, firing arrow after arrow into him as he chases me, chipping away at his health. He catches me and bashes me to the floor. 80% of my health gone in one swipe. I roll away to my feet, switch weapons and my saving grace arrives – my adrenaline bar just filled. I activate a rage, the screen goes yellow and I go to work. Slice after slice after slice, the Phylake has no reply and I’m cutting him down too quickly for him to recover. With one last combo, I kill him – but I’m not safe yet. My health is still rather low and my target is now rushing at me with a bow and arrow. I quickly apply a flesh decay (a tool which poisons anyone who walks near a corpse) to the now deceased Phylake and back away. My target walks straight over the body and gets poisoned, his health starts to ebb away and I finish him off with a flaming arrow to the forehead. Pausing the game, I said to myself “F**k… Yes”.
Many of the game play staples you might have come to expect from an Assassin’s Creed title remain but might have been tweaked. There are still Synchronization points for you to climb and activate but rather than filling your map with icons, they improve your Eagle companion Senu’s perception, meaning he can spot more hidden dangers – Imagine a bird version of the the Watch_Dogs 2 drone. Yup, cool right? A horse companion returns who can be called when needed but a new functionality is the ability to set them to auto-pilot your way to a location. Turning off your HUD and having your horse take you across the map is a very relaxing, almost therapeutic experience. Stealth assassinations remain, but unlike in other games in the series, they don’t automatically equate to a kill. The game’s more difficult enemies can survive an assassination attempt but will be severely hurt by the attack.
My target was sailing on a large ship down the Nile river. She thought she was safe, guarded by 4 archers posted on the periphery of her boat. She wasn’t. I sailed my own ship just off the portside, like many other fishing boats, and matched speeds. I waited until the guards rotated and took my chance. I fired an arrow from my Predator bow and by holding down the R2 button, I took control of the arrows flight. I guided it up and over the railings, past a guard with his back turned, into a tent and into the eye socket of my target. She slumped dead and her guards were none the wiser. As I sailed away, I chuckled to myself about the prospect of these guards protecting a dead body for the remainder of their journey.
Origins is built on the same pillars of play as the rest of the series but in a broader, more player centric way by removing the irritations that previous iterations used to funnel their players through. Take the climbing, for example. While the world of ancient Egypt is certainly less vertical than that of any other Assassin’s Creed game, everything is scaleable. Cliff faces that might have been used as buffers to force players to take a particular route in other games are all climbable here. There are very few buildings that require you to take particular routes up them so there’s no frustrating sections of having to spend 15 minutes spiraling up the outside of a tower just to reach the top. It’s also far more fluid and natural with less stuttering and sticking. Bayek goes where you want him too rather than vaulting off a roof top to his death.
Then there’s the combat. Fighting is far more involved this time around. No longer are you just holding down the block button and waiting for an icon to appear above your attackers head. Your enemies have weapons similar to yours which have their own strengths and weaknesses. Being attacked by someone with a spear requires a different tactic to those with a bow or an axe or a sword. Then there’s the massive world of Egypt itself. Besides being visually arresting (even on my bog standard PS4) and full of life, it feels like it was designed to be read rather than just traversed. By that I mean, you don’t just click on a map and follow an icon until you reach your destination. The world feels like it was built to guide the player rather than a minimap (of which there is none). Breaks in trees, paths, bushes, the situation of buildings and their access points, natural formations and man made structures – they’re all intuitively placed to give the player choice and to guide their eye to the opportunities available to them. The world is full of activities too, not just the killing, but for exploration and for character building too.
I needed to rescue a woman locked in a cage in the middle of an enemy camp. I waited until nightfall when all but one of the soldiers, the Captain of this particular camp, were huddled around a campfire. Sneaking through the bushes, I hopped through a hole in the fence and got into position. I quietly fired a sleep dart into the camp fire which released a cloud of sleeping powder. The guards and even their horses fell into a deep sleep. Nonchalantly, I strolled through the sleeping group, assassinating each one as I went. The patrolling captain then clapped eyes on his team of dead team mates. “We’ve got trouble over here” he shouted but nobody came to his aid as he checked each body around the campfire. Quietly, I snuck up behind him and put him out of his misery. I liberated the captured woman from her cage and carried her to safety.
The plot of Origins is a surprisingly emotional one. It’s an epic revenge trip that pulls no punches with its delivery of powerful and poignant moments through play and its cut scenes. The writing and script is very impactful and intertwines itself with the game mechanics themselves. At times, Bayek plays detective, investigating areas and piecing together clues in order to progress the narrative. During others, the game delivers a sucker punch full of impetus, winds you up and points you in the direction of a villain that needs to die and die horribly. At times, you’re just riding around the countryside and stumble across some exceptional environmental storytelling that ties into the overarching plot of the area you’re.
It’s a universally aligned, fluid plot that puts the hero Bayek through trial after trial, questioning the morality of his revenge quest, his evolving relationship with his wife, the power struggles of the Ptolemaic pharaohs and much more. The side quests almost always play into Bayek’s role as a Majay (a protector of the Pharaoh and the people of Egypt) and paint him as a law man, a hero and a saviour. While not all of these are entirely entertaining, the vast majority of these add to the character of Bayek, his personality and beliefs, sometimes exploring deep subjects such as opposing politics, religion, spirituality, censorship and racism. While not all of them are brilliant, the vast majority are and offer a lot of variety beyond fetch quests.
I’d made my way to the cliff top above the camp I was attacking. Using Senu’s birds eye vision I could see the base was well guarded but could also see that they were holding 2 lions in cages. I armed myself with my bow and with a pair of shots, destroyed the gates holding the lions inside. The predators sprung to action, leaping from their cages and set about attacking their captors. 2 soldiers met a teeth-filled ending before the first lion fell, leaving the other fierce feline outnumbered. It was time to even the odds. Jumping down to the top of a tent, I aimed my bow mid-leap, trigger a slow motion descent. Thud. Another soldier down. Just 2 to go and they’re occupied with the lion. I switch to my sleep darts and shoot both the guards in the back, putting them to sleep. The remaining lion made short work of them as they snooze.
It’s the attention to detail, masterful design and celebration of the minutiae that make Origins such a delight to play. The way birds scatter from river as you approach. The conversations between NPC’s you part-hear as you walk the bustling streets. The nods to the other Assassin’s Creed games and the lore that has built up over the past decade (yes, even the modern day sections). Origins is the reward for long term fans and the soft-reboot for new ones. It’s the gigantic, character driven (literal) sandbox game that the series has always shown the potential to be. It’s the lattice of game play mechanics that have been freed from the shackles of their frustrating limitations and built upon, then offered to the player as tools to do what they will.
The extra year of development has allowed Ubisoft to take a successful action formula and give it depth, feeling and a plot worthy of the name. Origins has all of the fun of Black Flag and the narrative depth of Ezio’s trilogy. It’s one of the finest open world games to grace this generation of consoles, a murderous playground set in a glorious and fully realised Egypt. Believe the hype.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is available now on Xbox One (and Enhanced on the Xbox One X), PS4 (review version) and PC.
Disclaimer: We purchased a copy of the game in order to complete this review. For more information, please see our review policy. All the pictures included in this review were taken using the photo mode on a standard PS4.