Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed: Origins on Octorber 27, 2017. Poster by Ubisoft.
Is a soft reboot enough to save the franchise?
After a one-year hiatus to refresh the franchise, the beloved series is back with Assassin’s Creed: Origins. The game is set in Ptolemaic Egypt and takes place in the 40s B.C. Bayek of Siwa, one of the last Egyptian medjay, and his wife Aya are the main characters.
As a whole, Origins’ story works. It’s not the best story in the series, but it kept me engaged in the 35 hours it took to beat it. Bayek and Aya are two of the more charismatic characters in the series, and their relationship was exciting to follow. The story’s pacing is awful. Assassination targets are given no time to develop. The goal of the story is to show the origination of the Assassin Brotherhood. It does this, but it felt rushed at the tail-end of the game while too much time was spent on the backstory which led to the origination.
The biggest story drawback for me was Aya’s three playable missions. They feel like they were shoehorned into the game. None of the upgrades Bayek obtains transfer to Aya, and Aya is not playable outside of these missions. I was disappointed to not be controlling Bayek, a character I had become emotionally invested in, during the climax and then the final mission of the game. I enjoyed playing as Aya, but it’s puzzling that the development team chose to go this route after Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s excellent handling of a two-playable-characters system.
Origins also has a playable present-day story with all-new characters mostly unconnected to previous events in the series. The present day isn’t much, having maybe an hour’s worth of content. It’s reminiscent of the first game in the series. What’s there seems to be setting the stage for future games.
Unlike previous games in the series, Origins places a strong emphasis on role-playing game elements like leveling up and obtaining new weapons for your character. This new leveling system works well. I only had to grind out extra levels two different times while I played through the story, and I never felt like it took Bayek too long to reach the next level, even as I quickly approached the level cap. This is largely due to the new quest format.
Gone are the days of DNA-formatted quests with their mission constraints in order to “fully synch” a mission. Completing quests will give you a level-appropriate amount of experience and possibly a new weapon. I found most of the side quests to be quite entertaining. Some tell a story of their own while others flesh out characters Bayek encountered in the main story. These side quests made leveling seem less of a chore and more entertaining than most RPGs.
The loot system is the most player-friendly system I have ever encountered. Weapons are divided into three categories: normal, rare and legendary. Legendary weapons are easily obtainable through daily loot box quests or high-level side quests. Weapons have levels which can be increased by paying a blacksmith a sizable amount of money to upgrade, meaning you can use your favorite weapon throughout the game.
Egypt is massive. The amount of side quests, hunting areas and forts for Bayek to raid can be overwhelming at first. There are at least 60 to 80 hours of content for the player. The main story takes Bayek through just over half the map, leaving plenty of exploration for the post-game. To top it off, there is a gladiator and racing arena for Bayek to take part in. The environments throughout the map are greatly varied. Each major city feels different. The northern part of the map is filled with lush swampland contrasted by huge deserts in the south.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a fun game. The new combat system largely works, but is rough around the edges. The many weapon types each play differently, encouraging the player to experiment with their playstyle. The massive map, the player-friendly loot system and the new quest system are all strides in the right direction, but the game is held back by a poorly paced story and the addition of loot boxes, no matter how friendly they may be to the player.