It’s fair to say that no one was surprised to see Assassin’s Creed Origins at E3 2017. After a number of leaks in the buildup to the event revealed both the setting and identity of protagonist, Bayek, the only question that remained to be answered was, could Origins recapture the originality and epic sense of scale of the early games after such an extended gap between installments? Following various gameplay demonstrations throughout the show, along with plenty of lively discussion, the general consensus was yes, this is something to get excited about.
However, as some were quick to point out in the days following Ubisoft’s presentation, it’s difficult to wholly ignore the similarities Origins bears with numerous other titles released in the recent past. As such, you could justifiably argue there’s just as much cause for concern as optimism.
Derivative RPG Elements
A robust character progression system supported by satisfying combat is fundamental to any self-respecting RPG; after all, as engrossing as The Witcher 3‘s narrative is, most of us wouldn’t have stuck around to see it unfold if it was hidden within a boring game. Clearly, Ubisoft had this in mind while working on Origins, but everything we’ve seen of these systems so far looks uncomfortably familiar. Favouring a tripartite skill tree split so often seen these days – including warrior, stealth, and support abilities (traps, animal taming etc.) – there seems to be very little to differentiate it from other titles in the genre, save perhaps a slightly more free-form approach to ability selection.
Combat too has undergone a major overhaul, now resembling The Witcher 3, or a less punishing Soulsborne game. It’s unquestionably a step in the right direction – the pre-existing counter-focused combat that made it possible for patient players to slowly whittle away at hordes of enemies one at a time was hardly exhilarating, after all – and furthermore, it looks extremely fun. However, with the hidden blade no longer guaranteeing a one-hit kill on unsuspecting enemies, there’s the possibility the updated, deeper mechanics will end up harming the overall pace and character of the game.
The Gear System
Having included the well-known RPG elements mentioned above, it didn’t come as a huge shock to learn Ubisoft has also decided to implement a similarly run-of-the-mill gear system a la Destiny. Gear is therefore ranked by rarity, meaning common items will possess inferior stats compared to their hard-to-obtain or unique counterparts. Not the most original move perhaps, but it does suit the direction of the new game, providing Bayek with a suitably extensive range of weaponry and armour.
Elsewhere, the expanded crafting system delivers a comparable sense of déjà vu. Like Red Dead Redemption or Far Cry 3, players are able to harvest parts of the local flora and fauna to create new weapons, armour, and consumables that will help prepare Bayek for his journey. In other words, we’ll somewhat reluctantly have to dedicate at least a few minutes of every session to hunting Egypt’s indigenous wildlife.
Of course, it goes without saying that Ubisoft isn’t the only studio working today that’s guilty of incorporating these two increasingly common trends into their games. Exceptional PS4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn and last gen masterpiece The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are but two examples of hugely successful games that owe a debt of gratitude to the titles that came before them. Clearly, you don’t have to be completely original to be a hit.
Okay, so it’s quite a specific grievance, but it’s painfully apparent that unusually intelligent eagle and reconnaissance expert Senu functions in almost exactly the same way as the drone featured in Ubisoft’s recent co-op open-world shooter Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
The brief gameplay trailer broadcast during the studio’s press conference alone showcased her aptitude for tagging enemies, relating topographical information, and zooming in on foes at the push of a button – talents that have been lifted straight from Tom Clancy’s latest tactical shoot ‘em up. They’re so similar in fact that you probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid if it transpired that Senu also came equipped with night vision capabilities and a 5-year manufacturer warranty.
Still, as lazy as it is to simply rehash an existing mechanic from one of its other IP’s, perhaps Ubisoft will rectify the situation by designating her as the progenitor of the assassin’s extraordinary Eagle Vision trait (although the series’ wiki page claims this particular power derives from the first civilisation so, perhaps not).
Since the series began back in 2007, fans around the globe have been clamouring for Ubisoft to set an Assassin’s Creed title in ancient Egypt. Finally, that wish has been granted. From sprawling market towns and quaint fishing villages on the fertile banks of the Nile, to vast arid deserts and imposing mountains, Origins could well boast the most beautiful location in the history of the series.
Moreover, unlike Assassin’s Creed 3‘s frustratingly empty American wilderness, the gorgeous visuals here are, by all accounts, accompanied by a vibrant open world that’s chock full of engaging side-quests to undertake, ruins to explore, and unscrupulous enemies to kill. Although, considering the Templar order wasn’t founded until the 12th century, it’s safe to assume that another equally shady organisation will be taking on the role of antagonist in the upcoming adventure.
You can criticize the studio’s aggressive release schedule all you want, but you have to admit, aside from a couple of missteps here and there, Ubisoft knows how to design an enthralling open world.
Reinventing the Series
Despite all the previous accusations of banality, you can’t help but admire Ubisoft’s attempts to reinvent the series after a few underwhelming entries; Assassin’s Creed 3 and the bug-ridden Unity in particular left some people questioning the very future of the franchise. Irrespective of where the inspiration came from, the gear system and RPG features will add a far greater level of depth to the experience, giving gamers the freedom to customise Bayek in whatever way best suits their play style, and will infuse the combat with a tactical edge that’s been lacking in the past.
At a smaller scale, little touches like the controllable arrow and the introduction of the ‘adrenaline’ combat mechanic (think of it as a rage meter that builds towards a single, powerful attack over time) provide a reasonable amount of individuality.
Yet for all these fundamental changes, Ubisoft hasn’t suddenly abandoned the systems and mechanics that made the series a success in the first place. For instance, although the fog of war is dispersed naturally as you explore, you also have the option to climb watchtowers, synchronize, and perform the iconic leap of faith. Likewise, there’s still an emphasis on stealth and parkour, the latter of which has been improved considerably.
As we creep ever closer to the October 27 release date, we’re sure to receive plenty of additional details about Assassin’s Creed Origins. Some might alleviate the concerns raised in this article, while others might only serve to confirm the suspicions raised here. Either way, the gamer public will no doubt have a lot of fun in the intervening months discussing the latest iteration of one of the medium’s most famous franchises.
- John Websell