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First Impressions: ‘Assassin’s Creed Origins’ – The Best Example of a Guided Open World

Vast as it is, Ubisoft’s latest entry in the series hasn’t lost its way in the desert.

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“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” That dire proclamation from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias was intended as both a warning and challenge through the ages to those who would dare attempt to exceed the glory and power of the titular King of Kings. Ubisoft Montreal fully heeded that warning and took up the gauntlet to answer the challenge of recreating a world not to make people despair at its grim majesty, but rather to rejoice in its resplendence. The Assassin’s Creed series might have become so popular because of its free-form kinetic traversal mechanics and stealth-oriented combat systems, but what makes each entry in the series truly memorable are their masterfully detailed presentations of lives and times that have long since been confined to the history books. From the Middle East during the Third Crusade to Renaissance Constantinople, to the Colonial Americas right through to Britain during the height of the Industrial Revolution, Ubisoft’s various development teams have always excelled at lifting history off of the page. Assassin’s Creed Origins is no exception in that regard as Ashraf Ismail and Jean Guesdon have headed up the creation of the most impressive and intricate environment thus far seen in an Assassin’s Creed game. As a long time fan of this particular series and of Ubisoft games in general, I don’t mind admitting that I was more than a little excited at the prospect of being able to explore a vision of Ptolemaic Egypt that was designed to be as factually faithful and as entertaining as possible.

A game of this scope, depth, and complexity can’t really be done justice in a single sitting. As such, the first part of my full review will focus on gameplay and world design before I’ll move on to story analysis and my final verdict in the second part. To begin with, however, I’d like to offer my first impressions of the game so those of you who are still undecided about making a purchase can get an initial overview of Assassin’s Creed Origins without risking any major spoilers of gameplay mechanics or narrative elements. So once my squeals of fan-boyish glee finally subside I’ll begin.

From the opening moments of the game, it’s clear that players are in for a treat. Your journey as Bayek, former Medjay turned assassin and the game’s main protagonist begins in such a way that it redefines the meaning of in medias res. After the surprisingly brutal and affecting introductory cut scene gives way to gameplay there is a sense of place that is impossible to deny. When it comes to offering expansive and immersive environments to navigate and explore few developers do it better than Ubisoft, with the Assassin’s Creed games, in particular, being hallmark standouts. I’m not going to lie as soon as I opened the map screen for the first time and I zoomed out as far as I could my jaw actually dropped, so taken aback was I by its sheer size and scope. A company that hadn’t learned the bitter lessons of experience might have been tempted to make everything immediately visible, instead, the developers opted to have activities and locations appear organically as players uncover more of the map.

This approach means that the player is never overwhelmed by the options open to them, but instead intrigued and compelled to progress further and complete objectives in an order of their choosing at their own pace. With that in mind, the switch from a more traditional Ubisoft action adventure format to one firmly rooted in RPG elements including different rarities of loot and a tightly focused skill tree only reinforces the fact that this is meant as a complete change of direction for the franchise. From what I’ve seen so far it was definitely the right decision, one that is as revolutionary for the series now as the changes made between the original Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2 were at the time.

Ubisoft’s take on Ancient Egypt is by far the best example of a guided open world that I’ve come across to date. Although it’s by no means as subtly designed as the overworld as seen in Breath of the Wild, it is immediately enticing and exciting. There have been complaints among fans about the addition of a leveling system and how that means that areas are essentially gated by time investment. Whilst that is unquestionably true, in this instance, it’s not actually a bad thing. There are long stretches of time between being ready to pursue some of the main story objectives, time which is spent gathering crafting materials to improve your equipment and completing the plethora of side quests offered en-route to your primary goal. Bayek gains experience in his role as a former protector of the people turned vengeful vigilante just as the player gains familiarity with the game and its rules. This incremental acquisition of power and skill is the perfect complement to a storyline centered around the founding of the Assassin order itself.

The vast majority of the side quests I’ve encountered so far if not directly related to the central plot, have served to create multi-threaded storylines that all feedback into a larger context in a way that made me feel a connection to the world and the inhabitants of its varied settlements that I’ve not really felt since travelling through the environs of Rome in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. These interconnected side missions which gradually take shape into fully-fledged quest chains add a much-needed sense of continuity to the game and supporting characters are far from just forgettable reward dispensers but rather amicable or antagonistic members of an ever-expanding cast that brings the provinces of this ancient realm to endearing or violent life. Make no mistake Assassin’s Creed Origins represents a monumental achievement in iterative open world game design, one that in its own way is as glorious as the temples and tombs of Egypt itself.

One of the complaints I personally had about previous Assassin’s Creed games is that even though the movement both in and out of combat was never anything less than elegant (unintentionally suicidal wall jumps aside), there was always something about the mechanics of traversal and engagement that felt somewhat sluggish. Ubisoft have made significant improvements with each release. By the time that Unity and Syndicate were launched they had pretty much perfected the formula, but Origins is in a league of its own. Even though the control schemes differ slightly from what series veterans might be accustomed to, they are responsive and intuitive enough that after only a short adjustment period players will be leaping across rooftops like a gazelle with delusions of grandeur and carving their way through entire patrols of soldiers or bandits in a death-dealing dervish-like the terrifying sandstorms that periodically sweep across the Sahara. This game is an absolute joy to play, not just because it’s feature rich and impeccably designed but because you’re not struggling with the controls every step of the way.

There have however been a few bugs to mar the experience, such as silent characters in cutscenes, unexpected frame drops, and collision detection in water being somewhat janky at times. That said I’ve yet to encounter anything that has been overly immersion or game breaking, and certainly nothing as catastrophic as the launch problems that Unity had. Clearly, Ubisoft was keen to not make the same mistake again in the wake of the initially depressed sales of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and as a consequence, they’ve released what might just be the least buggy title the company has produced in the last couple of generations.

With eighteen hours of time spent in game at the time of writing this, I’ve progressed several steps into the main story as well as completing a handful of optional side quests and activities along the way. So far I’ve yet to encounter the same sense of fatigue that had a tendency to set in so quickly in the most recent games. This is largely in part due to the fact that Ubisoft opted to take a step back from their grueling yearly release schedule which has given us a much needed reprieve from the patented Assassin’s Creed style of gameplay. Even such a short break has opened up enough distance between players and the franchise so that although nothing feels 100% fresh, a virtual impossibility for a series that’s already a decade old, the presence of mainstay elements along with a healthy dose of brand new concepts results in a gaming experience that is comfortably familiar even as it defies our expectations. Suffice it to say that I am thoroughly enjoying my time with Assassin’s Creed Origins and I look forward to delving deeper into its many mysteries and sharing with them you here in the upcoming parts of my review in progress.

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Kyle Rogacion

    October 30, 2017 at 2:11 am

    As I’ve already got Fire Emblem Warriors and Super Mario Odyssey on my plate, it was great to read a summary of a game that piqued my interest. The AC franchise has been a frustrating one, as it’s fantastic flavor-wise but in regards to gameplay has fallen stale for the past few years. It’s nice to see the series not only take a departure from the AC formula, but do it well.

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