Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 10/27/2017
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Let’s get one thing straight, Assassin’s Creed needed a reboot for sure. Syndicate was by no means bad, but the only thing really changing were the locales and the gameplay was getting stale. Origins ups the ante with the largest game yet, but…also adds RPG elements? RPG isn’t something I associate with Assassin’s Creed. At least the story is entertaining and the new settings are daring and beautiful all at the same time, but do the RPG elements hurt more than help, and is the series going to find itself stuck in a new rut it can’t get out of?
You play as Bayek of Siwa, a man who had his son murdered by The Order of the Ancients, and he is on a story of vengeance and revenge. Bayek is actually a great character with a good amount of personality and spirit. He’s a likable character and isn’t just hellbent on revenge. He changes over the course of the story becoming even cold and bitter towards the end (not a spoiler), but this is also the story of how the Assassins came to be. The origins of the Creed we have all come to love. This is also long before the Templars stepped in too.
One of the first things you will notice in the game is the size of the world. It’s incredibly massive, and sadly, too massive. Almost two-thirds of the map isn’t explored during the story and is reserved for just going around and finding collectibles and doing side quests. There are dozens upon dozens of side quests and these are needed to grind levels. That’s the first major damper on this game. Yes, it has RPG elements, but you need to grind just to complete the story which is not ideal. The cap here is level 44, and thankfully the first twenty or so levels come fast. By the eighth hour, I was already level twenty, but it slows down a lot after that. You need to be at least level 33 by the end of the game and those last 15 levels are a serious grind as missions are the fastest way to level up and most don’t grant more than 3,000 XP. You would think that higher-level missions would give more XP, but the game chose quantity instead. The higher you get the more you need to complete to move on. I hate this so much and it feels like an absolute chore.
The combat is refreshed and isn’t a total parry fest like previous games were. You have light and heavy attacks as well as a block and parry button. It works well enough, but it’s still just button-mashing in the end. You get an adrenaline bar that can be used for powerful attacks that are unlocked in the skill tree. Ranged weapons are added in the form of bows. There are various types of weapons and bows. Two-handed and one-handed weapons plus various bows with different ammo types. These come in handy when hunting animals and trying to take out guards from a distance. However, your level will impede one-hit assassination kills and how much damage your bow can do.
You do get the hidden blade in this game about a fourth of the way through the story. Assassinating is the same as usual and just as satisfying. Leapfrogging from guard to guard is fun when you are at least two levels below theirs. The game is tightly locked around this two-level plateau and if you are three levels or more below the enemies they are almost impossible to kill. It makes the game more frustrating as you just want to take these guys out, but you need to come back when you level up so you don’t die all the time. The whole RPG system just hampers Assassin’s Creed’s fundamental gameplay that was best when you could just go into any fight and take them out with stealth if you were good enough.
You can loot weapons off of enemies, chests, and other places and even upgrade them at the blacksmith, but I found this useless as I was getting a constant stream of better weapons by just playing. I didn’t even really need to buy anything either. It’s just a wasteful system which means I didn’t really need any money too. I just refilled my arrows when needed and sold stuff to empty out my inventory and maybe bought outfits for Bayek which all look great. You don’t get any armor in this game as your health and damage are all determined based on your level. You can hunt animals for their skins to upgrade your hidden blade and overall armor rating, but that’s about it. I didn’t even bother doing this as hunting is just another chore added to the game that isn’t really needed. One of the few things the series scaled back on was collectibles. There are hidden scrolls, Ptolemy statues to destroy, and of course, viewpoints to sync up with, but most of the collectibles are in the form of taking out guard outposts and looting them. You need to kill the captain as well to make the fort takedown complete. I found this boring and tiresome after I did a few and just skipped these entirely.
There are some entertaining side quests, and most are different, but a majority require you to either rescue someone as you can carry them out of a camp and put them on your horse, or assassinate someone. These got old quickly and even the dialog in between didn’t matter much. Some missions have you “investigating” an area, but again, just filler to cram on more hours to the playtime. The most enjoyable part of the game was climbing up to viewpoints and doing story missions. Naval battles are also back, but only during a few scripted events, and they are fun, sure, but it’s nothing different than previous games. You play as Bayek’s love, Aya, during these missions and they mostly consist of just taking down ships with different life bars. There’s no upgrading, no customization, or anything like that. You get this set ship and controls for about three missions. You can use boats in the main game, but they are just used as transportation and nothing more as there isn’t a whole lot of water in Egypt.
I can’t deny that the story was entertaining, especially towards the end, but the game is just beautiful. Large sweeping vistas of deserts and climbing the Pyramids of Giza is memorable and incredibly fun. However, a lot of the realism that was well-loved in previous games is gone. This isn’t a painstakingly recreated Egypt with buildings that are realistic down to the brick. It’s a hodge-podge of real-life objects thrown into a somewhat realistic-looking Egypt landscape wise. The game re-creates the biomes and environments of Egypt, but the map is large areas smashed together. While it flows well and looks pretty, I don’t particularly care for this. I like the smaller more realistic and historically accurate places. I liked reading about each building I discovered or a real-life person. Yes, there are real historical figures here like Cleopatra, Ptolemy, and Caesar, but they’re fictional recreations and their backstories aren’t told anywhere. If this is sacrificed for larger open worlds I just don’t want it. Assassin’s Creed is getting too big and there are not enough interesting things within to fill it.
In the end, Origins‘ RPG system hampers the game at every turn. You have to stop advancing the story to level up with mostly repetitive side quests which are filler to force you to explore the world. While the main story is really entertaining, I still didn’t care about Layla or the real-world stuff with Abstergo. You cut away maybe a few times to this, but that “side-story” just doesn’t feel like it ever goes anywhere. Just keep me in the historical world and that’s it. We don’t need the Animus, we don’t need Abstergo or any of the science to make an excuse to keep exploring various worlds. We don’t need The Apple of Eden, or any other artifacts. Origins also has a poorly optimized engine with frequent slowdown and AI issues everywhere. I even had plenty of physics glitches. Sure, it looks stunning, but there are problems here. The combat system is fine, but again the skill tree doesn’t even help much here as most of the skills felt pretty useless and I didn’t even need them. These systems were never needed in an Assassin’s Creed game. I don’t mind more side quests, but make them optional like they’re supposed to be. The RPG system is the worst thing to ever happen in the series and sadly it seems like it’s here to stay.