The Assassin’s Creed franchise immediately rose to popularity being one of the few games with streamlined parkour mechanics paired with the combination of stealth & action in open-ended historical locations. Ubisoft realized its success and since then began an output of spin-offs while releasing their major installments annually. Due to such, both media and fans alike criticized the lack of polish and questioned where the series was headed after recent entries. After being met with underwhelming sales for their 2015 game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot stated in 2016 that their next big Assassin’s Creed game will be skipping a year (a first since 2010) giving it more development time to ensure it meets the expected quality. It is now 2017 and just less than one month away from the major release of Assassin’s Creed Origins – which began development immediately following Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag in 2013 – it looks to be taking the franchise in a promising bold new direction with everything they’ve learned. The right time pays off.
A Mysterious Time Period Means Getting To Know Your Roots
The farther back in history we move towards, the more it seems like we’ve traveled to another world. I certainly feel that way. The first game in the series, simply titled Assassin’s Creed, launched in 2007. Set during the Third Crusade, the religious undertones and real world locations known in the holy lands during a time period long before our own certainly lent ‘credence’ to the fact that we felt the necessity to still lurk in the shadows even just coming out of the Dark Ages. Feuds between empires, clash of religious differences and serving a master made the assassin Altaïr felt like he had a one and only duty; be the best assassin you were meant to become. The atmosphere was exceptionally crafted with a dark vibe, cities filled with struggling civilians and 10 major templars who’s personalities all felt unique even though they were working to achieve the same goal.
It was its sequel Assassin’s Creed II, which was set during the Renaissance, that Ubisoft improved upon gameplay mechanics making features more streamlined. Since it was set in Italy during the Renaissance, cities were brighter, people were happier, music lifted the spirits & art captured the moment. You played as a young man named Ezio who loved chasing ladies and enjoyed the common folk. It was so well-received that it produced 2 more games (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood & Assassin’s Creed: Revelations) in Ezio’s storyline which also crosses over with Altaïr’s storyline in Ezio’s trilogy as a whole. The atmosphere struck the perfect balance of being dark enough without looking drab. Since then, Ubisoft has climbed up the ladder in history where the series, while remaining faithful and still very good, was slowly losing its essence. The closer we get to our own timeline (though the series is set during modern day parallel with historical events) the more technologically advanced things become and we are more attached because of it. That’s where we get too comfortable and the element of surprise happens less often. In the real world, better technology produces easier and common results. When you get to time periods with guns, you start to feel less like an assassin and more like a hitman. Assassin’s Creed Origins touches a point in history that is easily one of the biggest mysteries to historians, architects, scientists and archaeologists today. Unique culture, beliefs and a way of life that is too admirable to pass up knowing more about. It’s not often game developers craft an entire project around a very old time period, especially Ptolemaic Egypt, because there’s a certain standard of making sure you are faithful to history’s details. It’s due to going far back into a period of such mystery that the teams at Ubisoft can play around with many ideas that makes it very exciting.
Fully Realized World Alive With NPC’s Having Their Own Day/Night Schedule
When I think about people of ancient Egypt, I think of them as busy. In Assassin’s Creed Origins, busy they are. You will see people go about their lives working, crafting, eating, sleeping and yes, even going to the bathroom. The protagonist Bayek has the option to meditate at any given time which gives the player freedom to change the time of day as you may want to accomplish a task or talk to someone at a certain time. Ubisoft has gone on to mention that they’ve created hundreds of side-quests for the player to come across with the NPC’s of the world having their own unique story to tell ranging in different emotions from funny to sadness. Side-quests have been described as some taking 15 minutes to half an hour to complete. Though we will still see many NPC’s roaming the world who we can’t engage with and only serve as population, it’s nice to see Ubisoft go a step further with their entire “person-of-interest” offering a simple objective with little context to the side-quests we’ve seen in the past. One example of such quest is called “What’s Yours Is Mine”.
You are met with a Greek cartographer who had notes written down which then became stolen. As you go on the search for clues, you keep bumping into children who’ve been acting like they have something to hide. Soon you begin to learn that the children steal treasure to give to bandits who currently reside in a hideout. Their reasoning for helping the bandits is because they’ve locked up someone named “Anta” and threaten to kill her if the children don’t do as they’re told. The children refer to Anta as their “protector” and they’ll do anything to get her back. Unfortunately for the Greek geographer, his notes now belong to the bandits. Your mission here is to clear out the bandits so the children don’t get involved in harm’s way while rescuing Anta and retrieving the notes at the same time. Later you come to a closed cell and inside is Anta, who you find out is a dog. As you near the end of this particular quest the children have their dog back and the geographer gets his notes, but definitely not before you fight the leader/boss who you can choose to ignore at the moment and come back to later if you wish, though where you find him might be elsewhere as he too has his own schedule. Once defeated, the children and geographer then decide to group together because the children know the way to a city the geographer is trying to get to; now the children are in safer hands. The dog being the protector of the children makes for a cute story. Ubisoft is promising more scenarios involving different stories that are unique which definitely gives depth to the inhabitants of this world.
Revamped Combat & RPG Elements Encourages Play Styles And Deepens Character Builds
Gone are the predetermined animations of blocking & countering during fights where damage inflicted remains the same. Origins is introducing hitboxes to the series. This means whether on the offensive or defensive, where you are positioned towards your opponent matters. A blow to your head from an enemy spear – and vice-versa – gives way more damage than taking a blow to the body. The variety of weapons and defensive gear such as shields will have you be mindful during battle. Rapidly swinging your sword against an enemy with his shield up won’t necessarily work. The strategy here is to attack him once he’s open (while he’s attacking) or find a way to trip him to the ground and give him a stab while he’s vulnerable. Maybe your scepter can inflict heavy damage, but it just doesn’t have the reach against an enemy with a longer weapon. You can use a shield to block his attacks or pull some fancy moves if you can react fast enough. While we have yet to see more, you can also carry tools around such as torches which serve multiple purposes. Torches not only provide light in dark areas, but they can be thrown to be used as a distraction. They also function as a melee weapon and burn objects. A neat feature is dropping the torch on the ground, pulling out your bow and light your arrow on fire.
No matter how you choose to play, this all ties in with weapons & armor now having stats. The RPG mechanics really start to shine here. Bayek advances his skills via new leveling system. With each level gained you earn an Ability Point. Additionally, they can be obtained through exploration. Ability Points are used to earn you new abilities and serves as this game’s perk system commonly found in RPG’s. You can choose to play a hybrid character or fully max your abilities for a specific archetype. Warrior abilities improve your skills with weapons. Hunter abilities improve your skill with ranged weapons such as bows. Seer abilities improve your stealth skills. You have 8 category of weapons to choose from and many different types of weapons within those categories all having different stats and attributes. You may have a spear with a poisoned tip or come across a sword with bleed damage. You also have two slots for bows with different types of arrows which behave differently. You may have one arrow type meant for standard sniping and another arrow type that shoots multiple arrows that while less accurate, creates a spread shot for multiple enemies. An example of an ability you can gain is slowing down time after getting a headshot using your bow and chain attacks as long as your bow is still out. Sandstorms are also common to see when in the desert and can be used to your stealth advantage as it has an affect on detection. Scenarios are even designed to compliment all 3 play styles at once. Building your character to play how you want seems very promising, especially for combat, and adds layers much needed for the series.
Compass, yes. There is no mini-map.
One common element of open-world games is the feature of a mini-map displayed on screen. In large sprawling worlds players may want to get a general sense of nearby terrain. Ubisoft has actively decided to remove the feature completely and it’s a choice that I admire. There are still various options for the HUD such as showing elements dynamically or remove them altogether, but a choice for the mini-map is not one of them. An example of why I appreciate this decisions is Nintendo’s major release The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier this year. It was a large open world filled with memorable landmarks that were not only beautiful in design but served as waypoints. These landmarks acted like an organic compass in the world showing you which direction you were headed. One HUD option called “Pro” enabled the removal of an on-screen mini-map which I felt the game became more immersive as I was paying attention to actual nature instead of a GPS navigation system. Though the feature was optional, I felt like many people would overlook trying it since it wasn’t enabled by default, therefore players eyes would drift to an automatic panning map instead of looking at clues formed in the world. The term “Pro” may also sound as if it were meant for players with a particular skill, but the feature was meant for players of any skill. Just like Breath of the Wild’s romantically crafted world, Assassin’s Creed Origins has been created with the same care. This encourages the feeling of the player and the world to feel more connected. Naturally.
For anyone still needing that overhead view of the world, you need not worry. There is the entire map displayed when you pause into menus. Furthermore, an even cooler feature is addition of Bayek’s sidekick Senu, an eagle who you control flying overhead giving Bayek the series’ hallmark of Eagle Vision scanning areas and marking enemies, though this feature is only available outdoors. Hopefully this allows players to get a closer view of their destination by viewing colorful geometry of the world instead relying on a flashing icon.
Fauna And Their Interactivity
Africa is one home to many exotic animals. In an era where roads are mainly a path pressed onto nature and borders are less defined, inner cities and the wildlife are likely to intersect. Different from mounts (such as camels & horses who you can call by whistling anywhere outside when you need a faster way of traveling. Your trusty mount will be run to you), Assassin’s Creed Origins has plenty of animals to see and I’m curious to see how many there are and just how they behave towards not only Bayek but other characters in the world as well. They can be dangerous and will attack you. Seeing a crocodile near someone’s home should be expected. Since animals behave differently from humans this should change up the feel from constantly fighting humans bearing weapons. These animals are large and can be fierce. What’s really cool is if you gain the proper ability, you may even be able to tame one of these animals to fight alongside you for a while.
Yeah, Origins is really encouraging different play styles here. It will be interesting to see just how tamed animals will remain friendly and how much control we have. Will our current animal companions cease to exist on our next play session? Will we be able to give commands to tamed animals? Are they mountable? Is Ubisoft going overboard or will they strike the perfect balance? I’m eager to see more of the world and its wildlife. The world should feel more alive in areas where humans are less likely to be at.
More Money, More Puzzles.
Tombs and secret chambers go together like fine wine and more fine wine. Just stepping foot into a sheltered, sacred environment without knowing the dangers or possible supernatural occurrences is already intoxicating by itself. What adds to that exploration is the hunt for treasure. Ideally, no person or a group would go out of their way to place valuable items in a secluded area just to have it easily stolen. This is where puzzle elements come in. Solving a riddle in the environment is similar to knowing the passcode when trying to join a club. There is no entry unless you know what’s required. There is a sense of satisfaction when solving a puzzle and is all the more reason to go after that treasure. Why are they hiding it? You won’t stop me from looting now. Ubisoft has mentioned there will be plenty of secrets in tombs and caves for those who seek extra rewards. There’s also environmental puzzles out in the open where you have to collect scroll-like items called Papyrus which are helpful in guiding you to specific rewards that might seem worth going after.
I have no doubt that Ubisoft Montreal thought the setting for their game is the perfect opportunity to improve the puzzle aspects of raiding tombs. I hope it’s a noticeable improvement with bending the mind.
The New Mode ‘Discovery Tour’ Changes How We Play. We Learn.
You can read a little more about Discovery Tour right here. I will share my exact thoughts from that article just below.
“While free-roaming an open and expansive ancient Egypt as beautiful as the one Ubisoft has created, there’s still danger lurking in the water, bushes and alleyways. At times, one might want to take the assassin life at a more leisurely pace and take in the world with a more peaceful approach not worrying about any threats. Ubisoft has revealed a new mode for Assassin’s Creed Origins called “Discovery Tour” where it has a more educational purpose allowing you to interact with the world you already know as if it were a museum and learn how ancient Egyptians brilliantly removed organs for mummification for example. Ubisoft spent years consulting historians validating facts with even their own research to reproduce ancient Egypt that highlights real events recorded throughout our own history. I think this will be a fantastic edition as not only is it one the series has never seen before, but expands upon the “reliving history” the Assassin’s Creed series has been creating from the beginning. Ubisoft has been very good at portraying culture and now players can experience ancient Egypt in a different light.”
While Discovery Tour isn’t launching day & date with Assassin’s Creed Origins, it is planned a free update for early 2018, which isn’t far off.
All-in-all, I’ve very hopeful for the future of Assassin’s Creed. Origins has taken my hype to a higher level because it not only gives us the staples we love from the series but also expands on it in ways accessible to players who lean towards games with character building and quest structures. Players will travel to locations such as the rich city of Memphis and the mesmerizing Giza Pyramids. Assassin’s Creed Origins will also feature the largest world map the series has seen yet. October 27 is a release date PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC owners should look out for.