The Assassin’s Creed saga will always have a special place in my heart. The first few games supplied many fond memories and made Ezio Auditore da Firenze a permanent, all-time favorite video game character. So when Black Flag, as great as it was, moved away from the Assassin storyline and Unity underwhelmed in mediocrity, I was completely bummed. It looked like one of my favorite franchises was dying and so I skipped the Syndicate entry altogether. There was hope, however. I was cautiously optimistic when rumors first started flying around about Assassin’s Creed Origins taking place in Egypt. It was a setting long pleaded for in the Animus and Ubisoft was taking an extra year to refine the experience. This was the chance for Assassin’s Creed’s redemption.
Assassin’s Creed Origins once again follows the exploits of two different characters. Inside the Animus is Bayek, a medjay who protected a pharaoh’s interests and by extension the very people around him. Plus, he was a family man and a respected citizen of Siwa. In typical Assassin’s Creed fashion shit hits the fan hard. Real hard. The pain and loss drives our hero to seek vengeance, and not the “killing you won’t bring my family back” vengeance. (Looking at you, Ezio.) Without a hint of remorse or compassion, Bayek sets out to hunt those who have wronged him. His flesh even serves as a hit list. Naturally, then, he discovers that not all is at it seems and there’s more to his troubled trauma. There are deeper and secretive forces at work that need stopping. It all culminates into a story where I ended up actually caring for the main characters again, something I haven’t experienced since Assassin’s Creed 3.
Modern day focuses on Layla, an eager Abstergo employee who brought a portable Animus to Egypt and used Bayek’s mummified DNA to access his memories. She’s hoping she can discover something noteworthy or worthwhile in order to impress the higher-ups at the Templar-run organisation. Her setup is kind of like a smaller version of Villa Auditore in Brotherhood. There’s not that much to do when you’re not stabbing people inside the Animus, but there are secrets to discover nonetheless. She also has a nifty laptop that is continually updated and provides interesting tidbits of lore based on what happened in the series to date; a continuation of the e-mails and notes from Black Flag.
When not kicking it in a cave or murdering highly important people in the past, Bayek finds time to complete his duties as medjay. The majority of side missions consist of helping the general populace with their problems. These side ventures range from fetch quests to rescue missions and everything in between. You name a problem and the people of Egypt have it. I mention this because you’ll have to complete quite a number of these missions in order to level up and grow strong enough to finish the story, but you’ll also need to hit minimum levels in order to fight in certain areas of the game world. With that in mind, the optional missions aren’t so optional – they’re kind of necessary.
Luckily, Ubisoft learned its lesson from previous entries and didn’t just stuff the in-game world with useless collectibles in order to pad the play time. The sheer amount of missions were diverse enough to prevent the title from getting stale, and fun enough to actually get a person excited for them. Outside of those activities there are bases/forts to raid, animals to kill (for crafting upgrades), gladiators to battle, synchronization points to synchronize, hidden areas to explore, locations to discover, and chariot racing to be had. As I mentioned (and will get into) Ubisoft did a masterful job actually creating various stories and landscapes to prevent repetitiveness. You’ll enjoy traversing the world as much as you enjoy getting sweet, sweet revenge on those who crossed our main hero.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s even glanced at the series: third person camera, killing, climbing, running, unlocking abilities in a skill tree with XP, etc. Bayek can wield a multitude of weapons to dispatch foes in an ever-increasingly brutal fashion. Origins’ executions are some of the most epic and violent you’re ever going to see. You can equip multiple items at a time although you’re limited to two bows and melee weapons respectively. The rest of your slots are filled by things like sleep darts, torches, smoke bombs… you get the picture. Most importantly, things are still fast, fluid, and fun yet a bit more technical this time around. You can’t just go in hacking-and-slashing as enemies don’t recoil as much anymore. Many players will be dodging a lot more and methodically thinking about their kill. In fact, I found myself focusing on sneaking and hidden blade kills more than I ever had in previous games.
If you read that last sentence and are worrying if Assassin’s Creed has turned into Thief, fret not. I mean you could probably go into every confrontation “guns blazing,” but it may take you a few tries if you don’t have your overpower/heavy attack gauge filled. What I’m trying to say is that nearly every situation or engagement you find yourself in has more than one route to success.
The devs really did a great job on level design, even down to individual forts, and offered a myriad of ways to have fun. I always found a way to get things done, either by approaching something head-on and hoping for the best, or sneaking like I was Sam Fisher’s ancient ancestor. A majority of locations were wonderfully tiered or offered a few pathways only the player could utilize. The only time these factors were ruined was with the occasional button press to attack not being performed or a jump from one spot to another failing to register, thus sending Bayek in the wrong direction. You know, classic Assassin’s Creed problems.
Another thing Assassin’s Creed Origins should be praised for is the game’s presentation and atmosphere. I was slightly worried having a desert area as a setting would bring about only drab and dull colors. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried (especially in scenes where you are talking with your kill). Some regions are incredibly diverse and lush with nature of all different colors that are brought to life with the game’s excellent use of lighting. At times its beauty matched the likes of The Witcher 3, Uncharted 4, and Horizon Zero Dawn. (Unlike Chris Harding who is not beautiful due to his opinion on Aloy’s adventure.) In fact, this title joined the latter in being the only other game I actually cared to use photo mode on. Fans of photo mode will have their work cut out with Origins; the game world is colossal and you could easily spend hours taking fancy pictures, assuming that’s your jam. I guess the simple way to put it would be to say that the graphics are outstanding and easily the series’ best.
I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t give a nod to the excellent voice acting in Origins, and I’d be doing an even bigger disservice to not mention the music. The soundtrack is simply wonderful with its use of percussion and strings. It’s all new, yet it still has that familiarity.
Now it may seem that I can’t praise this Assassin’s Creed enough, but I’m just giving credit where credit is due. Ubisoft really stepped up to the plate in the story and diversity of activities department, something the last few entries had severe trouble with. Having said that, understand there are very real problems here and most of them consist of what I like to call “boobysoft” problems. Even with an extra year of development there are still a handful of ongoing technical issues. I already alluded to the climbing spasms Bayek can have, but frame rates drop here and there and entire ground assets can refuse to load for a few seconds leaving the ground a silvery/milky substance. Weird. Hell, more than once the entire game froze and not in a system crash way. More like a waiting for things to load so you can progress as you’re intended kind of way. To be fair these problems thinned out as I neared the end, but they still happened and it’s worth noting.
It’s a shame when you get sucked out of the game by technical problems, even more so when that world is so detailed. For example, you can earn or buy outfits for Bayek, some of which include a helmet that goes over his head or a bandanna across his mouth. If he speaks with these on the voice delivery will be echoey or muffled. There’s also an ability where you use a bird, Senu, to scout locations and it’s easily the best designed, controllable creature I’ve ever utilized. Most surprisingly is the fact that nearly everything is scalable without the use of cracks, pivots, ledges, you name it. It’s these small details that give the game a bit more life.
Unfortunately, there’s also a good amount of detail to microtransactions. The game even interrupts your play in the beginning and tells you to buy them to speed up your progress. It doesn’t help that purchases are colored coded into rarities and the majority of gear items available for purchase are the highest grade. Ultimately, this title will last well over forty hours in content (without spending on Helix Credits) and be meaningfully diverse in the aforementioned activities. Just don’t you dare buy any microtransactions in your long stay here.
Assassin's Creed Origins Review PS4
Is Assassin’s Creed Origins a return to form? Yes. Is it the best Assassin’s Creed ever? Probably not. While Bayek is a delight to play as he's nothing like Altair or Ezio. His revenge quest isn’t too original either, but it’s definitely an interesting one. Gameplay is as enjoyable as always and offers a wonderful array of going about things. The real show stealer in my opinion are the environments you’ll find yourself running around in. Ubisoft needed to recapture the magic that made the series great in the first place, and it seems it has done so. It's just all the quintessential problems within said magic tag along for the ride. Overall though, the entirety of Egypt is pretty darn huge and most of those issues can be forgiven. Welcome back, Assassin's Creed fans.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a physical version of the game bought at retail at the expense of the reviewer. It was reviewed with the latest patch available and was played on a base PS4.
Note: The official review embargo is October 26th. We did not get our copy of the game from Ubisoft so we’re under no obligation to adhere to the embargo or any other conditions placed upon those who agreed to Ubisoft’s terms. This does not affect the content of the review or the final score awarded.