Can Assassin’s Creed Origins Successfully Reinvent the Series?
Assassin’s Creed Origins – Reincarnating Assassin’s Creed for the Future
After taking a break in 2016 for the first time in seven years, Assassin’s Creed is back with Assassin’s Creed Origins. The usual leaks and rumours surrounding the series gave us the knowledge that the game would be set in Egypt with a male protagonist but there was still plenty to learn at this year’s E3. Changes to combat, missions, parkour and core gameplay mechanics suggests Origins might be the biggest shift in the series for many years. The demo shown at E3 was still in its alpha stage but here are my thoughts on the game as someone who has played every other main entry in the series.
New RPG Elements – Quests, Loot and More…
Assassin’s Creed has always been an action-adventure series but that’s not to say it hasn’t flirted with RPG-like mechanics in the past. The last game in the series, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate took this further than most with a levelling system and upgradeable gear. Assassin’s Creed Origins is taking this a big step further with loot sorted by rarity, a quest-based system rather than a linear mission structure and even a Skyrim-like compass over a mini-map. This fundamentally changes how the game plays and according to creative director Ashraf Ismail, the team focused on what was worth keeping from the series and what was there as a ‘legacy feature’.
So far, I like what I’m seeing with these changes and it could be argued they aren’t RPG mechanics at all, rather simply modernising features for a series that has held onto certain aspects of past games for a long time. Being able to tackle missions in whatever order I choose and tackle them as I see fit is a better way to approach an open-world game the size and scope of Assassin’s Creed Origins. This should lead to a better quest system too. Ubisoft has made side missions needless busywork for too long and even if the player is doing traditional activities – assassinate this guy, sabotage this object – there should at least be story content and interesting characters to supplement that. From the various demos and walkthroughs at E3, the writing already looks to have improved. For example, we saw a side quest involving a man who says farms were being burned down and had created a shrine for them, requesting Bayek’s aid. Compare this to Assassin’s Creed Unity, when side quests involved a line of dialogue from a static NPC and the difference is clear to see. Hopefully Ubisoft Montreal gives the players more to invest in story-wise throughout the quests in the game.
The loot based system seems fairly deep and having various categories of weapons to switch between on the fly can only be a good thing and matches the more strategic combat system. Another RPG-like feature is the improved AI behaviour. This is an area Assassin’s Creed has always been lacking in but with a day/night cycle and routines for the various NPC’s on-screen, Assassin’s Creed Origins looks to encourage players to plan their attacks more thoughtfully. Assassination targets will no longer be found standing in one place, they will move around and carry out different tasks. Instead of clambering onto a boat and the NPC diving off recklessly, they will sit as you borrow their boat with protagonist Bayek being somewhat of a respected figure.
Combat – Less Countering, More Dodging
One of the biggest changes that players will notice (and perhaps one of the most controversial) is the changes to the combat system. Players can change to an older style of layout but the default will see players attack with a light attack and heavy attack on the right shoulder button and trigger respectively. Players will also be able to dodge, block with a shield and use their bow in the middle of combat. The new system features a more aggressive AI and a hitbox system. In other words pressing the button to attack won’t hone in on the nearest enemy anymore, you’ll have to watch where you position yourself. At E3 it was clear to see that the system would take some getting used to and resembles something more akin to Dark Souls than the more arcade-y fighting in Syndicate or the slow deliberate combat in Unity. Seeing people from the media and YouTubers try it produced varying results and suggests it will take more than a 30 minute demo to master. However, watching a developer play through the demo showed the combat can be really fluid and challenging to play.
This isn’t the first time Ubisoft has changed the Assassin’s Creed combat to suit the main development studio’s wishes but this is certainly the most dramatic change we’ve seen. We won’t ultimately know how it fares until we get our hands on the full game but I respect the developer’s attempt to shake things up in this regard. If it works it could make combat a lot more engaging and strategic, if not then don’t be surprised if Ubisoft drastically alters it in the next game.
Bayek, Senu and Egyptian Life
One thing that can’t be denied Ubisoft is it’s ability to create immersive, historically representative worlds for players to explore. It might be the only feature of the games that has remained consistently good throughout the series. Egypt is no exception and reportedly looks excellent on the new Xbox One X. Any doubt I had about the vast empty spaces Egypt might result in as a location were swept away when seeing the game in action. Lush vegetation, canyons, lakes and rivers as well as the promise of larger cities should please fans of the open worlds Ubisoft is capable of creating. There are neat technological advancements too such as being able to dive underwater seamlessly and Bayek being able to climb rocks and cliffs without obvious handholds.
The main character of Bayek remains somewhat of a mystery to us at the moment. We know he’s a Medjay, an old organisation of essentially sheriffs that have been made fairly irrelevant thanks to a new dynasty in Egypt. Players will see Bayek’s journey as he presumably sets up the Assassin Brotherhood and learns to adapt to this new world he finds himself in. From the brief look at dialogue, Bayek seems like a fairly stoic character in a similar vein to Connor from Assassin’s Creed 3. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as this character has more depth to him. Ezio, most people’s favourite assassin, was light-hearted and jokey at times but his story was serious and tragic. Ubisoft can hopefully find that balance again and give fans an intriguing character. To be fair, the series has seen some progress with the likes of Jacob and Evie Frye who were well written characters despite their banter.
Finally, we come to Senu, the original eagle vision that follows Bayek around tagging enemies and locating objectives. This is a clever addition to the series as it allows players to plan ahead much more easily. Although now rather than being able to magically see through walls, we can magically see what an eagle can see? Being able to improve Senu’s abilities by performing leaps of faith off towers is also a neat way to keep an iconic feature of the series relevant.
The First Civilization and the Modern Day Setting
One thing Ubisoft is keeping absolutely silent about is the modern-day setting and who is accessing Bayek’s memories. The modern-day story has been woefully inadequate in recent games with Syndicate relegating it to a handful of cut scenes. This is a mistake in my opinion, the mystery and present day conflict between Assassins and Templars is as much a part of the series as the hooded character or the hidden blade. Some gamers have said they don’t like that part of the series but it is the only part of Assassin’s Creed that gives it a sense of progression, that this is going somewhere ultimately. I don’t believe that in the past Ubisoft even knows where it’s headed but there’s been enough teasing and wandering round offices reading files. Bringing the modern-day setting back in a big way (hopefully via a new protagonist) would clearly mark this as a new era for Assassin’s Creed.
There has been lots of small details about Juno and The First Civilization in past games but the character presumably wanted to be reborn for a particular reason and it’s time we got some answers. The development team have stated they aren’t talking about the modern-day ‘right now’ so hopefully there will be a pleasant surprise down the line.
Will Origins be the Answer?
It’s too early to call if Assassin’s Creed Origins can be the fresh start the series needs and if it can bring back lapsed fans and casual players of the series. I don’t expect Assassin’s Creed Origins to reinvent the wheel, I anticipate some elements of the game won’t be enjoyed by all and new issues may arise from these new systems. Nevertheless, there’s been enough shown at E3 to offer encouragement to fans and by taking a year off and making significant changes to the formula, Ubisoft has shown its commitment to improving the franchise.
What do you make of Assassin’s Creed Origins so far? What do you hope the game will improve on?
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Assassin’s Creed has been one of Ubisoft’s frustratingly inconsistent series which I wrote about here.