Assassin's Creed Origins

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Assassin's Creed: Origins'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 26, 2017 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

The latest installment in the open-world, action-adventure series, Assassin's Creed Origins is set in ancient Egypt.

Buy Assassin's Creed: Origins

Assassin's Creed was perhaps the franchise best known for yearly releases. While each game attempted something new and exciting, it was easy to get burned out on yet another similar Assassin's Creed title. Even the last game, Syndicate, suffered more from the omnipresent Assassin's Creed formula rather than any flaws of its own. Ubisoft seemed to realize this and gave the franchise a break. Assassin's Creed: Origins is still a familiar game, but there are enough changes to engage those who were tired of the franchise.

As expected from the title, Origins is about the origin of the Assassin's brotherhood. We return to ancient Egypt to learn about Bayek, who's a Medjay, a warrior of his people. His family is caught up in a tragic grab for power, but Bayek survives and hunts down the responsible party. Along the way, he discovers some great secrets of the world and plants the seeds for what would eventually blossom into the Assassins. As with every Assassin's Creed title, Bayek's story has repercussions that will carry far into the future.

Bayek is an engaging protagonist who manages to be sympathetic without falling into the puckish rogue archetype, but  his supporting cast is a lot less engaging. Part of that stems from awkward writing, and some of it is due to them not being very interesting. It's an enjoyable story, and the use of ancient historical figures works well, but the tale isn't as fun as Black Flag and Syndicate because players don't connect with the characters as much as the more recognized names from those titles.

Since Origins is about the beginning of the Assassin brotherhood, and that means the fanciful gadgets and increasing tech level of the franchise are eschewed in favor of old-school weaponry. That doesn't mean you're helpless, and there are still old-fashioned variants of tools like smoke bombs, but by and large, Origins attempts to tell the story of someone who existed before "assassin" became shorthand for Batman.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Assassin's Creed formula is in the combat system. The previous games largely attempted to use combat that's similar to the Arkham titles: fast-paced combat designed around quickly battling large groups of foes. Origins scales things back. Bayek isn't a powerful combat master like later Assassins, so the combat system has been revamped to be slower and more methodical. You have a shield and a sword, and you're less likely to obliterate your foes, so the combat feels like something between recent Assassin's Creed titles and Dark Souls.

Origins is a mixed success. It does a much better job of making combat feel dangerous than other games in the Assassin's Creed series. Not being able to easily buzzsaw through an entire swarm of enemies makes it feel like Bayek is genuinely struggling. He uses stealth out of necessity, not because he has "assassin" in his job description. It's pretty easy to get overwhelmed early on. This title encourages you to strategize in a way that other Assassin's Creed games have been unable to do. As you power up, the combat feels less threatening, and you're more capable of defeating some foes.

After enough time with Origins, the problem is that it just isn't very fun. The enemies aren't interesting enough to make combat feel exciting, and I would avoid fights because I just didn't want to fight, not due to any perceived difficulty or challenge. I'm glad to see a genuine attempt to make assassination a part of Origins, but I missed the fast and flowing combat of Syndicate in the big fights. There's a ton of potential here, and it's easy to see how a follow-up to Origins can refine the rough edges to craft something that's more exciting to play.

The stealth gameplay is closer to the traditional Assassin's Creed gameplay. Most of the basic tools and options are still present, and a few have been slightly adjusted in the interest of balance. You still assassinate, parkour, smoke bomb, and snipe from a distance. The bow will likely be the stealth weapon of choice for most players, as it allows people to snipe foes from a distance. There are also high-powered weapons and a multi-arrow bow. Eagle Vision is mostly replaced by Bayek's trusty eagle companion. Pressing a button lets you swap to Senu, who can be guided around to mark enemies, scout terrain, and harass foes.

I'm torn on the stealth changes. I like Senu as a concept, and he's fun to guide and use, but he feels slower and a lot less convenient than the usual Eagle Vision and doesn't add anything new to the gameplay feature. Otherwise, not much has changed, and the other stealth mechanics feel familiar.

The same applies to the basic gameplay, which also doesn't see a lot of changes. You're given a huge open world to explore, and there are plenty of side missions and story quests. The parkour system that so defined the franchise is present and still exhibits the trademark foibles. It's easy to move around, but there are a few times when it gave me trouble and sent Bayek fumbling to an ignoble death. If the game has one crippling problem, it's the loot system. Variations of this issue have been in Assassin's Creed for a while, and Origins isn't any better about it. Loot and the Assassin's Creed gameplay don't work well together, and it's not fun to have your killing ability tied so heavily to semi-random drops. Syndicate had levels but allowed players to trivially kill enemies at higher levels with stealth and cleverness (or throwing knives), but Origins feels more restrictive. It never feels good to headshot an enemy with an arrow only to have them survive because their level is higher than your weapon.

All changes aside, Origins is still Assassin's Creed, so this title doesn't signify a dramatic change or reboot for the franchise. The new features can't disguise that it all feels very familiar. You're still going to climb high towers to synchronize, perform the same assassinations and tricks, and scour the map for collectibles and icons. If you're burned out of the franchise, Origins isn't going to revitalize you. Origins takes some experimental steps with the franchise, but it doesn't quite go far enough to feel like a new experience. This is certainly a plus for fans but may be a negative for those who've grown tired of the series.

Visually, Origins is very impressive. Egypt is a wonderfully rendered place, and an absurd amount of detail can be found. The characters and animations are top-notch, and it's a great-looking game that runs well. I'm less positive about the voice acting, which is all over the place. Bayek's voice actor does a fantastic job with the character, but the rest of the cast is less reliable. Several of the actors, especially for children, sound so awkward that it drags down some critical scenes. The good actors manage to salvage the scenes and make it worthwhile.

Assassin's Creed: Origins manages to be both experimental and safe. It tries a lot of new things, but it never ventures too far from the Assassin's Creed formula. There's a lot of potential in Origins, and it'll be exciting to see how the new features evolve in future games. Fans of Assassin's Creed should find a lot to like, and it may be time to revisit the battle between the Assassins and the Templars.

Score: 8.0/10

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