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December 2023

Assassin's Creed Mirage

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Assassin's Creed Mirage'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 4, 2023 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

Assassin's Creed Mirage goes back to the narrative-driven roots of the series, set 20 years before Assassin's Creed Valhalla featuring a young Basim.

Buy Assassin's Creed Mirage

You never quite know what you're going to get with Assassin's Creed. In one game, you're a Native American fighting in the American Revolution; in the next offering, you're a pirate; and in the one after that, you're solving murders in Victorian London. You can be anything from a demigod to a doofus in any environment on the planet. Perhaps that is why Assassin's Creed Mirage feels so strange. It feels like an attempt to return to the franchise's basics, and in doing so, it strips away most of its personality.

Assassin's Creed Mirage is a prequel to Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and it follows the story of Basim Ibn Ishaq, who players may remember for their significant role in Valhalla as both ally and rival. Basim has a deep and personal connection to the series' metaplot, but he began as a normal, everyday assassin. Living in ninth century Baghdad, Basim was a thief and gofer until a tragedy forced him into the Assassin's Guild (known as The Hidden Ones). After years of training, he's returned to Baghdad to hunt down and kill the agents of The Order, the Hidden Ones' eternal rivals. He's plagued by mysterious dreams of a terrifying wraithlike figure that seems to be something more than dreams. His first big mission is destined to have significant consequences for the world.

The biggest flaw with Assassin's Creed Mirage is that the cast is dull. Most of the characters are boring and unmemorable. Basim suffers heavily from being boring for a character who's defined as a self-confident thief-turned-assassin, even discounting his future. The game takes way too long to get to the interesting part, spending most of its time on one of the most generic and straightforward Assassin's Creed stories to date. It's a shame because Basim is an interesting concept, but Mirage feels more like a DLC add-on to explain him rather than his own story.

The basic structure of the game is pretty similar to the older Assassin's Creed titles. You're given a series of missions to complete that build up to big "assassination" sequences. Once you unlock this sequence, you're tasked with getting into the location and finding the person to assassinate. Sometimes this can be as simple as walking up to them. Other times, you need to complete smaller objectives to draw them out of their hiding places. It's a fine basic concept that is held back by the general gameplay.

Stealth is … well, it's the same stealth that the franchise has had for over a decade. Stealth is largely focused on quick assassinations from cover or from high above. If you've played any of the previous Assassin's Creed games, Mirage will feel familiar because it has the bare-bones, minimal version of the franchise's stealth. Almost none of the fancy gimmicks or twists introduced since Assassin's Creed 1 have been carried over, aside from some of the reliable stuff, like double assassinations. It's all about getting behind or above a guy and hitting a button to watch them go down.

The stealth in Mirage feels like a huge step backward. In an attempt to return to the roots of the franchise, it removed everything potentially interesting and left nothing in its place. It does feel a lot like going back to Assassin's Creed 1, but that's not exactly praise since we're discussing a 15-year-old game that saw massive improvements in its successors. When I try to think of something interesting about Mirage's stealth, I come up blank. It's barely more complex than Resident Evil 4 Remake's stealth mechanics, and those were an optional side note. Even the enemy AI feels like a step back, frequently running into walls or getting confused.

As in previous Assassin's Creed games, you get a selection of tools. While you get a small handful for free, you need to purchase the ability to use the rest through the game's skill trees. These are tools like blowguns, smoke bombs, throwing knives and traps. You can carry a limited number at any one time and can usually find resupplies from enemies or chests, so there's no harm in using them freely.

Each tool has three "tiers" of upgrades that you can assign, with each tier having at least two (and usually three) options. For example, you can customize throwing knives to do powerful headshot damage and dissolve enemy corpses on death, or to ignore enemy armor and stagger foes. Blowguns, on the other hand, can put enemies (or NPCs) to sleep or be modified to make their target go berserk and attack those around them. You can freely swap between the various builds at a designated Assassin's Guild location, so it's worth considering before you go.

New to the game is a "super" assassination. By performing stealth kills, you can slowly build up a focus meter that can be used to instantly assassinate up to five nearby enemies. It's somewhat similar to the Chain Assassination feature (which is still present in the game) but ramped up significantly, providing a free way to clear a difficult room without trouble. There have been similar mechanics in other games in the series, so you have a rough idea of what to expect.

The game also introduces a new token system, where completing side-quests or pickpocketing random NPCs earns Favor tokens that you can exchange for various boons. For example, merchant tokens can be spent to provide a discount at shops or to mingle with crowds of merchants. Combat tokens can be used to hire mercenaries to fight alongside you. You can even spend tokens to get musicians to play music to distract enemies, and certain missions have special actions that you can use tokens for, such as bribing guards.

The core problem with the token system is that it isn't new. Hiring mercenaries or hiding among merchants or paying bards to cause distractions has been in Assassin's Creed from the start. Rather than adding a new dimension to the gameplay, it adds another currency to be spent. I like the idea of a favor system, but it needed elements that feel more distinct instead of serving as a gateway to previously available actions.

The combat system in Mirage has also been significantly simplified from recent games. You have only a single attack button, and holding it down performs a stronger charged attack. You can also dodge and parry, but you have a stamina bar so you can't chain together an infinite number of dodges. It's a lot closer to the original game than anything that came after it, with minimal combat choices and a heavy focus on parry-kill-parry-kill. At least the addition of unblockable attacks means that you sometimes need to dodge instead of just mashing the parry button.

Combat also runs into one of the most common concerns with an Assassin's Creed game, which is that going loud is almost always faster, easier and more effective than being stealthy. Recent games have tried to resolve that problem by making fighting more complex and involved or adding more interesting options for stealth. Mirage, on the other hand, claims that it's too dangerous to fight and proceeds to make combat mostly trivial. One of the "big threats" is supposed to be a powerful enemy that you need to avoid. The first time one showed up, I parried and killed it before realizing what it was, and I only knew what I had done after the achievement popped.

This also hurts the stealth aspect of the game because it makes the lackluster tricks feel almost worthless. Early on, I tried sticking close to the shadows, trusting in the idea that if I got caught, it would be a mad scramble. Then I got caught, easily dispatched the foes I was facing, and realized that any guard who's not right next to me wasn't even bothered. Despite my best attempts to play the game in the way it was intended, the toolbox wasn't fun enough.

It doesn't help that there isn't much in the game. Again, as an attempt to return to its roots, Mirage is just about assassination. For the fans who've grown to love the series for having a ton of different things to do, Mirage is going to feel absurdly empty. There are some collectibles and side-quests, and that's about it. It doesn't need to be quite as involved as Valhalla and its multiple worlds and infinite minigames, but the lack of other things to do makes Baghdad feel shallow and empty.

What is in the game feels perfunctory. In previous games, it was possible to find super-powerful weapons and equipment by completing lengthy side-quest chains involving difficult fights against foes. Mirage provides what would be an "endgame" set of gear almost at the start of the game — after you complete the task of collecting 10 stones from (not difficult) enemies around the map. It's possible to upgrade your gear to the max level the moment you can access a shopkeeper. Even then, gear consists of almost identical stat sticks with a single passive trait that isn't particularly useful. Once you find a set that works for you, there's no reason to ever change it.

Mirage runs into the problem of having no real personality or identity. The franchise has made its name by taking the basic concepts and using them as a framework to create everything from pirates to Vikings. By trimming down Assassin's Creed to its basics, you create something that feels almost painfully simple. It neither has the unique concepts of recent games nor the depth and complexity of other modern assassination-focused games. What you're left with genuinely feels like a game that was released just after Assassin's Creed 1 and not 15 years into the franchise. I'm not opposed to the idea of returning Assassin's Creed to its roots, but you need to build upon those roots, not carve away the meat and leave the skeleton. Even as a budget-priced title, Mirage feels lacking. That's also what makes it difficult to recommend to Assassin's Creed faithful. The franchise has become something more, and even if you disliked the post-Origins "RPG" games, you still have everything from Brotherhood to Syndicate to show you that it can be something more.

It's not particularly visually impressive, either. I was delighted by some of the locations in previous games, but Baghdad is beautiful to look at but feels hollow. The cut scene direction also feels much weaker, with an emphasis on pre-rendered cut scenes and montages to skip time. The gameplay is nice and smooth, and the animations are as strong, but it feels unambitious. Likewise, the voice acting is average, and there are a few standouts in each direction. This isn't uncommon for the series, but I miss the energy of the recent games.

I'm not sure who's the target audience for Assassin's Creed: Mirage. It goes beyond returning to basics and is just basic. It's not terrible or unplayable, and if you enjoy the core Assassin's Creed gameplay or want a chance to run around Baghdad, it might scratch your itch. The problem is one that I've never had with an Assassin's Creed title before. They have problems, flaws, and issues aplenty, but each one felt like there was ambition behind it. Mirage feels unmemorable and bland and plays like a phoned-in Assassin's Creed title.

Score: 7.0/10

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