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March 2024

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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Xbox Series X Review - 'Assassin's Creed Mirage'

by Adam Pavlacka on Dec. 5, 2023 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

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.

As a long-running franchise, the Assassin's Creed games have evolved in many ways since the original adventure with Altaïr. They have expanded in size, scope, and features, while the narrative and lore has gotten extremely detailed. From a gameplay standpoint, Assassin's Creed Valhalla was arguably more focused on combat focused than stealth, but it did a fantastic job of consolidating the overall lore and progressing the plot. For those deep into the lore, Valhalla's main questline is essential content.

Assassin's Creed Mirage flips the script on those two points. The game is heavily stealth focused, while the story is practically inconsequential as far as the franchise is concerned. Because of this — and because Mirage is set before ValhallaMirage also serves as a solid entry point for the franchise. If you've never played an Assassin's Creed game, it's a good place to start.

Mirage follows the adventures of Basim, the antagonist of Valhalla, from his early beginnings as a street thief to a master assassin. Unlike many of the Assassin's Creed games, there is no present-day part of the narrative to play. The entire game is set in the past, so you can focus solely on learning about Basim and exploring ancient Baghdad.

Unlike more recent Assassin's Creed games, the explorable space in Mirage is more focused. You're not going to see a wide-open world like Odyssey or Valhalla, but you will find a dense and detailed city to explore in Baghdad. In fact, it would be safe to say that Baghdad is the star of this show. Simply walking around the city and taking it all in is part of the experience. Different sections have their own feel, while the citizens add character to the world as they go about their daily lives.

It's important to note that this isn't just Baghdad in name. Ubisoft's historians collaborated with external experts to ensure that what you see is representative of ninth century Baghdad. While they may have taken some small liberties to improve the game experience (at least one landmark building didn't yet exist in the game's timeframe), the bulk of it is correct. They've also taken care to ensure that Islamic practices are properly represented and not just an afterthought. For example, when playing, you'll occasionally hear the adhan (call to prayer) in the background. It's not a focus of the game; it just happens as a normal part of life.

Because Mirage is smaller in scope than previous Assassin's Creed titles, it doesn't have a Discovery Tour (and Ubisoft hasn't announced one), but it does have historical sites throughout the city. When you find and collect one of the icons, it unlocks an entry in the codex. These aren't necessary to complete the game, but they are fascinating for history buffs. While I would've preferred a full Discovery Tour, this is a solid alternative.

Split into multiple sections and with a protected inner ring, Baghdad offers a variety of areas to explore and plenty of navigable paths to choose from as you move throughout the streets and rooftops. Because of the city's density, it is easy to move vertically and laterally. This is good for exploring, but it is also an absolute necessity when avoiding guards.

That said, climbing is a tiny bit more restricted than it was in Valhalla, as Basim can't simply grab onto anything and shimmy up. You will need to find handholds; this isn't a problem most of the time, but it can result in some minor moments of frustration when trying to scale the synchronization points on the map. I ended up having Basim inadvertently jump off more than once.

You can take many approaches to an Assassin's Creed game, but Mirage excels at stealth. You can fight if you want to, but it's not nearly as much fun as sneaking around, blending in, and either carefully avoiding or taking out enemy guards. The sense of accomplishment is real, especially when you reach a target moments before a patrolling guard comes around a corner. There are skill upgrades available to make sneaking (and avoiding guards) easier, but you don't need to use them if you don't want to.

Stealth is great when progressing through standard missions, but it excels when tackling a "black box" mission. Although these types of challenges give you a location and an objective, it's up to you to figure out how to get things done. While not quite as flexible as a Hitman III sandbox, the black box missions offer enough options to make it feel like you are charting your own course through the location. This flexibility extends to the point that some minor activities are skippable/optional, depending on the approach you take to a mission. It's too bad there is no option to replay the scenarios individually, as it would be interesting to see how creative one could get.

Combat, on the other hand, is serviceable, but I wouldn't call it amazing. Basim has a handful of throwing knives, which are useful for distant targets and triggering environmental traps (such as destroying a pulley so a large crate drops onto an enemy), but they are limited in number and not as varied as the multiple types of arrows Eivor has access to in Valhalla. Most of Basim's combat is up close and personal, with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other.

Sword fighting works on a parry-attack-dodge system, with enemies having gold attacks you can parry and red attacks you must dodge. Time the parry correctly, and you can kill your opponent. Otherwise, you can perform normal attacks. Miss a parry or a dodge, and you take damage. There isn't a whole lot of depth. The timing windows seem to get smaller with some enemies, but the system doesn't change or get more complex as the game goes on.

Character-wise, Mirage is in an interesting place. If you're new to the series, Basim seems conflicted in his goals. For players coming into Mirage from Valhalla, it's a harder sell. To be clear, you don't need to complete Valhalla's storyline to understand Mirage. However, if you do, Mirage has the unenviable task of trying to make you like someone who was a self-serving villain in the last game, and it's not very effective on that point.

Part of the issue has to do with how Basim develops over the course of the narrative. He's not someone who accidentally falls into a bad situation. No, this is a character who consistently (and selfishly) puts himself first. It may be true to what we know of Basim, but it lacks complexity and nuance. It's not a matter of facing a tough decision and opting for the least bad choice. It's more like the adventures of a narcissist as an assassin.

Basim could have been given some of those extra layers had the story gone deeper into his past life, or more interestingly, the impact that the discovery of his past life has on him — but it doesn't. It's teased throughout the game, and then it's briefly rushed through at the very end. If you're new to the series, those final cut scenes may not make a whole lot of sense because they lack context, which is disappointing. Fans hoping that Mirage expands on what they learned about Basim in Valhalla will be similarly disappointed. Thankfully, none of this impacts the core gameplay loop, but it does feel like a missed opportunity to flesh out the main character.

On the other hand, the character who stands out from the pack is Roshan. Voiced by the amazing Shohreh Aghdashloo (she played Chrisjen Avasarala in "The Expanse"), Roshan is both Basim's mentor and an experienced assassin. Somehow, she also appears to be aware of Basim's true nature and the danger he represents.

Aghdashloo brings both gravitas and grace to Roshan, quickly establishing her as a trusted voice within the ranks of the Hidden Ones, not to mention one of their best fighters. She's the type of leader who wouldn't ask those under her to do anything she wouldn't do herself. Some of Roshan's history can be found in in-game notes, but much is shrouded in mystery.

Unfortunately, one of the key story moments between Basim and Roshan is spoiled due to her prior appearance in a free DLC mission for Valhalla. It's difficult to build tension between two characters when you know how things will play out in the end.

Despite having less screen time than Basim, Roshan was more interesting than Basim by the end of Mirage. No, I wasn't a huge fan of Basim after Valhalla, but I didn't hate him in Mirage. In reality, I was more ambivalent than anything else. Roshan, though? She was a character I really want to know more about. Here's hoping that Roshan gets to headline an Assassin's Creed title of her own one day. There's a gold mine of stories about her past and covering her adventures between the end of Mirage and when she appears in Valhalla.

Most players are likely to focus on Mirage's main storyline, but there are also plenty of side-quests to complete. If you don't finish them before completing the story, you are dropped into Baghdad to tie up any loose ends after the final mission has wrapped. Activities include looking for gear chests, finding lost books for the House of Wisdom, collecting artifacts, unlocking all the historical site entries in the codex, solving enigma puzzles, assassinating the Isu shard holders, and completing all of the "Tales of Baghdad" side stories. All of these activities are tracked on the world map, so you know how close you are to completion. Completing them offers up various rewards. The Tales of Baghdad stories are relatively short, but they add some color to the world, as you help ordinary citizens solve their problems.

In addition to the side missions, you can also accept contracts at any Hidden Ones Bureau. The contracts are wholly optional, but they can provide for fun challenges. Each contract has a primary objective and a secondary "contractor request" that makes the main objective slightly more challenging. The contractor requests don't have to be met to successfully complete a contract, but if you do, there are increased rewards.

From a technical and performance perspective, Assassin's Creed Mirage performs well on both the Xbox Series and Xbox One consoles. The biggest difference between the two is longer load times on the Xbox One (the game took just over a minute longer to load a save game on my Xbox One X versus my Xbox Series X) and frame rate. Mirage appeared to consistently hit 60 fps on my Xbox Series X and 30 fps on my Xbox One X, with only a very occasional screen tear.

Though I played most of the game on the Xbox Series X, I did spend a decent chunk of time playing on the Xbox One X and didn't really notice a visual difference. Playing Mirage on the older console felt like playing it on the newer one, with no major drop in draw distance or reduction in world population. If there were texture or model differences, they weren't noticeable while playing, which is what matters.

Oddly, the one configuration option I would not recommend is quality mode on the Xbox Series X. It's an option that drops the frame rate to 30 fps on the more powerful console to enable a higher level of visual fidelity, but the trade-off didn't seem worth it, as it broke the smooth flow of movement. You'd think that 30 fps is 30 fps, and if it was good enough when playing on the Xbox One X, it'd be good enough here, but quality mode on the Xbox Series X felt like it introduced a slight amount of lag that wasn't present in performance mode or when played on the older console.

Finally, there's the multitude of versions available for purchase. The expensive Master Assassin version simply bundles all of the paid cosmetic DLC with the base game. It's probably not worth your money, unless you really need all the outfits. The Deluxe Edition includes the base game, along with a digital art book, a soundtrack sampler, and a Prince of Persia-inspired set of gear. It's a shame that the full soundtrack wasn't included with the Deluxe Edition, as the in-game music is fantastic. The digital art book is delivered as a 39-page PDF file, and it contains some stunning concept art. My only complaint is that the images aren't easily exportable for use as background screens or high resolution enough to print. It would make for an impressive, large-format coffee table book. Much like the soundtrack sampler, when it comes to the concept art, I'd love to see more.

The Prince of Persia gear set allows Basim to go shirtless and grants you some useful time powers. Using it is a cheat code (albeit a fun one) because it allows you to cheat death and slow down opponents. As an added bonus, killing enemies after slowing time with this gear set also regenerates health. It'll be a nice perk to have when next month's update is released and permadeath is added as an option in Mirage.

In early December, Mirage is getting an update that adds both New Game+ and permadeath. While permadeath is a nice addition for those who like a challenge, New Game+ should help extend the overall life of the game, as it offers up a reason to replay it from the start. My initial run through Mirage clocked in at around 19 hours. By comparison, Valhalla can easily take 80-100 hours. With New Game+, players will be able to run through Mirage a second time, complete with all unlocked abilities and gear. It also means taking a second crack at each of the black box missions.

Assassin's Creed Mirage is a solid entry that builds on previous titles while also honoring the roots of the series. It was a smart decision on Ubisoft's part to release Mirage as a stand-alone title rather than as DLC for Valhalla, as it doesn't require any prior knowledge of the franchise storyline, making it an easy entry point into the series. New players who enjoy their time with Mirage can pick up Assassin's Creed Valhalla to see where Basim ends up.

Score: 8.0/10

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