It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. If that were true, then gamers all over the world would be waiting for the next Assassin’s Creed game–Origins–with bated breath. Unfortunately, it seems the next game in the acclaimed franchise has a lot to do to arrest the slide that the series has been on in the past few years.
Upon playing Origins, you realise this game has the potential not just to slow the slide, but to turn it into an upsurge. This upsurge will be built on the back of a genuinely overhauled game.
The first thing we noticed when we were dropped into the sands and cliffs of Ancient Egypt was how gorgeous it was. With lesser technology, Egypt could be a bland one-tone environment with sand and the occasional oasis. In Origins, it is a bright spectrum of colours. The red and yellow sand shifts with the wind, the water glistens with a mixture of blues and greens, and the village of Euhemeria, where the demo is set, has an aged beauty of its own. Buildings are weather-worn, yet still inviting. Colours are vibrant, and the city feels alive with people going about their daily activities. All rendered in beautiful 4K.
Our demo begins with the character part way through the game. We have access to a few abilities, a couple of decent weapons and our player level is 20. We start on horseback, but we quickly ditch that for the feel of the sands through our…erm, sandals. Immediately, we notice we have an objective, but no mini-map, instead replaced by a Witcher-style compass bar at the top of the screen.
Like all Assassin games, our first instinct is to have a bit of a climb. And in Origins, this is made even easier. On our way to the village, we decide to scale the cliffs to get out of the valley we have started inside. Rather than in the previous game, where you had to find obvious footholds to climb, the cliffs in Origins are climbable from wherever. Ok, we hit a few snags along the way, but to all intents and purposes, most surfaces are climbable. And the climbing itself is fluid and effortless. A hold of the A-button–we were playing on an Xbox One X– and we are away, like a cat up a drain pipe.
When out of the valley, we survey the land and spot the village we need to get to. Like previous games in the series, getting down is as easy as getting up. A hold of the B-button, and we quickly sail down to ground level and off we pop. There is no sprint button, Bayek, it seems, has limitless reserves of energy and bolts around like Sonic. It’s a useful addition when you consider Ubisoft Montreal hasn’t created a city or even a couple of cities; it has created a country.
Obviously, riding a horse is quicker still. If we were to have stayed on our horse, a hold of the A-button would have had our trusty steed follow the road, an undervalued addition to all open world games where traversal could become a chore.
After a few breathless minutes, we find our way to Euhemeria.
Once there, we are greeted with our mission. A detestable priest dressed up like the god Anubis, is beating a slave boy for the theft of two statues. Naturally, as a Medjay, we look to investigate the truth. The Medjay were the sworn protectors of Egypt, a sort of ancient police force if you will.
Interestingly, instead of being locked into a mission, this plays out like a quest, being able to be completed at the player’s leisure. Meaning we are free to do whatever we want.
Our investigation leads us to the banks of the Qarun lake. We get the prompt that our target is near and that we should utilise our trusty feathered friend Senu. He acts like a reconnaissance drone. In fact, he is the reconnaissance drone from Watch_Dogs 2; only he is powered by small rodents, not electricity.
Senu glides overhead and identifies a moored boat that we should take a look at. Not only that, but our beaked companion also identifies any enemies and gives us an idea of their strength–the telltale number over their head. Initially, the idea was to swim, but we spot a fishing boat and politely commandeer it–by polite, we mean gracelessly throw its owner into the drink.
Of course, our idea was to pick off the enemies stealthily, but that quickly went to pot. We were spotted and subsequently set upon by a couple of armed Egyptians. This is where we see another change for the franchise. Gone is the ‘after-you-Claude’ style attacks from enemies. Now, they attack at will regardless of what is going on around them. Luckily, we have new tricks of our own. Combat is more fluid and RPG-like. We dodge and weave away from attacks waiting for an opportunity to land a swift light attack or a slower, more powerful heavy attack. We even attempt a parry, but our timing is way off, and we eat some Egyptian steel. We don’t want to use the term ‘Darksoulsesque’, but we have. And it is a good analogy. Though, Origins has some time to go to equal the polish of Fromsoft’s combat system. The camera and targeting aren’t ideal.
Once the enemies are dispatched, we grab the first statue and set off after the second. This time, we decided to swim to the second boat. As we soon discover, though, the second boat seems to have an issue; it is at the bottom of the lake in numerous pieces. We dive under and start rummaging. Eventually, we find our prize–the second statue–and with precious little oxygen left, we surface so quick we almost get the bends. Unlike Black Flag, where you could dive underwater in predetermined areas, in Origins, you can descend in any body of water and have a look to see what treasure you can find. Just watch out for Crocs and Hippos.
Back on terra firma, we find the priest and deliver the evidence to exonerate the slave boy. The dastardly priest refuses to accept the evidence and clouts the boy with a small sceptre that knocks him out. Rightly angry, we find ourselves in a combat situation once again. This time, we face off against two grunts and the priest himself. Our weapons are the dual khopeshes: quick, lightly damaging curved swords. Origins has also revamped the weapons system. Each weapon has its pros and cons. A heavy axe is powerful but slow for example. Choosing your weapon will be important depending on your situation. As it happens, we don’t have a choice, so we wield our Khopesh like an Indiana Jones baddie.
We knock off the two grunts, but we would be lying if we said it was easy. In fact, we were perilously close to being killed, having to back off to get some life back. The added difficulty in combat, even an easy situation like this, is pleasing. Finally, combat feels like a challenge rather than a formality.
We return and kill the priest, ending the mission. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to make use of the adrenaline gauge which allows players access to a brief combat advantage, adding another layer to the combat experience.
With time on our demo running out, we decided to go for a root around the menus. We find the skill tree, which, take it from us, is huge. It is split into three sections. The Warrior, The Seer and the Hunter. Each has its abilities and directly affects the way you play. The warrior allows more combat-advantages, the hunter allows more bow-based chaos and the Seer, well, it opens up more, shall we say, unusual ways of tackling a mission–using deception, for example.
With minutes to go, we go for an explore of this beautiful landscape and stumble upon some empty ruins. We have a run in with the local wildlife, a cobra to be specific, and kill it, receiving its head as loot. Finally, we get the tap on the shoulder, and that is that.
At the launch of each of the previous Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft has always said they have overhauled something–rarely has it come to pass. With Origins, it has truly overhauled many of the series staples. It remains to be seen though whether these overhauls work seamlessly in a full game.
Origins releases on October 27.