Assassin’s Creed Origins (XB1, PS4, PC)

My, what a difference not being on a yearly schedule makes.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the return to the franchise that just stepped off the production line. Being in production for four years, this iteration marks the end of Ubisoft’s grand experiment in leveraging global staff towards annual releases. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a bold step for the franchise in almost all areas. Introducing a whole slew of new characters including the main characters of Byek and Aya. The Assassin’s Creed combat system has been completely overhauled too. Also Senu, Byek’s pet eagle, is a fantastic addition. And its historical subject matter of Ancient Egypt offers a vastly different landscape and tone from previous installments.

These are all good things. Origins may not look, or play like any Assassin’s Creed that has come before it, but this will be the new favorite game in the franchise for many.

Assassin's Creed® Origins (3)
New overhauled combat mechanics

Set in the time of Cleopatra’s rise, the main characters Bayek and Aya are a righteously violent husband and wife team. Bayek is a Medjay, an old protector of the people, dragged into a conflict with the Order of the Ancients. Typical of the franchise, these factions are inserted (much like the Assassins and Templars) into the intrigues of their day — this time, it’s Cleopatra’s power struggle with her brother, Ptolemy XIII.

Bayek is the main character, with only a small slice of playtime being dedicated to Aya. But they can almost be thought of as dual protagonists, such is the strength of their relationship.

Assassin's Creed® Origins
Cyrene a location in Ancient Egypt

Out of the several things, Assassin’s Creed Origins does better, its combat is at the forefront. So what’s different? The big change has been moving from “choreographed” combat to a hitbox system. Previously, pressing the attack button would lock you and your target into an animation. The outcome was already decided, and you’d watch the action play out. Now, attacking will only affect your side of the equation. Your attack animation starts and the game will track frame-by-frame if you make contact with the enemy, who is dodging, parrying or attacking according to their own AI.

All of a sudden this means you have to worry about distance, and learning enemy attack patterns. You may have to master the much more unforgiving parry window. You may have real reasons to use the assassin tools like smoke bombs and sleep darts now most of all, there’s a necessity now to actually plan your attack. In addition to the combat comes the new leveling system that works as a sort of unofficial difficulty mode. If things are grim, you can grind out some XP, which isn’t too bad since it’s quest grinding. I found that quests two or three levels above me were my sweet spot.

The side quests will now eventually be 100% necessary though. Later in the game when the basic enemies are a few levels above you, the toughest commanders are scaled to be a few levels above them. There are some massive, important steps forward for the franchise here. Ubisoft clearly hasn’t been sitting on its thumbs for four years.

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View from the top of the pyramids of Giza

There were some of the bugs you’d usually expect with an open world game of this size, and some of the side quests were a bit samey. The investigation mission type, in which you press X on a number of items in a crime scene, was leaned on too heavily. But all up, this is a big win for Ubisoft and the franchise. Just about every aspect of the game is better from combat to hunting, and the stealth plays with a sense of consequence. Top it off with the memorable yet vulnerable duo of Aya and Bayek, and this sequel managed to go back in time while taking several steps forward.

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