I got to play Assassin’s Creed: Origins at E3 last week, and I left the experience feeling content. I was not disappointed, but I certainly did not leave feeling ecstatic either. Ubisoft’s new entry in the franchise does take advantage of their short hiatus to reinvent aspects of the Assassin’s Creed formula that have become stale over time. However, what I saw of Origins’ E3 demo does not suggest a complete overhaul of the entire experience like fans are being led to believe.
A Safe Bet
This new game feels very safe. I think it will bring a lot of old-time fans back, while welcoming newcomers into the fold. I do not believe that it will do enough to differentiate itself from what has come before it though.
I want to reiterate that what I played at E3 was a demo, not the final product. It was the Alpha 1.09 build if memory serves correctly. The game is coming out in just over four months, so I cannot see too many new developments being implemented now.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins puts players in control of Bayek, an Egyptian medjay, in 49 B.C. when the age of the pharaohs is coming to an end. Taking place several centuries before most of the stories in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, this game claims to reveal the tale of how the Assassin’s came to be.
The demo I played was divided into three parts. I encountered a man beating a slave who lost a precious treasure to thieves, and swam out to the criminals’ boat to brutally murder them all. I also met with a warrior farmer who fought for the people, and she and I worked together to track down a gang. Finally, I battled in an arena against a few waves of enemies before encountering a hulking monster of a boss.
Changing Up a Third of the Formula
The three pillars of Assassin’s Creed (combat, navigation, and social stealth) are back, and the demo did a good job of highlighting each of these three core gameplay mechanics. However, the three have not been reinvented like Ubisoft would have you believe. Combat definitely has, but the other two feel exactly like Unity and Syndicate.
Combat feels deadly. Enemies no longer wait their turn before attacking, and they can deal obscene amounts of damage if you’re not careful. If you drop your shield, you better be ready to dodge. An adrenaline meter adds a bit of strategy by allowing Bayek to perform visceral finishers. These are best saved for taking on the toughest enemy in the room.
I have heard people compare the combat to Dark Souls, and I agree to a certain extent. Parrying is a little bit easier than Dark Souls, and the combat roll and shove really help to put distance between Bayek and a troublesome foe. I thought it felt more like a combination of Assassin’s Creed: Unity and For Honor’s combat.
Stealth and navigation felt exactly like Syndicate. Swimming feels a little better, but enemies are still strangely too unobservant, and I still accidently ran into, onto, or off buildings and pillars I did not want to.
I found the whole thing odd. I know Assassins are supposed to be superior fighters, but I have always considered their abilities to hide in plain sight, easily traverse cityscapes, and kill targets with precision to be their defining characteristics. To see stealth and parkour take a backseat to open combat feels wrong.
Ubisoft claims the game will feature RPG elements that will allow players to customize Bayek with different gear, clothing, weapons, and skills for whatever play-style they want (very much like Arno in Unity), but the demo was clearly geared towards an open combat play-style. I guess we will have to wait and see if the full game follows suit or actually pushes one type of style of play.
A Missed Opportunity
My final gripe with the demo is a personal one. I am disappointed with Ubisoft’s choice of protagonist. Bayek is a soft-spoken, dark-skinned freedom fighter that is willing to turn a blind eye to the poor and downtrodden, but he is way too quick to deal furious, bloodthirsty vengeance towards those in power. He feels like a carbon cutout of Adéwelé from Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom’s Cry.
Shay, Arno, and Jacob may not have been the most well written characters, but they were unique and not blatant copies of the Assassins that came before them. Evie was both unique and a good character. That is another thing. Why did Ubisoft not take this opportunity to have a female protagonist?
Both Aveline and Evie were great protagonists. The Templars Maria and Elise were both more interesting than the Assassins they were in love with. So we know Ubisoft can write good female characters. Ubisoft wants Origins to be a reinvention of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Why would they not take the chance to have a woman be at the forefront of a major game release for a change? It is the perfect opportunity to immediately prove they were indeed serious about reinventing their image.
The Assassin’s Brotherhood preaches love for everyone and acceptance for all, yet the minorities that join their ranks still have to struggle in a racist, sexist, and societal discriminatory world. Ubisoft has touched on it, but Assassin Creed fans have never gotten the opportunity to experience the life of a woman who fights for equality while being repeatedly told by the men around her to be patient. The day where womankind will be considered equal is supposed to be coming, even if the term “brotherhood” immediately segregates them from the rest of the Assassins.
We have seen Assassin’s Creed delve into the tensions caused by differences in race or societal standing, but very little when it comes to gender or sex. Most of the women written into the universe are so empowered that they rarely encounter moments of true sexism.
Ubisoft cannot claim the Brotherhood was all men or there were no female fighters in Egypt during 49 B.C. either. The female warrior farmer I encountered in the demo has more personality than Bayek and she definitely knew how to fight. This game also takes place a mere 19 years before Amunet, an Assassin, kills Cleopatra, an infamous Templar. Ubisoft has already established that there are female fighters and female Assassins during this time period. One of them is actually quite famous (Amunet) and would be a great callback to Assassin’s Creed II, arguably one of the best games in the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise (we explored her tomb to find one of the keys for the Armor of Altair).
It sounds like I walked away from Assassin’s Creed: Origins with disgust. I did not. The same mechanics that Assassin’s Creed has relied on for years are all pretty much still there. This game just has much better combat and a world that feels both livelier and less cluttered with useless tasks and collectibles.
These are positive changes to the Assassin’s Creed formula, but that means a good two-thirds of the game is the same gameplay that gamers have come to expect from the franchise. That is not bad, because that two-thirds has been mostly good over the years. However, the lack of any evidence that a complete overhaul actually took place makes me think Assassin’s Creed: Origins will only be remembered as a good game, and not the bold reinvention Ubisoft is promising us.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is scheduled to release on October 27, 2017 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows.