As threatened, I spent a three-day weekend playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and while it hasn’t yet surpassed Black Flag as my all-time favorite AC game, it’s definitely a contender.
There’s a glut of information about the game out there, so I’m going to confine my comments to the things that really struck me, whether good, bad, or indifferent. So far, there’s not much bad.
First, this is most definitely an Assassin’s Creed game. Though the combat may be different this time around, you’re still able to sneak, backstab, and connive your way through most things to your heart’s content. I was a little worried about how the new combat system would affect things, but it’s pretty easy to adapt to.
After playing through the intro and a few early missions, I found myself just wandering around in the desert. I kept telling myself it was a little early in the game to be piddling around, but I couldn’t help it. The area felt huge, and that was just the starting bit. I spent some time just familiarizing myself with combat, with my horse, and with Senu, while taking in what seemed like miles of sand dunes. Along the way, I accidentally found out that doing a wall eject over a haystack results in a backwards leap of faith, which was good for many minutes of geek rapture.
There were a lot of other things that made me nearly giddy:
- You can loot without dismounting. That’s almost worth the price of admission all by its lonesome.
- Playing with Senu is a lot of fun. You can also tell your horse to auto-follow the road to your next destination, flip to Senu, and soar above the countryside, watching for bad guys or opportunities along the way.
- The photo mode is sweet. There are a number of filters, as well as some focus tuning that can create some nifty effects. On the map screen, you can also see and rate photos that other players have taken. This is Egypt, so photo opportunities are everywhere. Literally everywhere.
- You can mount your horse while sprinting. In other words, I can now sprint down the road like a madperson while whistling for my horse, and then leap onto his back without breaking stride and continue thundering down the road.
- You can light your arrows using any handy fire source (including your own torch).
- Running across the dead bodies of other players and being given the chance to avenge their deaths is weirdly addictive. Whenever I see the icon pop up, I almost always drop everything to go mete out some vengeance. I’ve died (desynchronized) once so far, and I can only hope someone paid those bastards back. (I also wish the game would tell you when you’ve been avenged, but either it doesn’t, or no one cares enough to go all Punisher on my behalf. Sniff.)
- If you go down the Seer’s path in your skills tree, you can tame animals, who will then follow you around and fight for you. Two words: War. Hippo.
- Two more words: Chariot. Racing.
- You can jump onto almost any boat and sail it across a lake, or through a canal, or down a river, which makes getting to islands much less of a pain in the ass.
We’re still a week +1 day away from the Xbox One X, so I can’t wait to see what the game looks like on that–but even without it, AC:O is awfully pretty. You spend your first hours in small towns, where things are a bit grimy. Then you wander into Alexandria, where the streets are lined with amazing buildings or fabulous statuary (or both) and spend half your time gawking like a tourist. (Ok, I do.) There’s swamp and scrubland, pristine dunes that stretch for miles, towering pyramids, dusty little nowhere towns, rivers, lakes… if you find yourself getting tired of the local scenery, there’s usually a change of pace just around the bend, or over yonder hill.
Taming animals was a bit wonkier than I’d hoped. For one thing, if I so much as talk to a quest giver while I have a tamed animal at my side, that animal has disappeared by the time the conversation is over. Sometimes, I’ll still see the little hand icon, way off in the distance, as if that animal is still out there, somewhere. I once tried to follow it, but never found the animal, and the icon never seemed to get any closer (bug, I’m guessing?) Hitting a vantage point always resulted in losing the animal, too. That was a giant pain in the rear, as I’d just managed to tame my first lion and hadn’t yet used him in combat.
You sometimes run across bandit camps with caged animals scattered around. The first time I released a big cat from his cage, he killed the nearest horse, ignored the two bandits standing right there, and ran off. Bit disappointing, that. On subsequent tries, however, the formerly imprisoned animals went to town on the bad guys, so that first cat might’ve just been a picky eater.
Another thing about the combat system is that you can fight basically anywhere. On the back of a camel? No problem, you can smash people with your sword or fire arrows in full gallop. You can even turn sideways or completely backwards in order to more effectively target your foes. On a boat? Whip out your bow and plug a few pursuers. In a haystack? Yes, you can fire your bow from a haystack. Sleep and poisoned darts are back, and there are a number of nifty tools you can pick up via your skill tree to add to your arsenal, like the ability to poison a corpse, which will then poison any bad guys who come to investigate.
Poison is a double-edged sword, though. When a dead body is poisoned (either manually or because you’re applying poison via your gear), it’ll poison innocents and animals, too. During a mission to retrieve a stolen horse, the damned thing dropped dead underneath me after it was poisoned by the thief’s dead body.
The “modern day” portions of the game are brief (so far) and (again, so far) don’t really introduce much of a story line. You get the basic idea down pretty quickly: your trip down memory lane this time is courtesy of an Abstergo employee who’s a bit of a maverick. The plot from the Assassin’s Creed movie is included in the lore here; there are references to the events at the Templar gathering in London and Sofia Rikkin’s name is all over the computer files. Past events are also referenced, including that one bit from Watch Dogs.
*Spoiler note: This next pic contains a spoiler for Watch Dogs.
All in all, Assassin’s Creed: Origins feels enormous, fresh, and familiar all at the same time. The quality of life changes make it a much more seamless experience; you can go from galloping to fighting to swiping loot off the ground without pause. The jury is still out on the story, though, because even 24 hours in, I didn’t feel like I’d seen enough to comment yet. It makes sense, so far, which is pretty much all I need. It’s a tale of vengeance that expands into a tale about misuse of power and the oppression of the masses; typical fare for an AC game, of course, but then, that’s what Assassins do.
I will comment on one bit, though. Assassin’s Creed: Origins was billed as… well, the origin of the Assassins. For the most part, you can see pieces of what will later become Assassin traditions happening organically within the story, which is nifty. The introduction of the hidden blade was a bit abrupt, though, which was disappointing. I expected a little more than, “Here, you should use this old thing we found to kill that guy.” Really?
I spent some time this weekend thinking about what I really want from an Assassin’s Creed game, and whether Origins was delivering.
- Neat places to explore. Check.
- The ability to sneak around and assassinate people a lot. Check.
- The ability to customize my character to some extent, so that it feels more “mine”. Check.
- To feel like a badass assassin. Check.
- A story that doesn’t leave me wanting to skip through cutscenes, because I never skip through cutscenes. Check.
- Opportunities to do something clever, like set a trap or maneuver an enemy to a specific place. Check.
- Assassin’s Creed + Egyptian mythology. Check. Ok, I didn’t know I needed this until now. Just like I didn’t know that I needed to be able to fight on top of a train until Syndicate or that I needed to be an assassin-pirate until Black Flag. It’s like they know.
It looks like I’ll be playing this one for a while.