The sun beats down on the golden Egyptian sands, the calm landscape barely affected by the passing of a gentle breeze. The ominous caw of vultures echoes somewhere nearby. For now, you are alone stood in the middle of the scene of the latest bloodbath. Soldiers are strewn around you, their weapons claimed by the sands. In the nearby river, your first conquest lies, their blood slowly seeping into the clear blue Nile water.
You are Bayek, the last Medjay in Ancient Egypt, and the protagonist of the most detailed and bloody Assassin’s Creed title to date. Origins resurrect’s the franchise after a short hiatus and, by the looks of things, the break worked wonders for Ubisoft. Of the many changes made, the most important is the introduction of RPG elements, which has taken the series in a whole new direction.
Levelling up has more of an impact than in previous editions of Assassin’s Creed; knowing both your level and the level of your enemies matters a lot. Some areas are impossible to tackle at a lower level and, if you do come across a much stronger opponent, you’ll know about it. It’s only when you start dying – a lot – that the importance of grinding becomes apparent. It isn’t the chore you expect it to be, and there are plenty of ways to boost your XP, depending on your playing style. There are plenty of side quests that appear throughout and are not always as straightforward as “go-kill-return”.
Loot, as well as combat, is affected by leveling up. The better you get, the higher quality weapons and other gear you will find, making visits to the blacksmith’s mostly redundant as your weapons quickly become outdated. But the vast array of gear you come across means you can tinker with your inventory to match your style. Hunter bows, which allow you to attack from distance, is great for stealthy types, while the warrior bow’s shotgun effect is perfect for close combat. And, as you level up, the more use you will get from the skill tree. Origins offer’s player’s lots of different routes to unlocking the abilities they want, rather than the linear structure in the likes of Syndicate that meant wasting ability points on unwanted skills before getting to the one you really want.
All of these perks will give you the edge in combat, which has evolved from the simplistic button-bashing of previous installments. It is important to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different enemies because they are not uniform. Archers are insanely accurate and can pre-empt your movements, so are worth going after first, and the heavies use their hefty shields to their advantage. Wild animals, such as crocodiles and lions, add a new dimension to fighting, though they can be tamed. Even worse are the Phylakes, an incredibly powerful foe who you manage to piss off very early on, and who are worth avoiding entirely until you’re a high enough level to take them on. At no point in Origins can you consider yourself too powerful to find yourself on the wrong end of a good stabbing. The real pain when it comes to combat is the lack of autosaves. You carefully take out enemies one by one in a grand fortress, an NPC runs out of their hiding place to alert every soldier in the area to your presence, and suddenly you’re right back at square one.
By far the best part of Origins is the exploration. Ancient Egypt provides the biggest map seen in any Assassin’s Creed title so far, and the most beautiful vistas as well. There’s a reason to be excited about tombs again, as you get the chance to break into pyramids and landmarks such as the Sphinx. Origins harken’s back to Assassin’s Creed II with its opportunities for adventure, which make going off the beaten track so worthwhile. What’s more, the world around you feels alive. People go about their business, with Bayek as a passer-by rather than the figure the world revolves around. Listening in to conversations or seeing the plight of poor people under the thumb of a Pharaoh makes Origins much more immersive than the mostly lifeless Syndicate. Yet people are still surprised to see you sprinting. What’s that about?
The story will be a familiar one to fans of the series. Jumps between the past and present day are smooth and always helps the story to progress. The lore ties in really nicely to the Assassin’s Creed story at large, making for an excellent origins tale. It does, however, fall into the same trap as previous installments. Though it’s assassin by name, assassin by nature, the succession of killings at the start of the story don’t allow you to get to know the victims of Bayek’s revenge. It’s hard to care about them, whereas sympathy with your protagonist’s rage could grow if given time. What does develop as you continue through the game is a genuine liking for Bayek, whose Samaritan nature and quick wit makes him one of the better heroes of the franchise. He is Egypt’s answer to Ezio and may end up becoming just as popular as the Italian talisman. While Bayek’s part is well-written, the gaggle of famous names shoehorned in has a similar appeal to guest stars in latter-day episodes of The Simpsons. Cleopatra adds herself to a long line of Assassin’s Creed cameos put in there just for the sake of it.
Of all the supporting actors, the best is your trustworthy eagle, Senu. She is particularly handy when searching for items and treasure, as she can fly ahead of you and mark everything in sight. Enemies, too, can be spotted by Senu before you get too close, allowing you to devise a plan of action. She is invaluable, and the game wants you to know it, so you are pressed to make use of her services for every single objective. It takes the fun out of having the foresight to use Senu yourself.
There’s no real surprise that Origins, being a Ubisoft offering, is riddled with bugs. Hopefully, a patch will sort those out. Luckily, none are game-breaking, as with Unity’s creepy faceless hordes and disappearing ground. Having a break has done wonders for the series; Origins feels fresh, better-thought out and truly expansive. The RPG elements are a huge success and will keep players hooked for a long time. Already, Origins has positioned itself among the best installments in the Assassin’s Creed series.