Ah, the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Where do I even start? There are very few game franchises that I have such a dynamic relationship with. I don’t purchase every release from this series, and have been let down by some of them. But once a while the series really manages to surprise me.
Assassin’s Creed Origins, developed by the same team behind Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, is the latest installment of the open world series and the first one to not follow Ubisoft’s usual annual release schedule. Game Director Ashraf Ishmail and his team took a year off in order to go back to the drawing board and completely re-design the game.
I discussed at great length a few months back why I was excited for this new Assassin’s Creed. Origins was also one of the only two games I pre-ordered this Fall alongside South Park: The Fractured But Whole — despite the fact that I am a strong advocate against pre-order culture. Furthermore, my confidence in this game was substantial enough that I actually pre-ordered it with its Season Pass. Something I have not done since the release of The Witcher 3.
So, here we are: 48 hours, countless cups of coffee, and some severe sleep deprivation later. Has Assassin’s Creed Origins met my high expectations?
Teaching an old dog new tricks
Let’s get a couple things out of the way. Assassin’s Creed Origins is a game inspired largely by The Witcher 3, and it’s proud of this fact. Instead of playing as a monster hunter for hire, you are playing as Bayek the Medjay. A bit of history here: a Medjay was an elite military unit in Ancient Egypt. Their primary role was serving as desert scouts and protectors of areas of pharaonic interest. The Medjay in Origins, Bayek, suffers a tragedy at the beginning of the game, setting in motion a story of vengeance and carefully planned political assassination.
The first thing I noticed upon firing up the game was that Origins is definitely a visually impressive title. Ubisoft’s new game engine definitely showed its strengths here by increasing the max draw distance of the map and making excellent use of the light flare effect. The game’s map is absolutely massive and Ubisoft have somehow managed to eliminate loading times entirely when travelling between zones. The only time your game will force you to load is when you fast travel between two points, but even then load times are marginal. The seamless transition between map zones makes your experience traversing the vast desert even more enjoyable.
Furthermore, every city and settlement in this game feels very alive. The Origins team was not exaggerating when they said that each NPC in this living breathing world lives by their own AI rules and schedule. You’ll see random villagers going through their day just as everyone else would in the real world. You’ll see fish vendors setting up their stalls early in the morning, packing up at the end of the day, or even opting out of setting up their stalls to go fishing when they’re low on supplies.
This sort of attention to detail is a welcome feature. I truly enjoyed following random NPCs just to see what they were doing with their life in Ancient Egypt. The only downside really was that I couldn’t interact with some NPCs, though I really wanted to. Marginal enough, but a downside nevertheless.
Gameplay has also been revamped. The first time you open your map, you’ll notice that Assassin’s Creed Origins is a massive game. Your first few hours will be spent in Siwa, the game’s “tutorial” area. Siwa will teach you all you need to know about this new version of Assassin’s Creed. This tutorial includes a fully fleshed introduction with sidequests and activities. I spent a good 4 hours in Siwa just trying to find all the secrets and finishing all the sidequests before moving on.
All sidequests in Origins feature fully written stories with voice actors, and all the things you do in these quests have a real impact on the lives of those you help. One of my quests in Siwa tasked me with helping a blacksmith recover his lost tool. The tool was taken by force by a nearby army commander that was camped just outside of the settlement. Clearing this quest not only allowed the blacksmith to craft me new gear, but also resulted in noticeably less soldiers patrolling afterwards.
The new quest system is great, no doubt about it. Unlike with Mass Effect: Andromeda, the term “meaningful sidequests” is not simply marketing buzzword for Origins. Each main and side quest has a meaty storyline worth following. Even quests that seems pretty insignificant will surprise you with things like memories from Bayek’s past.
My only gripe with the game’s sidequests was that some of the scenes could have been presented in a more cinematic way for more immersive storytelling. Instead, Origins uses a free-form camera during sidequest dialogue that lets you move the camera around. Again, a very marginal complaint, but something that would have certainly enhanced the immersion of these quests.
Assassin’s Creed Goes RPG
As I mentioned in my previous article, the most excitement aspect of Origins for me is the addition of true RPG element to the series. And after spending two days with the new system, I can say that it all works well and that I’m very impressed.
As Bayek, you can equip different types of weapons, shields and bows. Each of these categories come in three different rarities — Common, Rare and Legendary — which are denoted by the border color of the items. Common weapons are usually used as deconstruct fodder for crafting materials. On the other hand, top tier Legendary weapons are powerful and come with randomly generated weapon traits. Traits like “Poison on Hit” or “Life Leech” allow you customize your play style to suit your preference.
Moreover, each weapon has a different attack animation and finisher. Dual swords are short ranged but very fast, while two-handed axes are long reaching and slow, but devastating. Ubisoft has managed to make each weapon feel different, so much so that it’s great fun trying different weapons and figuring out your own distinct playstyle.
The new combat system takes a lot more getting used to than I expected. Moving from the connected hit box that was famous from the previous Assassin’s Creed games to a weapon swing hit box was an interesting decision. While I expected a combat system that was a bit more fluid like that of The Witcher 3, what I got was something a bit different. Not bad necessarily, just different.
Furthermore, in combat there is no sprint function for Bayek for some reason. This means that, when you are equipping dual swords with very limited range, it can be quite aggravating trying to rush an enemy archer without the ability to run towards them.
Exploration has much more value in Assassin’s Creed Origins than it ever did in previous installments. When you open your map, you will notice a couple things. First, that there aren’t tons of ugly icons all over the map as there were in all earlier Assassin’s Creed games, and second, that there are some question marks scattered across the map. These question marks are Points of Interest and can turn out to be anything from an enemy camp to a hidden oasis or an unexplored tomb. Each of these POIs have their own objectives and quests, and completing them rewards you with experience and sometimes with the randomized loot you’re looking for in any great RPG.
Overall, I truly enjoyed Origins’ new RPG system, and this was only amplified by how wonderful it was to traverse the deserts of Ancient Egypt. Bayek is able to equip multiple different mounts, which is great. But the real genius of travelling in Origins is its auto-travel. While in this mode, you can set your mount to automatically move towards any custom marker you’ve placed on the map. And the team at Ubisoft Montreal didn’t stop there.
While in auto-travel, you can switch to your trusty companion eagle, Senu, and travel with her via flight. Controlling Senu in the air while Bayek automatically rides to your custom destination is an absolute delight. Not only is Senu animated incredibly, but the gorgeous landscapes you take in below you are breathtaking. At some point this experience started getting meditative for me — it was that good. I strongly suggest you avoid using Fast Travel as much as possible in the game, opting instead to use auto-travel.
Let’s Get Technical
My PC review would never be complete without talking about the technical aspects of the game, so let’s dive in. As usual, these are my specs for comparison:
As I mentioned earlier, the graphical fidelity of Assassin’s Creed: Origins is simply astounding. The increased draw distance, new lighting effects, and overall improvement of object and texture resolutions have made this game one of the most beautiful games I’ve laid my eyes on this year. This monstrous graphical undertaking however means that your system must be above average if you want to run this game at its highest settings.
At 1440p resolution and everything maxed, the game struggled to maintain a consistent 60fps for me. The FPS drops were especially prominent in bigger cities like Alexandria with many NPCs roaming around. With that said, it’s still passable and doesn’t have too many extreme FPS drops. Considering the game has launched with no random crashes or freezes, I’ll take it. Ubisoft has also mentioned that they are working on a patch to improve FPS stabilization, so fingers crossed for that.
The sound design in Origins is good, though it has room for improvement. I loved that each weapon in the game has its own unique sounds, particularly when it comes to impact with an enemy or object. You can easily differentiate between a blunt mace cracking your opponent’s skull and a sharp scythe taking a chunk of flesh. Furthermore, ambient sounds are robust and well implemented, especially in busier areas. Combined with the intelligent AI that I mentioned earlier, this helps in creating a world that feels alive. Voice acting is great, although it felt a bit inconsistent at times. Some of the sidequests’ voices sounded a little bit muted compared to those of the main quests, for instance. Overall, though, a good effort in this area.
As far as PC gaming goes, Ubisoft has taken special care for the PC players just like with every other Assassin’s Creed release. You can expect a full range of graphics options including multiple resolutions, anti-aliasing, and fully customizable keybinding. I’d like give a quick thank you to Ubisoft for allowing me to bind certain actions to Mouse 4 and 5 as well.
Over the two days I’ve spent in Ancient Egypt, I noticed several minor bugs that occasionally had me restarting from a previous checkpoint. There was one where I could not interact with an important NPC at all, one where Bayek was stuck in a climbing animation when he wasn’t actually climbing, and one where I could not complete my zone objective because, again, I could not interact with an important object. Marginal bugs by my standards, and definitely not something that negatively impacted my enjoyment of the game. Everything was fixed with a quick reload, and this stuff will likely be patched in the near future.
On console, however, a colleague did experience a significant (and funny) glitch. You can see a couple screenshots of this below.
Lastly, I absolutely must applaud Assassin’s Creed Origins’ excellent physics engine. Bayek’s arrows in your quiver move a lot more when you have less arrows available. His clothes, belts, and other excess fabrics all move correctly depending on the direction of the wind and his movement. There was also no noticeable ragdoll effect whenever I killed an enemy.
Saving the best for last, Senu’s flight was probably the most impressive showcase of the Origins physics engine. If you zoomed in close enough, you could see that each one of her feathers was animated individually and moving correctly depending on how you were flying. Moreover, they perfectly captured the behavior of an eagle in flight. This all impressed me so much at first that I actually spent several minutes flying around with Senu just admiring her animation.
“The perfect game to fill the RPG void in your life”
My two days with Origins have been an absolute blast. This was the redesign that the series sorely needed, and it has certainly breathed life back into the franchise. I haven’t spent enough time with its story to comment on it, but everything else in the game has been great.
If you are looking for a replacement RPG to fill the void left behind by The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed Origins is the closest and best we’ve had so far. Origins has given me thrilling exploration, empathy and compassion for many characters, the excitement of opening treasure chests, and the sinking feeling that I may have missed a quest or two upon moving to a new area. Frankly, it’s given me the feelings I’ve not experienced since finishing The Witcher 3. It’s an excellent new entry for the series and a brilliant effort to re-energize the franchise.
I’m in love.
+ Excellent use of RPG elements, especially for a first try
+ “Meaningful sidequests” was not simply a marketing buzzword for this game
+ A brilliant auto-travel feature that made travelling a joy
+ Beautiful open world with seamless transitioning between zones
– Combat not quite as fluid as it could be
– Occasional random bugs, especially involving Bayek’s movements
– Struggled to maintain a steady 60fps, especially in crowded areas