After some time off, Ubisoft's flagship franchise returns in Assassin's Creed Origins. The publisher has talked about the host of changes they've made to the game, which stands as a soft reboot of the entire franchise. Donning the hood of Bayek in ancient Egypt, players have to learn to become an assassin all over again.
At least, that's what Ubisoft wants you to think. After some time with the game, I can firmly tell you that it's definitely a game in the Assassin's Creed franchise. After a short period spend getting the hang of the stealth mechanics and parkour, I was assassinating guards like the series never left me alone.
That said, Ubisoft did rethink some aspects of the franchise. Here's just a few of the tweaks and features that jumped out at me during my time with the game.
Eagle Vision: Same Name, New Idea
Assassin's Creed's Eagle Vision has morphed across the lifetime of the series. Most of the versions were designed to address a specific problem: as your game reaches a certain visual fidelity, you need some way to call out what the player can interact with.
Bayek doesn't have the same alternate vision mechanic. Instead, he calls upon his eagle, Senu, to scout the surrounding area for clues and hints. Senu works a lot like the owl in Far Cry Primal, able to highlight enemies, objectives, and treasure from far overhead. Senu doesn't seem to be tethered to Bayek though, as I was able to soar for quite awhile before I wanted to get back to killing.
While Senu can't attack like the owl in Primal, she does have a stasis mode, stopping her in place in the sky to scan around the immediate area. I'm not sure how that works, but I assume it's an Animus glitch.
Combat Changes: Take your Time
With Assassin's Creed: Origins, Ubisoft has decided that the slash-and-parry combat allowing you to murder an entire army forever is not the way forward. Ubisoft wants each fight to have more impact, like the first game.
The new combat system has most of your manuevers on the triggers and bumpers. Right bumper is a light attack, right trigger is a slow heavy attack, left trigger brings up your ranged weapon, and left bumper is your shield block and lock-on. (Tapping the D-pad left or right switches to your other ranged or melee weapon slot.) The X button on the Xbox One controller is dodge, which isn't animation-dependent or locked behind a stamina system, meaning you can dodge whenever.
And you'll need that dodge, because Bayek isn't the group-killing tyrant earlier assassins were. Enemies will gang up on you: if you're winding up for an attack against one foe, you may take a knife in the back from another. You can be on even footing against one enemy, but against two or three, it's best to break away and find some space. Enemy equipment matters: guards with a short sword will default to quick jabs, those with spears jab from range, big axes can knock your shield away.
You'll want to use different weapons for various occasions. In a fight against a Captain enemy with a sizable shield, I used a massive, slow bludgeon to knock away his shield, switching to my smaller Khopesh blade for successive hits. Ubisoft says the list of weapons includes swords, khopesh-style blades, dual blades, heavy clubs, heavy blades, scepters, and spears. There are also multiple types of bows, with a hunter's bow allowing for long-range sniping and the Warrior's Bow being focused on melee-range multi-arrow shots.
Swimming and Boats: Don't Drown
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag had swimming, with optional underwater sequences accessed via a diving bell. In Origins, Bayek becomes the first assassin to be able to dive and swim underwater freely. There's a whole world in the lake and rivers of Origins, full of loot, hidden items, and even a few dangerous beasts. Underwater swimming also allow Bayek to remain hidden when approaching a boat, giving players another stealth tool.
Those "dangerous beasts" I mentioned includes hippos and crocodiles, who seemingly hate humanity and will attack boats. I shot a lazy hippo with an arrow, only to have the beast turn on me and destroy the boat I was using to get around the area. Eventually, I got away, only to look back and see the now-angry hippo attacking another ship in the distance.
Boats seem to be ever-present on the waterways, with boatsmen stopping to help Bayek in his mission. I swam out to one ship and killed everyone on board. When I was ready to leave, I looked around and there was a guy with a boat, helpfully waiting for me. They're the taxis of ancient Egypt.
Loot and Levels: Assassin's Creed Is a Soft RPG
Like Assassin's Creed Unity, Origins is a soft RPG. Bayek gains experience for every kill and quest completion in the game. For each level he gains, Bayek can unlock new abilities, like air assassination, a smoky getaway, a second weapon slot, and more.
We can go deeper in Origins though. Most enemies are lootable for money and they randomly have new weapons for Bayek to equip. Assassinate a guard and you might find a brand-new hunter bow to kill his compatriots with.
Enemies also have levels, giving you a feeling for how you'll fare against them in combat. In my demo, I was level 20, putting me on even footing with a one or two enemies of the same level. I tried to take a shot at a camp of level 25 guards and it didn't go as well. In addition, Captains are generally of higher level than their rank-and-file.
You can peep the level of an enemy by looking at them in Senu's Eagle Vision.
Naturally Interacting With The World
Let me just say, Ubisoft is using some sort of wizardry. (Not actually wizardry, just dynamic resolution.) On the Xbox One X, the draw distance on the game is pretty stunning. It's a beautiful game, whether you're high on a guard tower, swimming under the water, or wandering amongst the towns and farms of each region.
More importantly, the world is populated with life. In addition to the hippos and crocodiles, there are cranes, cats, fish, and more animals milling about for largely no purpose except the feeling of a living world. The people in Assassin's Creed Origins also have their own patterns of life, farming, heading to the market, and sleeping at night. One guard I was stalking decided to stop to take a pee, his last pee ever. Another pair of guards, after they gave up searching for me, began to move the bodies of their comrades to the river to dispose of them.
The quest system in Assassin's Creed Origins is also far more freeform, similar to the Witcher. On-foot exploration with Bayek and aerial exploration with Senu will offer certain quests and tasks for you to solve. These missions usually begin with a cutscene, where you're given context for your actions.
You're no longer seemingly locked into whatever mission you're already on. I took the demo's primary mission, and then ended up riding a horse to a completely different area following another. In a circle of random stones, I found a sequence where Bayek stargazes and takes in the night sky. Origins wants to be a bit less rigid and a bit more organic in its overall play.
I came away from Assassin's Creed Origins quite pleased. It's clear that Ubisoft took the time off to rethink some of the game's conventions, while not losing what makes Assassin's Creed what it is. I'm pleased to find that I enjoy most of the changes made. I'm looking forward to Assassin's Creed Origins, launching on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on October 27, 2017.