We're alarmingly used to major publishers and platform holders doing their best to get additional money out of us. If it's not downloadable costumes in Persona 5 or additional characters in Street Fighter 5, it's Amiibo support and a Season Pass in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Free-to-play mechanics have reared their heads in the form of random-roll loot boxes in multiplayer modes for games like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1, but the form has recently come to single-player experiences like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.
It's not enough to get the the $60. They have to go beyond and offer ways for players to spend more money. They have to incentivize those purchases in some manner. No publisher is really free from that. And in the worst culprits, you push the player to buy your additional content, instead of keeping those options in the background.
So I was pleasantly surprised, after playing Forza Motorsport 7, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, and Star Wars: Battlefront 2, to find a AAA release that is a bit quieter about its extra stuff to buy. Assassin's Creed Origins is remarkably light when it comes to the worst of AAA excess.
Take multiplayer for example. A few years ago, the trend was the addition of multiplayer modes in games that otherwise didn't really need them. Mass Effect 3 was one egregious example of this, but a number of other games followed suit. Multiplayer modes encourage players to return to a title again and again. Once engaged on a regular basis, those players are more willing to purchase additional content for your game. Publishers know this.
Assassin's Creed Origins dispenses with that completely. There are online-enabled modes, like Player Photos populating the world or the Revenge Quests, allowing you to avenge other players who have died in their own games. You can even challenge other players in the Gladiator Arena; not directly, but in online leaderboards. But otherwise, this isn't a multiplayer game. It's just you and Bayek, exploring all of Egypt.
Loot boxes? Well, there is an item, the Heka Chest, that you can buy at a roving store called the Nomad's Bazaar. It costs 3,000 Drachmas and gives you a random weapon or shield. The thing is, you're actually disincentivized to buy a Heka Chest. For one, if you're playing the game, loot pretty much drops from many of the enemies you kill and you'll get some items from quests. This loot is generally scaled to your current level, so you have a solid influx of new gear.
If you find an item you like and you don't want to give it up, you can go to any Blacksmith to upgrade that gear to your current level. This costs a pretty penny for Rare and Legendary items. If you have a Legendary Shield with a great perk, that can cost you 2,000-3,000 a pop to upgrade. Essentially, it's better in Origins to save your money to upgrade the gear you've found out in the world, rather than spending money to random get a crap item from this chest. (Even Jim Sterling, who famously hates all microtransactions, notes that this isn't that bad.)
Which leaves us with real-money purchases. They're not missing from Assassin's Creed Origins completely. If you open open your menu, up in the top-right corner, there is a prompt that can take you to the Store. This is the space that contains all of those microtransactions you're expecting in most major titles.
Helix Credits return from the previous Assassin's Creed games. You can can still purchase Helix Credits for the PlayStation Store, Xbox Store, or Uplay. In turn, you can use those credits to buy extra costumes like Bayek's undead mummy look, special mounts like the Unicorn, or some other gear. It's worth noting that this gear scales to your current level, but like every other Rare or Legendary item you find in game, you have to keep it upgraded if you outlevel it, so it's generally not worth the purchase.
You can also purchase resource packs, giving you leather, metals, and wood needed for crafting, but again, you'll find most of this rather easily out in the world. It's not worth $5-10 to pick these up, so it tends to run counter to players actually buying them.
While Shadow of War has the Headhunter waiting for you there on the pause screen, and Forza Motorsport 7 and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 are built around loot boxes for regular progression, Assassin's Creed Origins skips all that. It would be startlingly easy for Ubisoft to have made random loot boxes drop off of enemy bodies. It would've been easy to lower the price of the Heka Chest significantly and made it give much better gear than you'd normally get. I honestly would've expected it. Hell, even the Store could be more in-your-face about its presence.
Ubisoft chose not to though, and I respect that they didn't go all-in as some developers have. I have no problem with microtransactions, downloadable content, season passes, or loot boxes. I like buying more stuff for games I enjoy. What I have a problem with is developers and publishers executing those things poorly in a game. These mechanics require a deft understanding and tuning to work and it's very easy for a publisher to go and make additional content as cutthroat as possible.
Ubisoft did not with Assassin's Creed Origins. It feels just right. More publishers should follow suit.