Ubisoft bills Assassin’s Creed Mirage, its upcoming stealth adventure launching this October, as a return to the franchise’s roots. Go back to the original Assassin’s Creed in 2007 and you’ll find something that looks entirely different from the massive open-world of Valhalla. It was a more focused experience with an emphasis on methodic and stealthy gameplay, all taking place in Jerusalem.
Each subsequent entry would expand that existing formula while switching settings and time periods: 13th-century Italy, the American Revolutionary War, and the Golden Age of Piracy. However, 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origin transitioned the series to a much larger open-world structure in Egypt, a trend that would balloon further with 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and 2020’s massive Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
I’d get to see how different the newest entry felt in a lengthy four-hour demo. Based on my playtime so far, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a more streamlined experience, but one that retains the same open-ended world that the more recent entries had. It’s just not as littered with busy map icons as Valhalla is. What’s most exciting is that it’s putting the “Assassin” back in Assassin’s Creed – that includes some top-notch stealth systems and one criminally fun lockpicking minigame.
What immediately takes me back to the original Assassin’s Creed is Mirage’s aesthetics. The first games dressed their heroes in white robes with red sashes, an iconic image that gave the series an immediate identity. The protagonists of Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla all wear outfits corresponding to their time periods. Even though those outfits were timelier and more authentic, they just didn’t scream “Assassin’s Creed.” Mirage’s protagonist, Basim, changes that. He dons the classic Assassin’s Creed white robes. As soon as I see him, I feel like I’m transported back to 2007 when I played the first game on my Xbox 360.
Unlike recent heroes, Basim is more of a street rat just like older franchise heroes. He can even pickpocket random strangers on the streets of Baghdad, bringing back a classic series staple that’s fallen to the wayside. While not every single NPC roaming around can be robbed blind, it’s a more prominent mechanic than it has been in recent entries. When pickpocketing someone, a small quick time event appears. I have to press the button at the right time to successfully pull it off. Despite having to literally stop and go out of my way to do so, it’s a smoothly implemented system that makes me feel like a proper thief.
I definitely prefer it to Starfield’s less active version of pickpocketing, which is simply an unlockable skill where there’s a “chance” for the player to steal something. Mirage turns it into a fun and engaging mechanic—sometimes I even just stopped and pickpocketed someone because I just felt like it.
Another old system that sees a return is eavesdropping. During one mission, I had to gain information on someone called the Treasurer, who is seemingly involved in a large-scale extortion scheme. To do so, I sat down at a nearby bench and eavesdropped on two women speaking with each other. One of them ended up being a perfume seller and mentioned that they had connections to the Treasurer.
When properly eavesdropping, the camera pushes in and focuses on whoever is speaking, while Basim is slightly out of focus. This camera technique makes me feel like I’m hearing something I wasn’t supposed to, just like an assassin would. Early Assassin’s Creed games had eavesdropping and pickpocketing mechanics but were subsequently missing in Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla. So being able to eavesdrop again definitely made Mirage feel like a welcome throwback.
On top of that, Mirage uses a notoriety meter that further puts me in the assassin mindset. Like a “Star” level in Grand Theft Auto, my crimes can result in enemies chasing me through the streets until I can bring my notoriety down. That system is cleverly illustrated with Wanted posters that get posted around town the sloppier I am. They spawn throughout the city and Basim can rip them off the walls and buildings so that enemies are less likely to recognize him. Little details like that give me the tools I need to really inhabit a streetwise sneak.
Other parts of Mirage’s gameplay feel much closer to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and that’s not a bad thing at all. During my playthrough, I had to investigate a warehouse for clues. That’s where the fun really began. Like most Assassin’s Creed games, I was able to sneak around and take enemies out one by one without being detected. What really helps with navigating around them is Basim’s sight ability, which is similar to Valhalla’s Odin Sight. Essentially, Basim can see through solid objects and track enemies. Because there’s no time limit for Basim’s sight, assassinations are easy to pull off. I can focus on my execution instead of trying to dodge around enemy walking patterns.
Stealthy assassinations are satisfying, but I found just as much morbid fun when I was spotted. In one failed stealth attempt, I was quickly surrounded by multiple enemies and I tried to fight them all off to no avail. Sure, I would be able to take them on one by one, but together, they were an unstoppable force. I had no choice but to retreat into the water, hoping to reset their attention so I could go back and pick them off individually.
I had to reconsider my approach … so I jumped back onto the pier and unlocked the cages holding some exotic wild animals. I was hoping that they would maul the enemies for me. But what happened instead was an enemy wielding a flamethrower made quick mince meat out of them. So much for that plan!
That incident was when Mirage clicked for me. There’s a bit of player freedom when it comes to figuring out the best way to clear out enemies blocking an objective. If I screw up, I’m able to improvise and find another solution. That level of experimentation makes for a more satisfying Assassin’s Creed game that’s open-ended where it matters most.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is shaping up to be a nostalgic experience for anyone who still holds warm feelings for the series’ early days. Recent games were criticized for not “feeling like Assassin’s Creed” and I firmly landed in that camp. Odyssey didn’t even include the franchise’s iconic Hidden Blade in the main game and was relegated to being DLC. Mirage goes in the complete opposite direction and I sometimes feel like I’m playing an actual remake of the first game, despite it having a completely different story, cast of characters, and setting.
I felt like I was in middle school again during my demo. And I can’t wait to sneak back in.
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