Assassin’s Creed Origins is the culmination of the series’ two-year hiatus, and though there’s plenty new and different, some old problems remain.
It’s been two long years since the last Assassin’s Creed game, AC Unity, met with tepid reception from fans and critics. Ubisoft responded by taking a break to put AC back in the oven for a while, and the resulting game, Assassin’s Creed Origins, was unveiled for the first time during Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation in Los Angeles.
Set in ancient Egypt, Origins will depict the, well, origins of the Assassins brother/sisterhood. You play as Bayek, an Egyptian warrior who, based on the demo Microsoft put in attendees’ hands at its Xbox showcase today, is both a skilled warrior and an instrument of his own interpretation of “justice.” In other words, he’s an Assassin.
A new take on classic Assassin’s Creed combat
Combat sees the biggest system change in Assassin’s Creed Origins, and feels more akin to The Witcher 3. It’s preferable over the old AC games’ combat, giving you more control over which enemies you target, and a wider range of attacks.
Attacks are now on the right triggers, with light and heavy attacks mapped to the bump and trigger, respectively, while a tap on the left bump raises your shield and causes you to lock on to your nearest foe. Left trigger raises your bow, with the right trigger used to fire. Dodging, now an important move, is on “X.”
Traversal, meanwhile, is on the “A” button, and much of it happens automatically as you move the left stick, from scaling a bobbing ship, to prancing back and forth in its rigging.
Yet the demo’s second segment, an arena-style gladiator fight against successive waves of enemies culminating in a gargantuan slaver boss, offered up its share of frustration. Enemies with shields thwarted most attempts to break their guard, except for heavy attacks that take awhile to charge up. A special attack, used by pressing the right bumper and right trigger together, was imprecise, and too hard to activate. Combat often felt too loose, which took the excitement out of victories, and put annoyance into defeats.
The world is beautiful, but NPCs have the same old problems
In the open world section, we approached a costumed priest as he beat a young slave on a dais. Instinct said to attack him outright and end the scene. But attacking him caused no damage, instead earning the ire of some nearby guards. We ended them on that same dais, while the priest merrily continued doling out punishment, blissfully ignoring the carnage around him. With the guards dead, we approached the priest more amicably, starting a cutscene in which the slave explained he was being punished for losing two golden idols.
Carefully and quietly, we yanked the sailors overboard and climbed the mast instead, sniping more enemies with a bow.
A developer informed us later that we could’ve killed the priest once that cutscene ended, but as we’d already tried that once, it didn’t make sense that it would suddenly work. Instead we summoned and took control of an eagle to soar in circles, and mark the locations of the missing idols. One laid at the bottom of the river, which was no problem, as Origins lets you swim and dive in any water that’s deep enough. The other had found its way onto a nearby ship, which we noisily boarded. The crew promptly killed us. Whoops.
We returned with a different approach. Carefully and quietly, we yanked the sailors overboard and climbed the mast instead, sniping more enemies with a bow. We killed the captain in open combat, and he dropped some apparently randomized loot, including a superior warrior’s bow that fired several arrows at once.
Assassin’s Creed is more of an RPG than ever before
That loot system, too, is new to the series. We opened the menu to equip the prize, noting several additional inventory slots and an ability upgrade screen that looks straight out of a typical RPG.
Random loot drops, RPG-style upgrades, totally revamped controls and combat, and many more changes make it clear they’re holding little sacred. The new setting in Egypt has a lot of promise for both character-level drama and mythological overarching story, and seeing the Assassins’ origins has potential to tickle longtime series fans.
But we’ll have to see how all these systems fit together, and whether they have the necessary depth, to know whether Origins represents a real step forward for Assassin’s Creed. We’re confident we’ll all get used to the new controls, but whether the combat will hold up over the course of the entire game is less certain. And the signature Assassin’s Creed jankiness, from awkward animations to stump-dumb AI (like the priest who failed to react as I slew the guards around him), was on display in full force.
The priest accepted his idols happily when we returned them, then casually used one to brain the poor slave boy he’d been whooping. Bayek turned to leave, muttering something about “cowardice” and “masks,” but the priest sicced more guards anyway. We killed them with the new multi-shot bow, then chased the priest through the harbor, out into the fields surrounding the area.
A developer seemed slightly befuddled that the target was running so far, and so quickly, away from me. The game never gave an objective marker or told us to kill him, but it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, and we knew what to do. But it seemed impossible to actually catch up, even after several minutes of chase. Eventually we took out a bow and shot him down in a field. He fell unceremoniously, the laborers around him barely reacting.
We killed the target — but in that moment, we didn’t didn’t feel much like an Assassin.