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The Sands Before Time – Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Review

The Sands Before Time – Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Review

I feel like I’ve waited a really long time to say this – Assassin’s Creed Origins is fantastic game, and not just that, it’s easily among the best games this year. After the last few entries in the series, I had pretty much given up hope. It was hard to imagine the series coming back from Syndicate’s dull gameplay and narrative, or living up to the graphical spectacle (not considering the bugs) of Unity. However, Assassin’s Creed: Origins not only fixes any issues I had with the series, it goes a few steps further and makes so many useful changes in gameplay design and narrative structure, making this really feel like a new start for the franchise.

There’s so much I love about Assassin’s Creed: Origins that I don’t even know where to begin. This was the first time in months that I did not want a game to end, I was so immersed in it, exploring every nook and cranny looking for more things to do and engage with. Also the first time that I actually turned up the difficulty in a game so that I could spend more time learning the combat, because it was so much fun.

Set in Egypt, during 50 BC, you play as Bayek, a Medjay – an official annointed by the pharaoh as the people’s protector/elite military member – who, after his son’s death at the hands of a mysterious cult, sets on a path of revenge. The first few minutes of the game feel really conflicting. It’s clear that the game has a story it really wants to take the time to tell, but it also wants the player to experience the combat and gameplay as soon as they can. But within half hour, the game manages to find the right balance, and once you reach the first town, you begin to see how massive the scope of the game really is.

Your character, Bayek is really likeable, and even kind of funny. He remains true to his motives, and shows empathy for the plight of others. Set before the Assassin Brotherhood was created, many of the origin stories are told here, and it’s fascinating to watch the events unfold. Even smaller events like Bayek receiving the hidden blade feel significant because of the weight the item carries for the rest of the series.

The main story takes a while to really kick in, but it really is an interesting story, especially for those like me who got invested into it with the earlier games. Smaller stories, told via side missions are done even better, with more meaningful dialogues and context given to almost all of them. Side missions are often multi-staged, and are developed really well to feel like they are worth your time. Some of these side missions also subtly supplement the main story, and it shows that the developers put in effort in designing them.

Walking around the streets of Egypt, among people in the markets or docks, it’s easy to just get lost in the world. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a gorgeous game. There are packed cities, smaller towns, farms, forests, hills, pyramids, deserts, caverns, and so much more. You are free to move around, and it’s a calming experience to just lose yourself, immersed in this massive beautiful world. The orange hue during the sunset, or the blue tinge of the early morning make for some breathtaking sights. The sound design is also excellent, with some great musical scores to accompany you along your journeys.

The combat is probably the biggest change that the series has seen. It’s a deeper system, more akin to that of Unity. Different weapons have different moves, both light and heavy, and then some variants of those. You can dodge attacks, which feels smooth and quick, while parrying opens up enemies, allowing you to deal more damage. Assassin’s Creed: Origins has takes some learnings from other third person action games, but it also feels like a system of its own.

For a start, the combat, as good as it is, still takes a while to get used to, and can feel clumsy while fighting more than 4-5 enemies at a time. Learning when to maintain distance, and when to lunge in for an attack is essential, as is learning attack patterns of enemies. However, once you get a hang of it, you really will want to engage in combat, even if just to see some sick finishing moves. There’s nothing as satisfying as running a spear right through an enemy’s spine, and see him crumble and collapse. Animations look great, and regardless of the weapon he’s carrying, Bayek’s movement always feels nimble.

The bow is also improved, and there’s a greater variety to what you can do with it. Some bows fire arrows in rapid succession, while others fire multiple arrows in a single shot like a shotgun. Combine that with the ability to slow down mid-jump and take aim, or even being able to fight when mounted on a horse, and the combat really begins to grow on you. I can see a lot of places where the combat can get better, and it feels like something future patches can fix. But, even now, I am really enjoying how great the combat feels.

Apart from human targets, you will also be hunting the wildlife. While their attack patterns are not as clearly telegraphed, it’s still fun to fight them, and at times see them fight each other. I’ve seen a hippo and a crocodile fight, and then have townsfolk jump in and join the fight. It can get messy, but I was delighted just to see the game allow so many AI interactions to happen.

Exploration is also a major focus for the game, and it begins with getting rid of the mini-map. This encourages you to actually look around and explore, instead of running to objectives with one eye on the bottom right map. Even if I did not have points of interests marked on the map, often paying attention to people talking around you would lead you to interesting things to do. It’s not entirely organic, but the game does a fairly decent job of making it feel so. And there’s lot to explore – big cities and towns aside, there are massive tombs with some puzzle elements involved. There are also small text puzzles that lead you to rewards, and even those encourage exploration and paying attention to the world around you.

Your eagle, Senu, also plays a major role in the game. It can scout ahead for you, point out items of interest, among other things. Also, while you are riding on a mount, you can set it to automatically travel to the objective/custom location. Meantime you can switch to Senu and fly around, either scouting or simply taking in the sights. Even such a simple gameplay feature shows how thoughtful the developers were in wanting to deliver the best gameplay experience.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins plays a lot like an RPG, and you can equip different weapons and gear, all with their own stats and bonuses. Outfits are mostly cosmetic and there’s not inventory limit. You can purchase new items, and sell what you don’t need at merchant stores. There are also some microtransactions and looboxes, but I never felt the need to indulge in any of them. And honestly, the game feels best played without ever making use of any real world currency in the game.

Also, without spoiling much, the present day elements are done well, and never overstay their welcome. They tie in neatly with the main story, and actually made me excited for the future of the franchise.

There’s no real multiplayer to speak of, except for being able to see what pictures other have taken with the in-game photo tool or killing NPCs that killed another player. As much as I enjoy the focus on the story, not being able to share this world with other players alongside you feels like a missed opportunity.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins has well surpassed my expectations, and done neat things with the gameplay that I would like to see other open world games learn from. The likeable protagonist really compliments the already interesting narrative. Egypt is absolutely beautiful, and a joy to explore. Combat take a while to get used to, but is incredibly fun. All of this is bolstered by some really great mission design that has learned from its peers, and even improved upon them. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the best game in the series, both in its grand scope and in its quieter moments.

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