Assassin’s Creed Origins is a game under a lot of scrutiny, After all, it’s the big return after an uncanny, year-long hiatus. A hiatus that came after the franchise fatigue bubble bursting, somewhat reluctantly, after the giant mess known as Assassin’s Creed Unity. The ball was already rolling with Syndicate after that, but voices were heard in the form of a noticeable sales drop. So Ubisoft took a year off, and Origins is the ostensible result of that break. But after playing the game myself and reading other previews and perspectives... I wonder, was one year enough?
What I took away after playing Assassin’s Creed Origins is that while it feels different in a few ways, it still feels like Assassin’s Creed. I mean that in the sense that it doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air, something that will make the people who were so disillusioned with Unity, they opted to skip Syndicate despite much more positive reviews, will buy. It feels like a bunch of new, admittedly interesting, mechanics slapped on top of the same old core.
Maybe that’s fine. Ubisoft doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but I find myself wondering how much that extra year truly contributed to a game that has clearly been in development for much longer than that. Perhaps the extra time simply went towards things like stability and the like, which frankly is the eye of the storm here. But I do worry about some of these new mechanics and how they interact with the Assassin’s Creed base.
Combat has historically been a pain point of the series. Assassin’s Creed has always been a game that wants to find a middle ground between hardcore stealth and action combat. Sometimes that meant combat sort of resembled the Batman Arkham style, mash out the attacks, hit the counter button when necessary, but never as smooth since it wasn’t the core focus Unity tried something a little more heavy and deliberate, but that whole deal seems to have been dunked in the garbage. Syndicate was super mashy, almost arcade brawler-like in motion. Now we’re pushing into Dark Souls territory. Read our E3 hands-on for more on that.
On top of the heavy, committal-based combat is a loot-based equipment system. You take dudes out, they drop stuff, and you get to compare it to what you have and what weapons you like, just like a Diablo-style experience. Before, equipment in Assassin’s Creed games was a bit more reined-in and linear. Sometimes it was based on crafting and sometimes o plot progression. Now it seems all over the place for the sake of systems depth. I question if there’s a clash here between the action and in-between that wasn’t thought through all the way, and possibly interferes with the stealth.
While the systems are significantly more complicated, getting around, another struggle of sorts, has been brought back down compared to recent entries. The parkour has been a constant adjustment throughout the serie. Is it too simple? Not simple enough? Just, you know, too glitchy? The demo didn’t have a ton of vertical ground to mess around with, but parkour is back to one button. Bayek seemed to be able to cling to and scale whatever he wanted pretty easily, and what was also notable was a lack of a sprint button.
On top of the busy mechanical systems, there have been little to no details on the story, another aspect of the series that has been troublesome. Ever since the initial story “ended” in Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft has struggled to come up with something else, opting instead to focus on telling stories within the Assassin settings and just sort of barely acknowledging the other end. I think there’s been frustration there, with players either wanting the games to move on or commit fully to telling solely historical fiction.
What I’m getting at here is, Assassin’s Creed has been dealing with an identity crisis for years now. I don’t think the year-long break helped anything in that regard, and the new features in Assassin’s Creed Origins don’t have me convinced anything is different. The game is shaping up to be super fun to play, especially with its more involved combat, but its deeper systems seem shallow despite their complexity, and Ubisoft has been oddly quiet on the narrative side of things. There’s a lot of vagueness from Ubisoft about the game as a whole, and I would have expected a lot more confidence considering the circumstances. Either way, I’m looking forward to how it turns out.