Assassin’s Creed Origins review: A grand, gorgeous but glitchy world
Assassin’s Creed Origins boots the series’ long-running tale of honourable killers and shady Templars back in time to ancient Egypt. The result is a grand and gorgeous world, where flocks of birds rise from lush marshes, stocky crocodiles pick-off unsuspecting traders on the shore, and vertiginous pyramids loom in the background – waiting to be scaled. In amongst all this is a game that sometimes creaks under cliché, but is ultimately an exciting adventure to get to grips with.
You play Bayek, an ancient sheriff of sorts, known as a medjay. There’s a hint of Witcher-esque hunter-slash-dogsbody to the role, which is used to hoist the heap of day-to-day sidequests you’ll amass from Egypt’s populace, as you make your way through its many districts. Once you’ve finished the opening segment, this sprawl is yours to explore, although in reality the first hours will see you sticking close to the path laid out by Origin’s main story.
This is because the latest Assassin’s Creed comes with a host of RPG mechanics – first and foremost being a levelling system that sees you accrue experience points as you pass from one abstract digit to the next. Enemies have a floating number above their head, and if this is more than a couple above yours it’s likely you’ll be killed pretty swiftly. Different parts of Egypt come with different recommended levels, meaning if you stray too far too early on you’ll find yourself hopelessly underpowered.
There’s not a great deal of logic to why one bandit camp a few minutes from another should be substantially harder, but Origin’s levelling system does a generally good job at dangling the carrot of progression. Many quests will, again like The Witcher, come with a recommended level a few steps above your current state – pushing you towards side quests and exploring all of those question marks on your map.
By far the most beautiful looking Assassin’s Creed game yet made
And exploring is a delight because this is by far the most beautiful looking Assassin’s Creed game yet made. While there are more than a few lazy fetch and crafting quests, the art design more than makes up for these moments.
From rolling deserts to verdant floodplains, Ubisoft has done a fantastic job at making Egypt seem like a living, breathing land. This extends to the character of Bayek himself. While our medjay’s quest for retribution is a rather cliché meta-objective, there are colours to his personality and relationships with others that feel more human than your standard Assassin’s Creed hero. The injustices he witnesses also feel believable, touching against ideas of colonial repression and racial prejudice, if not making any definite points about these ideas.
Along with the RPG levelling system comes a light emphasis on crafting and loot. The former will feel familiar for anyone who has played Ubisoft’s Far Cry series, or this year’s Horizon Zero Dawn. Like the latter, archery also plays a bigger part in Origins, with a number of different bow types lending variety to long-range combat.
Combat, in general, has had an overhaul, based now on a hit-box system that plays like a Dark Souls-light combination of blocks, parries and dodges. You’ll need to pay close attention to position and focus levels, and the result is a system that feels much more rewarding to play than the button tapping of previous Assassin’s Creed games.
The game tends to throw small numbers of enemies at you during fights, but things can go awry when more than a handful of soldiers are trying to slice you apart. Origin’s lock-on system narrows the field of view too much, and can be a liability instead of an aid during bigger brawls. Stealth is also a hit and miss affair. Given the series’ moniker, it’s a shame that enemies’ spatial awareness can be janky, and stealthy attempts can fall foul of frustrating clipping issues. Even when things go according to plan, the game’s levelling system means a silent throat slit can fail only because your victim’s level is higher than your weapons’ stats.
A glitched enemy kept saying ‘You shit!’ at me, over and over again
Origins is currently suffering from a range of bugs, although I didn’t personally come across anything game-breaking during my time. Generally, most of these are entertaining (a glitched enemy kept saying ‘You shit!’ at me, over and over again), but they do take away from richness of Ubisoft’s world. Playing on a PS4 Slim, I also faced a number of moments when the console stuttered and struggled to keep up with what was being shown on-screen.
Despite some technical rough edges, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a striking game that pushes the player forward with stunning environments and compelling characters. It’s a pity that some of this is padded out with cliché moment-to-moment tasks and staggered by a few mechanics in need of tweaking, but it’s easy to forget these foibles when you’re swept up in a sandstorm, or perched on top of a pyramid with the whole of ancient Egypt lain out for you.