Assassin’s Creed Origins is bringing together two of my favorite things: Assassin’s Creed games and ancient Egypt. I’m so excited about the prospect of this that I’ll be the first to admit it’s clouding my judgment a bit. I’ve had affection for ancient Egypt for as long as I can remember, and a chance to run around in a reasonably well-researched re-creation of that time period is wildly enticing. I had a chance this week to sit down with the game on an Xbox One X devkit for about 20 or 30 minutes.
This is definitely still Assassin’s Creed
Ubisoft may have taken a year off to dig deeper and change more about the game than they have in recent years, but this is still very much an Assassin’s Creed game. I had the chance to play a single mission during my time with the game. Protagonist Bayek is a sort of law-enforcement officer in ancient Egypt in the year 49 B.C., and in this mission finds a priest of the crocodile-headed deity Sobek beating a young man about the head. The priest has accused the young man of stealing some golden Sobek statues. Bayek agrees to investigate the claim that the ship carrying these sunk.
This led me toward the Nile, where I searched with my eagle to find the two statues. One was already on a boat, claimed by some soldiers, while the other lays at the bottom of the river in the recently-downed ship. Here, I found out that you can just dive under water anywhere it exists in Assassin’s Creed Origins. There’s no longer a set list of designated areas. Though surely, some will be more crocodile-infested than others. I dove under and retrieved the first statue easily. The second required a bit more effort.
I climbed onto the ship and stealth-killed a couple soldiers. When another caught me, I threw down a smoke bomb. This was totally by accident, which I’ll go into in a second, but it opened up a great opportunity for me. While the soldiers were dazed, I climbed up the mast of the ship and balanced across some ropes. I was able to do an air assassination on the lone soldier guarding the treasure, and then take the treasure and dive off the ship while the men were still searching for me.
I’m told by the developer that I missed out on some loot in the process, but I was happy with the quick work I made of the situation.
Upon returning to the priest with the statues, the priest, of course, sent his guards after me. I simply gave him a taste of my assassin’s blade and took down his guards with a couple combos before giving the young man the option to return to his temple or family.
This all felt like very much like standard Assassin’s Creed. I wasn’t offered any large cities to navigate, any particularly tall buildings to climb, or anything like that, but I did get a taste for the variety of geography we’ll be seeing, and that has me excited.
There is some new stuff, though.
Origins goes deeper into some of the RPG elements that previous games hinted at or often times felt lacking. Killing enemies can net you powerful weapons and armor. There’s a whole skill tree for upgrading skills like assassination and combat. The mini-map has been replaced with a Bethesda-style compass that should, if it works as intended, let us spend more time looking at the game itself and less time looking at the map.
I guess I’m using a smoke bomb now
One of the biggest changes to Assassin’s Creed this time around is the combat. This is also one of the rougher elements of the game right now.
Here’s how combat works. The left shoulder button will raise your shield, and hitting it a second time will lock onto an enemy. The left trigger will draw your bow at any time to go into ranged combat. Meanwhile, the right shoulder and trigger buttons are the light and heavy attacks, respectively. The face buttons dodge, parry, assassinate and send you into parkour mode for chases and traversal. The button that used to attack now rolls, and the button that used to assassinate is now used to initiate free running.
In short, I was confused as hell. I often found myself doing something completely different than what I intended.
I’m not faulting the game or Ubisoft for this, though. Changing up the controls could be great for the series. I just need more than 20 minutes to get used to it. The combat arena that I tried next confirmed that I have a lot to learn about the new rhythm of Assassin’s Creed Origins, which features charged attacks, some pretty slippery dodging, and a bigger emphasis on parrying.
I’m hopeful about making it work though. Assassin’s Creed‘s combat has been frustratingly stiff in the past. Previously, you’d wait for an enemy to make a misstep, parry them, and then start stabbing, chaining stabbings until you made a mistake. It felt stilted in all but the best moments, where the possible fluidity shone through. I’m nowhere near fluent with the controls of Origins, but there’s room for more depth with a bit of polishing from Ubisoft and some practice from me.
Not just another pretty face
I’m not going to try to compare the way the Assassin’s Creed Origins looks on other platforms versus on Xbox One X, because I haven’t seen a side-by-side comparison. But on Xbox One X, at the very least, Assassin’s Creed Origins looks stellar. It’s bright. It’s full of life and color. Costumes are vibrant, and plant life is lush. There’s life everywhere, too. While flying around with my eagle, for example, I spotted a hippopotamus, one of nature’s dumbest-looking and deadly creatures.
This demo, combined with the footage we’ve seen from Ubisoft (shown above), has me excited to see more. This is definitely a headline game for me this fall.
Assassin’s Creed Origins hits PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on October 27, 2017.