Every Assassin’s Creed game has been met with huge anticipation, and AC: Origins is no exception. Origins explores ancient Egypt and the roots of the Assassin Brotherhood. It’s one of the few times the AC series has gone chronologically backwards, and definitely the first time it’s been set BCE.
But while AC: Origins is about where the Assassin’s Order starts, it’s not where it all kicked off for us. That story began in 2007, with a game that started life as a Prince of Persia sequel. A game that would be crafted into a classic.
It’s easy to see why Assassin’s Creed is popular. It mixes the best parts of ninjas, extreme parkour, and The Da Vinci Code (almost literally in the case of AC II). The mystique and intrigue of the Brotherhood mixed with supernatural circumstances and, frankly, some of best character design in gaming, makes for single-player heaven.
Including Origins, there have been 10 main storyline games in the past 10 years. Each successive game has made changes to both gameplay and style, adding their own DNA to the mix. In this way, Origins is less of a beginning than a culmination of previous works.
I decided to do some simulated time travelling of my own, to trace the path of the series and relive the history of Assassin’s Creed, game by game. I played each game in the order they were released. This means I have played a lot of AC. The only ones I skipped were the trio of platformers, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles.
As I went along, the differences were sometimes stark and at other times subtle. It’s interesting to see what has remained from the first game to the latest version.
Before I get into each game, what is the Assassin’s Creed? What do the assassins stand for? The short answer seems to be freedom. The long answer is more confusing. The first game – which I’ll get to shortly – describes the Creed in the opening scenes with Altaïr. It’s all about who they can and cannot kill, being secretive, and other rules based on killing people. But you can’t base an entire, centuries-old Brotherhood on flimsy pretexts for murder.
The following “Ezio games” only lightly touch on the Creed. It’s about stopping the Knights Templar because they’re bad and want to control the world – which is more of an end goal than a Creed.
Oddly, one of the worst games in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed III, was the first to try and delve into what the actual ethos of the Assassins is. How is running around killing people to get the “Pieces of Eden” (the MacGuffins of AC) any different to what the Templars are doing? But it took until the pirate-assassins of Black Flag before the series really got deep into the Creed. It’s all about free will.
The Assassins fight and kill to keep people free from the yoke of tyranny and oppression. This is perhaps why the very next game was set during the French revolution; why in Syndicate the Frye twins freed child laborers; and in Freedom Cry, Adewale created a freed-slave militia in Haiti.
Once this creed is set – the Assassin Brotherhood fights for freedom, the Templar Order fights for control – it’s easy to see the theme flow back through the games that never mentioned it. Altaïr never fought for philosophical freedom, but literal freedom when his mentor enslaved the Assassins with a Piece of Eden. Ezio freed Rome and Florence from control of various power-hungry forces. And so on.
That's quite a big theme for a game that’s mainly about jumping off tall buildings and stabbing people.
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
Assassin: Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad
Time period: 12th Century
Location: “The Kingdom” (a collection of Middle Eastern cities)
Console: Xbox One (Xbox 360 remaster)
While Assassin’s Creed is my favourite game franchise, I had never played the original. Every other game talked about Altaïr, the master assassin, with such reverence that I assumed the game would be mind-blowing. And perhaps it was in 2007 as a new title, with a new storyline and no reference for what was to come.
Playing it with the benefit of hindsight is awful.
The game feels claustrophobic. The cities Altaïr visits are tiny. The roads between them are narrow canyons. There are no real soaring towers or open spaces. Everything feels enclosed and cramped, the opposite to the freedom the Assassin’s Creed is supposed to encapsulate.
Altaïr is not all he was promised either. The first time you see the legendary assassin, he is murdering an innocent old man, and breaking the first part of the Creed. He then goes on to botch a mission. That’s a bad introduction.
He also has a jarring American accent.
All the basics of Assassin’s Creed games start here. Altaïr can climb almost anything. He can conceal himself from pursuers in haystacks and other hidey-holes. Those haystacks are also useful for landing in when jumping off buildings. There are the viewpoints around the maps that fill in detail. And he can blend into certain crowds.
As well as learning who the Assassins are and what they do, this is when we first meet Desmond Miles. Desmond is the person who is really controlling Altaïr, and we control Desmond. As such the control layout is cleverly called “puppeteering.”
I had always assumed that Desmond’s backstory was laid out in a cutscene or something at the start of the game. Instead we are oddly told Desmond’s history through a voice over, distancing us from him. I don’t care about a guy who whines a lot and spends most of the game lying on a table.
He’s an Assassin, but only in name, and he doesn’t know who the Templars are, or why Abstergo (the modern Templars) are making him relive his ancestor’s memories. He spends most of this game not really knowing what’s going on and whining about it. It’s a real mess.
It also sets a precedent for future entries, where playing as Desmond is always the worst part of the game.
In a nice piece of voice casting, Kristen Bell plays the character of Lucy, who is (spoiler alert) actually an Assassin working inside Abstergo. Alongside Nolan North voicing Desmond, they make the boring sections of the game a little more bearable.
The first Assassin’s Creed shines when you’re in cities, running over rooftops. But sadly, it keeps pulling you down to the ground to fight. It would take an Italian to really make the series soar.
Assassin’s Creed II (2009)
Assassin: Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Time period: late 1400s
Location: Italy (various)
Console: Xbox One (Xbox 360 remaster)
Assassin’s Creed II is a true classic, outshining its predecessor in every aspect, while making possibly the biggest step up between AC games. From its cities and characters to the storyline; AC II is the game that set the bar. It also added something missing from the first one: fun.
While the first game set up the guts of how Assassin’s Creed would work, the second game found its heart. Ezio is a charismatic rogue with a charming smile and a happy-go-lucky attitude. This is what the players wanted. More swashbuckling than angst.
Unlike Altaïr, he isn’t an Assassin when we meet him, and so has to be inducted into the Order through his family. After an inevitable tragedy (the murder of his father and brothers) opens Ezio’s eyes to the “real” world around him, his uncle steps in to teach him how to do the assassin-y bits.
As a quick aside, the game’s tone is firmly locked in when, after a short battle, Ezio’s uncle introduces himself by saying: “It’s-a me, Mario!”
The biggest change is the establishment of a single large explorable city. You do travel to other towns, but the city of Florence is as much a supporting character as anyone you encounter. In the first game, the locations felt generic – less like actual cities than designed game levels. This was especially the case with the roads between them.
AC II required players to explore the cities properly to collect items. Unlike in the first game, where you could collect hundreds of flags for no reason, the collectables actually unlocked extras. Most notable is Altaïr’s armour, gained by collecting six seals.
As another aside, there is a statue of Egyptian assassin Amunet in the vault with the armour. The statue’s plaque says that on 12 August 30 BCE, Amunet infiltrated Cleopatra VII's palace and killed Cleopatra using a venomous asp. Cleopatra is in AC: Origins, so that might be interesting.
Clearly, AC II is the true origin of the series. More from this game has flowed through to newer titles. The first game felt like a bunch of interesting ideas, but AC II sharpened them up. This continued in the next two titles.
Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood (2010)
Assassin: Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Time period: 1499
Picking up at the end of AC II, Brotherhood and Revelations are the only direct sequels in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Brotherhood follows the classic Empire Strikes Back-style second act. A triumphant Ezio is brought back to rock bottom by his enemies, the Borgias (whose entrance into the game is totally badass).
It marks the first time that Desmond wasn’t just an annoying extra. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still annoying, but he does get to be a bit more Assassin-y. Early on, he gets to do some climbing and exploring, his skills coming from “the bleeding effect”, where his ancestor’s skills transfer back to him. The bleeding effect has a downside though, it makes initiates in the Animus go a little bit insane.
If you want to, you can exit the Animus during the game and run about as Desmond – but really, why would you?
The city for this game is Rome (the final setting of AC II). In order to remove the Borgias, Ezio needs to rebuild the Roman Assassin’s Brotherhood back to its former glory. This sets up a feature that is seen in later AC games – most recently Syndicate – a single large city that needs to be freed in sections from your enemies. Brotherhood also expands on the system of buying businesses and landmarks that was introduced in a minor fashion in AC II.
Brotherhood is quite a ground-breaking game in the series. In addition to all of the improvements to the systems from AC II, Brotherhood also introduced multiplayer.
Ezio in Brotherhood is far more stern and angry. He’s come to chew bubblegum and kick ass – and bubble gum hasn’t been invented yet. He ropes in the thieves guild and the prostitutes to help him. These hireable groups survived from AC II through to Black Flag, and both cover and help in the distracting or killing of guards.
The game still features buildings marked by Subject 16; the initiate “recruited” by Abstergo before Desmond. He reveals, through hidden pieces of code in the Animus, information about the precursors (the creators of the Pieces of Eden).
Once you find the clue, as a glowing glyph on the side of a building, you have to solve a puzzle to decrypt the information. This is the part of Assassin’s Creed that I miss the most, and Brotherhood was the last game to have it. Figuring out that a series of classical paintings all contain apples gives the game that Da Vinci Code feel.
We’d lose the cool puzzles in Revelations because after leaving so many clues, we finally meet Subject 16.
Assassin’s Creed II: Revelations (2011)
Assassin: Ezio Auditore da Firenze (and Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad for a little bit)
Time period: 1511
Console: Xbox One (Xbox 360 remaster)
The animus is keeping Desmond alive in a coma while his mind is on a desert island with the mysterious Subject 16. And apparently Desmond killed Lucy. This surprised me when I first played the game and again when I replayed it, which goes to show how little attention I pay to the Desmond sections.
The coolest part of Revelations is that Ezio is old. I mean, not super old – he’s around my age for goodness sake – but he’s an older Assassin in a new city. The Assassin’s guild in Constantinople bows to his wisdom and leadership, but also joke with him, as young upstarts often do with their elders.
“You’ve never used a hook blade?” they ask. The Assassins of Constantinople love flying over their city on zip lines and imply that, maybe, the Assassin’s of Italy aren’t up with the play. This adds a new depth to the series, and a new way to assassinate. However, the zip line won’t be seen again until Syndicate. It seems that hook blades weren’t actually that popular.
The main point of Revelations is story, closing off Ezio’s journey and exploring the Assassin’s relationship to the precursors. The story is far from over, but we are given reasons for what’s going on. The precursors, Juno and Minerva, are trying to save the world.
The end of Revelations felt like a true closing of one chapter and opening of another. It was the last time we would play as Ezio or Altaïr, and the ending of their stories was more heartfelt than the continuation of Desmond’s quest to save the world. This was the end of a long journey, but we are told that not only is the princess in another castle, but that we need to find her to save the world.
An ending like this required a follow up that would further the story in a meaningful way, while also capturing the hearts of the players who were so invested in Ezio. What we got was – at the time – the worst Assassin’s Creed game ever.
Assassin’s Creed III (2012)
Assassin: Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor)
Time period: 1754 to 1783
Location: North Eastern United States
Console: Xbox One (Xbox 360 remaster)
It’s a shame about Assassin’s Creed III. The premise is all there. The new Assassin was a Native American with a badass tomahawk, who is caught up in the middle of a revolutionary war. An Assassin who could run through trees as fast as he could across rooftops. You could go hunting, and he even had a ship. I mean just look at the trailer!
Ratonhnhaké:ton is the best designed character in the series, and his complex backstory and the new gameplay elements here should’ve added up to an instant hit. But Ubisoft fumbled the ball on almost every part, from the changes to the parkour system to the confused storyline.
Here’s a quick rundown of the game. You start the game as Haytham Kenway, the father of Ratonhnhaké:ton. You then play as a young Ratonhnhaké:ton, seeing his village burned to the ground and his mother killed. Young Ratonhnhaké:ton is trained as an Assassin by old master Achilles and given the name Connor. Adult Connor then travels to Boston to kill Templars and sort out his father issues. The whole time, Desmond is in a cave with his father also going through issues, and is trying to find a way to stop earth from being destroyed.
Starting as Haytham Kenway works as an introductory story piece. However, it’s a very slow, long introduction. You play as Haytham for at least an hour’s worth of gameplay – longer if you get bored and do side quests.
And while he is an Assassin, he’s not the one we had been told we were getting. After months of advertising showing off a cool new Assassin, we got a stiff British guy. Haytham can’t even climb a tree.
Did I say he was an Assassin? He essentially is, but Haytham’s big reveal is that he’s actually a Templar. It’s a great hook to spring on the player, but it takes so long to get there that by the time it shows up, you’re looking for a plot twist because you know you have to switch characters for some reason.
The sequences of Ratonhnhaké:ton as a child are good, but feel like we’ve gone back to the tutorial. There was no reason we couldn’t have started there with a big “I am your father” reveal in the middle. Everything is unnecessarily messy.
A good example of this is the team behind the game going to the lengths to incorporate the native Kanien'kehá:ka language (actually Iroqouian), then quickly changing Ratonhnhaké:ton’s name to Connor.
The AC series has always leaned on the idea that we’re being led by invisible forces. AC III continues this, but for the first time, seriously questions who is good and who is bad.
Ratonhnhaké:ton is Native American caught between two sides who don’t care about him or his people. Why should he help Washington over the English? Neither of them will do good by the indigenous people. Ratonhnhaké:ton is the first assassin to ask, “Why?”
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation (2012)
Assassin: Aveline de Grandpré
Time period: 1765 to 1777
Location: New Orleans, United States
Console: PS3, HD version
Before this project, I had only briefly played Liberation – on a PS Vita at the Tokyo Game Show. At the time it felt like a quick add-on, rolled out to take advantage of the newly released handheld console.
But Liberation is ground-breaking.
It’s the first game to have a female protagonist. It was the first “companion” game. It removed the “initiate” (the person playing the game within a game). It delved further into social issues around race in America, and it brought in new gameplay features.
It was a daring and bold game that was largely missed due it’s release on the Vita. An HD version of Liberation was later released on other platforms, but the chance for a massive audience had been bypassed. It also may have suffered due to the general disappointment in AC III, which is sad.
Liberation’s disguise feature is an excellent idea that I’m surprised hasn’t shown up in subsequent games. Aveline can change her appearance by switching between three different outfits, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, when dressed as a society lady, she can’t climb or fight (but she can assassinate), whereas when dressed as an assassin, she can do all the running and climbing and fighting she wants, but guards will instantly attack her.
It’s a good game, and if you haven’t played it I recommend finding a copy.
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (2013)
Assassin: Edward Kenway
Time period: 1715 to 1722
Location: The Caribbean
How do you follow up the one of the worst Assassin’s Creed games? By making the best one ever! Ever since I started this project, people have been asking me which is my favourite, and there’s no pause before I answer: Black Flag. There’s very little argument either.
The balance is perfect in Black Flag: the story, the action… even the initiate story manages to be interesting. The story’s continuity travels backwards in time for the first time, and we play as Ratonhnhaké:ton’s grandfather, Edward.
Edward’s a swashbuckling, happy-go-lucky pirate trying to swindle the Templars by posing as a traitorous Assassin. There’s a great line in the game about why he’s so good at climbing: because living at sea has given him “hands like fishhooks”.
The game increases and refines the nautical combat that was introduced by AC III, and it’s so, so sweet. The ability to run straight off the dock and onto your ship, which then instantly sails out into the blue, is perfect. The ocean is peppered with small islands, coves, and settlements, all of them with secrets and missions to unravel.
The exploration parts of Black Flag were simply enjoyable. Sailing in an open ocean, avoiding enemy Man o’ Wars and rogue waves, all while your crew sings sea shanties – it all combines to immerse you in the game. You feel the freedom that Edward fought and evangelises for.
In the “meta” section of the game, Desmond is dead. Abstergo is now an entertainment company creating interactive games based on Desmond’s genetic memories. You are an unnamed tester that is exploring the memories to try and locate the Piece of Eden for the Templars, and it’s played in first-person. Along with Liberation and then Freedom Cry, it’d be the beginning of the end for this section of AC games until Origins made an effort to revive it.
Black Flag also ended the run of AC games being numbered. From this game on, they were all chapters.
I could wax lyrical about Black Flag all day. From storming enemy ships, to swimming in jungle grottos, to starting fights in tiny island bars, it’s simple things done well – a story about freedom told by bloodthirsty rogues. A pirate’s life for me.
Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry (2013)
Time period: 1735
Location: The Caribbean, Haiti
Freedom Cry is almost as good as Black Flag. It started as a simple DLC expansion, and was later released as a small stand-alone. Adéwalé, Edward’s first mate, is now a full Assassin, and one with a strong motivation: he’s out to free slaves and kill slavers.
In the course of the Assassin’s Creed series you are sent to kill a lot of bad people, but there is nothing better than playing as a former slave and killing plantation owners. Freedom Cry’s new mechanic was the liberation of slaves, either in towns or – more spectacularly – by the hundreds on slave ships.
The moral ambiguity of AC III – where Ratonhnhaké:ton fights alongside those who have no interest in saving his people – is gone. While previous Assassins had fought for political gains or abstract notions, Adéwalé fought for real freedom.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (2014)
Assassin: Shay Cormac
Time period: 1752 to 1776
Location: North Eastern United States
I reviewed Rogue when it first came out. I didn’t like it then, I don’t like it now. And not just because there were penguins at the north pole.
Shay, the titular rogue, seems to whine and moan his way into a position against the Assassins because they won’t let him do what he wants. Then he accidentally causes the Lisbon earthquake, and, deciding that the Brotherhood is out of control, seeks to stop them.
The voice acting is dire and the story stodgy. Not to mention that this is the second time we’ve played as a Templar, but we’re still basically playing as Assassins. There’s no special “Templar powers” of control or influence, no calling for guards as allies – just more of the same.
“More of the same” is a good way to describe Rogue. It felt like a re-skinned Black Flag, but with all the fun, pirate-y bits removed. Shay can’t even go for much of a swim in the cold north, as the water kills him.
Even the Abstergo section felt recycled. Once again the game changes to first-person and you’re in the same office as Black Flag, tracking down a bug triggered by Shay’s memories. I skimmed through these parts as fast as I could.
Rogue would be the last game until Origins to feature nautical combat. The addition of icebergs did make for some fun times, but it couldn’t save the game.
This was the last hurrah for Assassin’s Creed on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but it felt phoned in, which was such a shame. Rogue has only just been released on current-gen consoles, long after Black Flag and Freedom Cry were. Take from that what you will.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014)
Assassin: Arno Victor Dorian
Time period: 1789 to 1794
Location: Paris, France
Ah, Paris. The perfect setting for a game about murderous parkour. And during the revolution! This should have been a slam dunk! Reader, it was not.
Unity is the worst Assassin’s Creed game I have ever played.
First of all, there was the brand new control system: a mangled set-up that had Arno climbing things he wasn’t supposed to, or not climbing things he could. Even on this play-through, before which all patches had been deployed, there are still glitches everywhere.
The fighting system refuses to target enemies. The ability to grab a human shield has been removed, so being shot is common. Eagle vision has been weakened and given a cool down period. The ability to “whistle” to attract guards was removed completely. The aiming system was also ruined. If Arno is crouching, he would shift before firing, meaning you often missed that headshot and alerted the guards instead.
The mechanics focus a lot on co-operative play and unlocking equipment. The latter was an attempt to allow you to make your own style of Assassin. Maybe you want to be elusive, killing from the shadows with your wrist blades, or perhaps you prefer an axe-wielding heavy-hitter slashing through guards? Well, neither really panned out.
Unity didn’t give the options much variation. Your axe-killer would be as stealthy as your hidden-knife guy. The real difference is in the weapon stats, but those stats are weird, and I have my doubts that they mean anything.
The map is almost unusable without filters. Icons cover everything. Chests, social chests, locked chests, co-op missions, Assassin missions, social safe-houses, mysteries, shops, stairwells, collectibles, Nostradamus clues; Paris is like a Bumper Fun Book of Assassin Activities.
Where Rogue did no innovating, Unity tried to change everything. A lot of these changes would flow on to Syndicate and be refined and improved – murder mysteries, golden crates, crowd events, etc. But in Unity it’s a dog’s breakfast.
Speaking of which, let’s talk story and characters.
I don’t think Arno is the worst main character, but he’s at least in the top three. At the time of release, there were a lot of people asking why there hadn’t been a female protagonist in a main series game. Also why, in a game that was about teams of Assassins, players couldn’t chose to be women. Ubisoft said it couldn’t add women to the game because it would double the workload. Then Arno’s (non-playable) Templar partner was a woman, Elise De LaSerre, and the city was literally full of other female NPCs. A year later Ubisoft would deliver us two Assassins, one of which was a woman – so we can assume the workload was quadrupled.
Beyond that, Arno was as dull as dishwater. While he was surrounded by the French Revolution, the story focuses on Arno tracking down the killer of his adoptive father. It feels like a real missed opportunity to explore the Revolution, have Arno fighting for the liberation of France. (A “helix glitch” sequence has Arno climb the Eiffel Tower during the Nazi occupation of Paris, and again there was not enough liberation nor Nazi killing.)
It certainly doesn’t help that Arno doesn’t sound French. Nor do many of Paris’ residents, for that matter. You hear smatterings of French here and there, but far too many NPCs are clearly British.
Paris is the sole jewel of this game. The city design is magnificent, and it feels great walking the streets among the original architecture, or running over rooftops. For all of Unity’s faults, Arno is animated beautifully, and his movements are more fluid and like parkour than those in any of the previous games. So when the system works, it is a pleasure to run the city. But we officially do not need any more AC games set in the 1700s.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015)
Assassin: Jacob and Evie Frye
Time period: 1868 (1914)
Location: London, England
A year passed, and all of the troubles of Unity were forgotten. Syndicate was the tonic we needed.
The arrival of its twin assassins, Jacob and Evie Frye, felt like a breath of fresh air after two stale entries in the series. They are twins with differing styles, but the same swagger and enthusiasm for stabbing.
Evie is the more “traditional” Assassin, adept at sneaking, hiding and stabbing, while Jacob has a more brutal and direct style. Sadly, as with Unity, the differences are subtle, and it’s only when you get to their unique unlockable skills that you discover their true talents.
Syndicate feels like the game Unity should’ve been. Mechanics that felt clunky and ill thought-out there work well in Syndicate. Though if Unity had been this good, I likely would’ve bagged Syndicate for not being innovative. C'est la vie.
There are a lot of subtle ties between Ezio and the Fryes, from their attitude to their actions. For example, the Fryes have white handkerchiefs they dip in their target’s blood. Ezio is the only other assassin to do this, dipping the white feathers his brother used to collect into the blood of the men who conspired to murder him. (Origins goes a step further with this).
Speaking of murder, a friend pointed out that Syndicate is the first game set in a society where carrying weapons out in the open was frowned upon. So the Frye’s carry concealed pistols, cane swords, and – for the first time ever – can remove their hoods.
Like Paris, London is a character in itself. It’s also London before the war, which makes it even more amazing to explore, as so many buildings were lost. It’s a “modern” city (by AC standards) that has seen a bit of wear and tear. The buildings are grimy with the soot of the Industrial Revolution and are showing cracks, but it’s also prosperous and bustling. London is alive with construction and flush with money, and the villainous Templars are leaching from it.
Syndicate is just fun. Like Black Flag, it has the perfect balance of story and exploration. There’s things to do all over the city, but they don’t get in the way of the narrative. As you capture sections of your city from enemy gangs (another link to Ezio), it feels like a part of the plot, and not just busy work.
The plot is also the first since Ezio's to deal with the removal of a single group of Templars from a city. While AC III was roughly in this ballpark, the Frye’s goals are simple: find the Piece of Eden and get London back from Templar control. The Frye’s aren’t out for revenge, they aren’t concerned about philosophical freedoms – they just want to stab Templars and chew bubblegum – just like Ezio!
Syndicate doesn’t quite reach the heights of Black Flag (no nautical battles on the Thames), but it is an exceptionally good game.
Assassin’s Creed: The Movie (2016)
Assassin: Aguilar de Nerha
Time period: 15th Century
Console: iTunes Movies
What… what’s going on? Drab colours, quick edits, and an emphasis on the “action” outside the animus. It’s like a screenwriter played the game and decided that Desmond was the most interesting character.
The whole thing has a weird vibe and feels poorly put together, and if you are a fan of the games, then you’re left grumbling. Michael Fassbender has now gone on the record to say the movie “took itself too seriously”. To be honest that’s only a part of this film’s problems.
It’s best left as a weird little aside in the series.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017)
Time period: ~51BCE
Console: Xbox One X
It seems so weird to have a year without an Assassin’s Creed game, but we did, and now we have Origins.
I was most of the way through this feature when I got to sit down to play Origins at an Xbox One X launch event in Sydney. I told the Ubisoft reps what I had been doing and they were impressed, but also concerned: “We changed all the controls.”
I spent the entire demo relearning a system I just spent months playing and analysing. The first thing I did was accidentally jump out of a boat and start a fight with a crocodile, which was both cool and annoying. I expect a lot of people who play this one complain about wanting to sprint and instead triggering battles with guards.
Origins is an interesting shift from previous entries. Eagle Vision has become literally the vision of an eagle you have flying overhead. You have boats and ships and horses – or if you’d prefer, camels. I’m not going to lie, there’s something cool about being an assassin on the back of a camel.
The gear system has been expanded, and Bayek can choose from multiple different weapons and armour and mounts and… at some point you start to wonder if it’s too much. Do I need all of these options for a game that’s about stealth and stabbing?
The stabbing can even be avoided if you want to play in the educational version of the game, which allows you to learn about Egyptian history while you play. It’s always been in the Assassin’s Creed games as pop-ups, but this makes it more legitimate.
I’ve played a lot of Origins since writing my review, and I can now say that it might be my favourite AC game.
The setting of an Egypt in turmoil is exciting, and there’s so much to explore. The characters are deep, and actually grow throughout the game. We see how the Brotherhood comes together from death, and how Bayek goes from revenge-driven to more and more broken. It’s the best characterisation I’ve seen in an AC game, and it does it all at such a slow pace.
Origins does little things well. If you travel across the desert in the heat of the day, you’ll start to hallucinate. At one point I saw something fall from the sky. It was a fish. It flapped about on the sand for a short time then disappeared as I approached.
Where other AC games feel like action blockbusters, Origins feels more like a drawn-out TV show, compelling and addictive.