Origins goes in a very different direction to every other Assassin's Creed game. The basics are there, but it’s all presented very differently. The gameplay changes are the easiest to spot. If you’ve played a lot of Assassin’s Creed, you have to learn to play differently. You can’t approach Origins in the same way that you would’ve Syndicate or any other AC game, even when doing simple things like dropping down to assassinate two guards standing together (something I had taken for granted) or throwing berserk darts.
In a lot of ways, Origins is a stripped-back AC. It’s like the devs thought, "How much stuff can we take away and still have this be recognisable as an Assassin’s Creed?" There are times when I felt they had gone too far, but for the most part the balance is good.
First off, the controls have changed. As someone who has played every Assassin’s Creed game, I can tell you it’s a jarring move to suddenly not know exactly what the buttons do. If you are used to previous AC games it does take a while to learn, especially in fights.
The idea of shields means that there are two types of attacks (not including ranged): heavy and light. Heavy is the only type that will get through a shield. Your enemies have the same kind of attacks, meaning you need to keep your shield up, just in case.
The world map is gigantic. It might be the largest map on any game I’ve ever played. And it’s notable how much of it is empty and just there to be explored. The collectables in Origins are done much better than in previous games, with the amount of busy work reduced.
There is also no mini map, so you can’t see the buildings around you, or the enemies. Normally this is fine, except when you are out exploring and are suddenly spotted – then you have no idea where the arrows will come from.
Your eagle vision comes courtesy of Senu, your eagle. Senu can tag enemies, chests, secret passages, and other important points. There seems to be no limit to the number of things Senu can tag at the same time. The main issue is that while Senu can tag items and enemies through walls, the eagle can’t see through them. So you have to guess where enemies might be, before you can tag and track them.
The ability tree is less linear than in previous games and it feels more like Far Cry than Assassin’s Creed. In fact, a lot of the skills are directly taken from Far Cry – chained assassinations, for example. Other skills are more about earning XP.
Because you have more specific skills to choose from, more thought is required regarding how you want to play the game. Are you more of a fighter or more of an archer? I became a sniper with a predator bow, with guided long-range arrows.
Dotted all over the map are question marks. Often they are enemy encampments that you need to clear out – another new thing for an AC game. Previous iterations have enemy bases, but they are more of a single mission type thing. In Origins, camps are permanent and will refill with soldiers. And of course there are bandits, who not only reset their camps, but also wait in the bushes along the roadside to ambush you or other travellers.
The inventory system has been radically made over. Bayek can buy, find, and earn a huge range of weapons, bows, outfits, shields, and mounts – known collectively as gear in the game. (You can get more outlandish items in the Helix store, but generally that requires real money.) Each piece of gear is either common, rare, or legendary and the rarity gives it bonuses like gaining health on a hit or setting your target on fire. This starts to feel a little like Shadow of Mordor, and a little too much like magic.
When you find a piece of gear it is roughly the same level as you. So, if you’re level 3 and complete a mission, you may get a level 2 sword. However, complete the same mission at level 23, and you’ll get a level 22 sword. If you find a piece of gear that you like but its level is too low, you can go to a blacksmith and upgrade it to your current level.
At first I thought this system would detract from the gameplay; that grinding towards better gear would move me away from the story. Instead, it became a simple system to use, and made me want to explore more.
In fact, one of the best things is the tomb exploring that Bayek does. Bayek is able to find the pathways into the tombs of Pharaohs from the Old Kingdom. These tombs contain tablets written in the old language (an easy way to get a skill point), and lots of loot. Yes, this is essentially grave robbing, but there’s something intriguing about exploring these ancient tombs, lit torch in hand finding secret passageways and reading ancient texts. I even let out a small yelp of excitement when I discovered the body of one particularly famous Egyptian.
Some tombs also contain precursor shrines. What bugs me is the Bayek doesn’t seem to care or be confused when he encounters these glowing magical objects. Then there’s Layla. Layla is an Egyptologist sent by Abstergo to research Bayek. She is the Desmond of this game. She is an interesting inclusion as the series has been moving away from this model Unity.
Unlike in previous games, however, Layla is in the field. She doesn’t have the right genes and so has plugged her Animus machine directly into Bayek’s mummy. You are pulled out of the simulation at times to play as Layla, to discover extra information around the tomb. It’s also the first time since AC3 where the "initiate" is a playable character who gains abilities from the bleed (the effect that give assassin abilities to those using the Animus).
The differences in theme are harder to notice. Bayek is not a capital-A “Assassin”, he is a Medjay, sort of like an ancient Egyptian sheriff. So there is no Assassin’s Brotherhood and no Templars. This truly is the beginning of the story. It also means that he’s not so great at stealthy assassin stuff. Don’t expect to do those subtle stabs that previous assassins do.
The Medjay aspect means that Bayek is taking more charitable missions. This actually makes more sense than in previous games where assassins would just take side missions for no reason. It’s clear, however, that Bayek’s main goal throughout is to find the killer of his child.
Assassin’s Creed has always been a story about death, but arguably no culture on Earth has had a closer connection with the dead than Egypt. Bayek’s first few missions will see him reuniting families with their dead. Later he’ll tour the halls where the dead are embalmed, and fight against the desecration of the dead.
But it goes deeper than that. When Bayek kills a main target he is taken to the Land of the Dead, home of Anubis. These scenes not only piece together the story but also explains what happens in every other AC game when a target is assassinated.
In a sense, Origins is a reverse mythology for Assassin’s Creed. For example, Bayek anoints his targets with a feather – in Egyptian mythology when you die, your heart is weighed against a feather. But this links him to Ezio and the Fryes who do similar things. The creators have taken the staples of the AC games and tried to create origin stories for them all. It’s like the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy gets all of trademarks. But is Bayek even the first assassin? I’ll be honest – I have no idea. The game is so big I am nowhere near completing it.
There are of course flaws in the game, but these are mostly animation glitches and terrible voice acting. They aren’t constant but when they occur, they distract from the game in a bad way.
Finally, if you were wondering which console to get it on, I was able to review Origins on both PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X. I wasn’t expecting much of a difference but wow, there definitely is! The game looks much better on the One X than the PS4.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is a good game, easily in the top five AC games of all time. The depth of character in Bayek and his partner Aya is excellent. You actually care for their fate and feel their pain. The setting doesn’t make you miss the soaring towers of more modern cities. From sandstorms to mirages to lush Nile tributaries to dark tombs, this is a completely different world for an AC game.