After a year off the yearly release schedule, Origins brings with it significant changes to the Assassin’s Creed series. Where the series has flirted with RPG mechanics in the past with a loot system, the introduction of a hit box based combat system, a varied skill tree, and a typically gargantuan map have seemingly re-branded the series. Rather than an action adventure game, Assassin’s Creed Origins is now a proper open world RPG.
Taking us all the way back to Ancient Egypt, the map really is massive, full of stunning golden deserts, vibrant green oases, and croc-filled swamps. It is a beautiful game, whether at night on the Pyramids of Giza or in the blistering sun on the massive Lake Mareotis. This lake, likely equivalent to a sea in Black Flag, is only one of a great many provinces in Egypt, each of which is similarly sized. It’s difficult to overstate how big the game is, and it’s filled up with view points to synchronise – though this no longer unlocks parts of the map – ruins to loot and bandits to destroy, not to mention a large amount of side quests alongside the main storyline.
Following Medjay Bayek in his quest to avenge his son, you will lead him through assassinating those responsible while uncovering a shadowy organisation called the Order of Ancients. I won’t spoil anything here, but the story is good enough with a few memorable characters amongst the many NPCs you won’t see a second time, and yes, the modern day storyline does return to an extent with something a little bit different. The main story missions and modern day sequences are separated by many hours of side questing, each of which is written well enough and connected to the overarching story, though the actual objectives can get a little repetitive after the many hours the game requires.
Embracing the action RPG form, quests now work closer to how those in the Witcher 3 or Horizon Zero Dawn work. Previously in the series you stuck to a since quest once you’d started it, but those in Origins are open ended, allowing you to get an objective added to your map to complete when you are nearby, or coming back to it after a few other quests or side activities. You can rescue someone from a camp, assassinate a nearby target, and loot treasure from the ruin over the road without interruptions, making the game flow more naturally.
The combat system has done a lot to alleviate the repetition in the objectives. Rather than automatically moving to and attacking the nearest enemy when pressing attack, Bayek will simply attack in the direction he’s facing, and should an enemy happen to be in the way they will take damage. Combat has changed from rhythmic counters and ripostes to one of positioning and timing, where your surroundings are important and you simply can not defend on all sides anymore.
It’s a positive change, making combat more difficult by adding depth. Now controlled with the shoulder buttons, you can block, light attack, heavy attack, and use a bow while positioning and aiming with the analogue sticks. With the ability to dodge any unblockable attacks and the use of heavy attacks to break a shield user’s defence, there is a lot to remember when you first start playing. This difficulty doesn’t last too long though, as once you get used to it and kit yourself out better, though it’s never as easy as the previous games. With upgrades to your armour to increase health, enemies quickly become less of a threat.
The only thing really stopping you from attacking enemies of a significantly higher level than you is level gating, where your equipment doesn’t damage enemies simply because their level is too high. You won’t be able to have an epic battle against an enemy who is ten levels your senior, you’ll just get slaughtered. You will be slicing your way through more reasonable enemies soon enough, though you can still find yourself in trouble if you’re careless or just unlucky.
Your choice of weapon is also important to consider, as each is better suited to different situations. A standard sword is balanced, but the twin swords’ short range and high damage are better for battles against fewer enemies, while a spear is better for wide sweeping attacks against multiple enemies. Bows have similar roles; a predator bow is high damage and accurate at range – especially once you unlock the remote controlled arrows – but awkward to handle up close, whereas a warrior bow is basically an arrow shotgun. Each melee weapon also has a different special attack to deal high damage. The twin swords pounce on a nearby enemy, a spear charges forward, while a khopesh has a kind of berserk mode.
Weapons and your shield make up the loot system, with a few resources for crafting upgrades to some other stats, like health and melee damage, which can be found, looted, bought, and salvaged from dismantling weaponry. Despite the surprisingly wide selection of weapon types, the loot system doesn’t really excite too much. You will mostly find blue (standard) weapons and rare purples, with legendary weaponry seemingly limited to quest rewards rather than finding it in the environment.
You can also upgrade older weapons at a blacksmith to bring them up to your current level, so once you find a legendary with the traits you like most – probably poison or bleed on hit as they are incredibly useful – a decent income from completing quests lets you just keep upgrading your favourite. With only a few differentiating traits the loots feels a little same-y. You never find something really exciting, just another small damage upgrade with the wrong traits or something to throw on the pile.
The skill tree is significantly more varied, however, and is split into three areas. The Warrior section contains combat upgrades, Seer houses stealth and tools abilities, and bow and Senu upgrades are available in the Hunter tree. You can unlock new attacks like a shield charge or a charged heavy attack, new tools like sleep darts and smoke grenades, the ability to buy crafting materials to upgrade your equipment, and give Senu the ability to harass enemies.
Investing into any tree will make you more dangerous and better equipped, but a mixture of all three is likely the way you will go, as ultimately all three are important aspects of gameplay, though hunting is certainly the lesser of the three. The warrior tree will make transitioning to the new combat system easier, while the seer tree will allow you to complete missions more stealthily. Once you are well equipped and have a handle on things, stealth almost feels unnecessary, as you can fight your way through most evenly leveled camps with some creative positioning.
Stealth is similar to the previous games in the series, with more options thanks to proper ranged weaponry and the use of Senu to spot guards and treasure. If you occasionally upgrade your hidden blade you are unlikely to encounter any problems assassinating anyone with it. I certainly didn’t have any trouble and only really upgraded equipment when I happened upon the materials, which are plentiful if you keep an eye out for convoys or just buy them from a shop. Tools that augment your abilities include poison that spreads from corpses to passing guards, sleeping darts that lsat just long enough to sneak in and finish a guard off or – with the right skill unlocked – taming a wild animal so you can have a lion following you around.
After taking a year off, Assassin’s Creed is going through a transitional period and taking players back to the very founding of the Brotherhood in Ancient Egypt is symbolic of that. The vast new setting, the improved combat system and moving the series towards being a real action RPG have injected this series with a new life.
Version tested: PlayStation 4