After the dreary retread of the main game that was the Hidden Ones DLC, the pressure was on for Ubisoft to deliver with the final instalment of the adventures of Bayek to be more worthwhile. The inclusion of a greater focus on the mythology of Ancient Egypt certainly intrigues, but will The Curse of the Pharaoh inevitably prove to be more of the same?
Upon arriving in Thebes, Bayek is immediately thrown into battle with an undead Pharaoh. The ‘Pharaoh’ in question is Queen Nefertiti. Who leaps into the fray, her distinctive war crown upon her deceased head, to attempt to chop up Bayek with her knives. Chop me up she did, in what was the first time my avatar has died in the last ten hours of gameplay (including the entirety of The Hidden One’s DLC) and it’s a clear statement of intent from Ubisoft.
Thankfully, The Curse of the Pharaohs sees challenge return once more to Origins. In part, this is due to the level cap of the enemies – and ultimately Bayek – being increased to 55. It’s also because the mythological setting has allowed the development team to cut loose in their character and enemy design – giant deadly scorpions are exactly as dangerous as you would expect. Because of this it is no longer possible to sleep walk your way through an enemy camp with a super powered and near invulnerable Bayek. Instead, I found myself resorting to the development of new tactics and unused abilities from the main game. It was exhilarating and promotes exactly the sort of high level play expected from a final episode of DLC.
Thebes is, for the most part, visually indistinct from many of the other settlements that you’ll have already explored to completion in the main game. It is with the Egyptian afterlife that the developers have really had the opportunity to try something new, the results if which are stunning and easily the most graphically impressive environments to be found in an Assassin’s Creed so far. Exploring the heaven-like Aura, with fields upon fields of golden reeds, and Duat, where the dead go to be judged, is like inhabiting a historian’s wet dream. The attention to detail on display here is absolutely astonishing and it’s further proof of how the superb team of historians at the heart of the Assassin’s Creed franchise are able to liaise with the rest of the development studio.
This is a thorough experience, with around fifteen hours of play. Whilst the structure of the game remains unchanged, several quests have been imbued with a renewed sense of fun and love for the absurd. In addition, the Pharaoh’s Shadows are a breath of fresh air compared to the disappointingly samey Philakitai-like opponents of The Hidden Ones DLC, who would simply wonder around the map until Bayek decided to kill them. Instead, the Shadows have agency. They’ll appear out of the ether and start hacking Egyptian peasants into moist giblets. Even when Bayek arrives to try to stop them, they’ll quite happily run off and rip an unsuspecting passer-by a new orifice. The Shadows offer a genuine challenge and, as such, a sense of accomplishment once they are ultimately defeated.
Readers will no doubt be relieved to hear that Bayek of Siwa is as hilariously flammable as ever. Early on in the game, whilst performing a ritual to appease the sun disk Atun, Bayek is tasked with scaling a ladder and setting fire to a large sphere constructed of wooden debris. Of course, being only a few feet from open flames immediately resulted in Bayek being transformed into a human torch. He dropped down to the ground, setting fire to the red jars inexplicably placed beneath him. In video games red means explosive and this certainly proved true as the rest of the innocent civilians conducting the ritual were immediately killed. Bayek himself was trapped in an animation loop, so I simply had to watch him slowly burn to death.
Unfortunately, this was not the only example of bugs and glitches to be found, and they’re not all as comical. In my playthrough, Bayek was unable to leap from certain rooftops for no explicable reason, became trapped within the building he was climbing and had all manner of fun with horses. There was even a case of the game crashing completely and returning me to the PlayStation 4 dashboard. It feels like par for the course with a Ubisoft release, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
After the disappointment of dreadfully dull The Hidden Ones, Ubisoft have finally delivered with this last instalment of DLC. The Curse of The Pharaohs offers astonishing and fantastical worlds to explore alongside a formidable challenge. Experienced players of Origins will be delighted to learn that more of them is required than repetitive level grinding and endless hack and slash. Instead, all of Bayek’s skills must be put to use to earn victory against his mythological opponents. If you can look past the numerous bugs and glitches, then you’ll find an essential experience for any fan of Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4