The Egyptians of a few thousand years ago – some might even call them ancient – were a superstitious bunch. They had many weird and wonderful gods, traditions and rituals that have come to define them for us as much as the lasting impact they had on the landscape. While the main game of Assassin’s Creed Origins tends to stick closer to the lore of the AC universe for its fictional elements, Ubisoft are looking to have a bit of fun with its second DLC expansion.
Curse of the Pharaohs is Assassin’s Creed by way of The Mummy, as Bayek travels to the Greek city and region of Thebes having heard of a powerful artefact and a curse that is afflicting the lands. This is where things get a little bit… unusual.
As soon as you step off the boat, an adversary that would fit right in as the mysterious antagonist of a hammy Hollywood romp appears, as the Pharaoh’s Shadow come to terrorise the citizens of this city. Battling anyone that dares to get near, it’s quite a tough enemy to defeat, taking quite a few heavy blows to knock it down and able to drain Bayek’s health with just a couple of hits of its own. This is not an isolated incident though, as it soon becomes clear that this is not the only Shadow that is appearing and you’re notified of their presence elsewhere in the world.
This artefact has to be at the heart of it and it certainly sounds like it could be a Piece of Eden. So you go on the hunt, trying to track down those who dug it up, discover where it came from, and find a way to lift the curse. It’s a fairly familiar form through this, as you go from one place to another, talk to people in cutscenes, investigate areas for clues, and solve a couple of little puzzles. There’s also familiar gameplay when coming to take on locations filled with hostiles, giving you the option of simply barrelling through and fighting or finding sneakier routes into the encampment or fortification and then getting a bit stabby. With the level cap jumping up to 55 from the previous limit of 45, there will again be some enemies that can stop you in your tracks.
The story soon takes you to somewhere much less expected, however. Delving into the tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings, you’re seeking to return what was stolen in order to lift the curse, but that takes a left turn when you end up in the mythical afterlife kingdoms of these pseudo-gods. It’s as gorgeous as it is unusual.
Emerging into Aaru and its seemingly endless fields of golden reeds, it’s full of strange touches, from noticing that the birds you startle have the faces and headdresses of a pharaoh, to the grand ships that sail despite there being no river. You’ll do battle with jackal-headed Anubis warriors and there’s great big scorpions that roam the land as though it were completely normal. There’s something quite terrifying about giant scorpions chasing you through fields that makes me think there’s a good horror game spin-off to be found in the idea.
Putting the restless Nefertiti back at ease is not as simple as dropping off the artefact and tipping your peaked hood on the way back out of her mythical realm – would that it were so simple! The whole region is a bit out of kilter, and you’ll be running a bunch of menial tasks for the priests worshipping her in order to appease the pharaoh. As delightful as this setting is, there is still a feeling that it’s continuing to lean on the same style of gameplay as the main game, and it’s probably not much surprise that dispelling the curse leans on Bayek’s skills in combat.
Then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Assassin’s Creed Origins overhauled and redefined the series as an action RPG, from its questing through to its level restricted combat, and it’s more than understandable for them not to rock the rock the boat too much. Instead the freshness that Curse of the Pharaohs can bring to Origins is in its setting and the story that it wants to tell.
It’s great to see the team at Ubisoft given the freedom to cut loose within the setting in this manner, and it feels like something that the company as a whole is starting to embrace. There’s the upcoming Operation Chimera Outbreak mode for Rainbow Six Siege, Far Cry 5’s season pass is set to be as wacky as they come, shifting from hunting radical cultists in Montana to travelling back in time to Vietnam, fighting zombies and coming up against Martian arachnids. Curse of the Pharaohs does that for Assassin’s Creed Origins, albeit sticking within the setting, and delving deeper into Egyptian mythology in a way that will surely appeal to a lot of Ancient Egypt buffs out there.