Although it’s only been just shy of two years since the release of the last major Assassin’s Creed game, Syndicate, it feels like a long time since the franchise got much in the way of substantial news. Rumours always abounded that the next game, Origins, would be heading to Egypt, but the year off Ubisoft took had many wondering just how much they planned to revitalise the formerly-annual series. Two days ago, gameplay footage uploaded by IGN of one of Origins’ side-quests began to answer just that.
There’s a lot to break down here, so let’s start with the more agreeable changes. While the Assassin’s Creed games have always been open world in nature, Origins seems to be taking this to a new level; not only does the land one can traverse on foot look to be as big and hopefully as seamless as the oceans of Black Flag and Rogue, but there’ll be more non-scripted events to navigate or use to your advantage. The example given in the released footage is an impromptu sandstorm rolling in as the player prepares to assault a bandit nest, and one would be forgiven for being reminded of the occasional abandoned ships one could find stranded in Black Flag/Rogue – these were lifelines when it came to gathering vital resources at the start of the game, though they could begin to feel repetitive as time went by.
Repetition has always been a danger for open world games, and Assassin’s Creed is a particular offender. I’ve mentioned in numerous articles now how frustrating going for 100% can be when it comes to finding every collectible secreted around the vast maps, not to mention the ludicrous amount of time spent and identical naval battles engaged in when it comes to upgrading your vessel. You certainly get your monies’ worth from the Creed franchise, but that doesn’t you’ll have fun in the process; hopefully Origins can find a sweet spot between the world feeling lifeless and overburdening you with endless menial tasks.
There are more changes in terms of exploring and interacting with the world to contend with, ranging from minor to intriguing. The change to series’ staple Eagle Vision working from the viewpoint of an actual eagle is a nice touch, and fits in with the motifs of the Assassins – though the fact it won’t be available inside structures could prove limiting. The released footage contained some vague discussion of ‘investigation zones’, potentially similar to the Detective Mode in the Arkham series, and more importantly it sounds like Origins will no longer consider detection as a mission failure; in previous Assassin’s Creed games you could of course often take the direct approach rather than blunder through often-frustrating stealth sections, but going for full story mission completion could often be an exercise in masochism. The time taken off will hopefully have allowed the team behind Origins to reconsider mission structure in a way that doesn’t surrender full completion to overly perceptive guards and janky controls. The footage shown didn’t seem to include ‘full synchronisation’ requirements, leaving it possibly a good sign – though it’s worth noting that previous series’ entries didn’t always have such stipulations even in main missions.
Most potentially interesting however is the reveal that NPCs will have routines; not only will they move around in the world from place to place but they will got to work, eat, sleep, and even use the bathroom. If this can be implemented in a fashion that is graceful rather than gimmicky, it could revitalise what being an ‘assassin’ means in the franchise – no longer hiding in hay bales waiting for targets to follow predetermined patrol routes within stabbing distance, but mapping an enemy’s route and schedule, surveying the terrain and your resources, and coming up with a strategy to strike when they least expect it.
With all that said however, it wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed release without some questionable decisions and worrying developments. And oh boy, does Origins have its fair share of those. The developer speaking in the released footage is quick to point out it’s still a ‘work-in-progress’, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pointed out how awkward and forced the voice acting and character animations can be. The torch is another example, and while I applaud its apparently multifaceted potential – not just being a hand-held tool but able to be dropped to aid navigation through tombs, thrown to injure or distract guards, and even to light arrows on fire – the fact the player character produces a fully-lit item seemingly from hammer-space can be slightly eye-rolling. The inclusion of physics based puzzles has a lot of potential, but given how buggy Creed games have been in the past anything in them relying on physics should be a concern. The biggest, and arguably most controversial, change is however the combat system.
While I praised the Arkham series’ fluid combat in my previous article, and offered a brief defence against criticism that it was ‘tap a button to win’, I’ll admit that the Assassin’s Creed games have taken the same system and managed to mangle it. The ‘Execution Streak’ mechanic introduced in Brotherhood simplified combat to ridiculous levels, with the challenge only coming from unresponsive controls and sometimes-prophetic AI. It is, however, possible to go too far the other way. This seems to be the trap Origins had fallen into. Enemy health bars, damage numbers on impact, dodging and rolling rather than counters, adrenaline meters, weapon range, weapon rarity/levelled items, ability points and level-ups – all these factors suggest that Origins is going down the route of an action RPG with tacked-on stealth mechanics rather than an action stealth game with upgradable items.
The effort to parrot games such as the Souls series, The Witcher 3 and particularly Breath of the Wild is so obvious it’s almost eye rolling. Given Ubisoft’s track record however, one has to doubt that Origins will be as effective in its combat mechanics as these games – and above all else, it simply isn’t Assassin’s Creed. That the franchise needed a new direction for its fighting is almost indisputable, but to imitate games where stealth is a far lower priority than it should be in Creed games was not the solution. For a point of comparison, consider the changes between Darksiders and Darksiders II – both were serviceable titles, but fans of the first one may well have been put off by the more RPG-esque nature of the sequel. I know, because I’m one of them.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins, in conclusion, is looking like a real mixed bag of a game. If nothing else, one has to concede that Ubisoft’s year off has certainly yielded new ideas; this isn’t the Assassin’s Creed of yore, at least in its technicalities. With reinvention however comes the danger of alienating old fans. In its desire to do everything in new and fresh ways, Origins may have ended up becoming a Frankenstein’s Monster of a mix of different franchises rather than its own recognisable entity. No doubt there’ll be more news to digest about the game in upcoming months, but for now the best advice would be to curb any hype and wait for the reviews.
What do you think of the latest Assassin’s Creed: Origins footage and reveals? Is this the revamp the franchise needed, or should it have aimed simply for refinement and creativity in its existing formula rather than broad, sweeping changes?