The new “Assassin’s Creed” is the best “Assassin’s Creed” game in years.
Not since 2010’s “Brotherhood” has “Assassin’s Creed” felt so fresh, so expansive, and so purely focused on what the series is known for: Assassinating.
As a lapsed fan of the franchise, I was wary of “Origins.” After dozens of hours spent exploring its gorgeous, vibrant Egyptian world, I’m happy to say it’s a return to form for the mercurial series.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
I’m going to speak explicitly about “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” including about its story and gameplay – this is a review, after all. So, if you don’t want anything spoiled, turn back!
Review note: All images in this review were captured on a PlayStation 4 Pro in 4K, with a review copy of “Assassin’s Creed Origins” provided by Ubisoft. The game was played on a PlayStation 4 Pro.
The game’s story follows Bayek, who’s basically the Egyptian Ned Stark.
Bayek is a man bound by ideals, on a quest for vengeance.
As you’ll learn in the first hour of “Origins,” a secret society is pulling the strings of a puppet pharaoh. Bayek, unfortunately, gets in the way of their plans and, for whatever reason, they kill his son.
It’s simple, no doubt, but it’s really just to provide the spark necessary to kickstart the game’s story and give its main character some purpose. It’s the least exciting aspect of “Origins,” and it’s unfortunately front-loaded on the game.
That said: It’s beyond worth persisting past the plodding first hour or two of “Origins” for the thrilling 30 hours that follow.
“Origins” is sharply focused on assassination and sneaking, as it should be.
Across the past decade, “Assassin’s Creed” has gone in a half dozen different directions. Whether directly participating in the American Revolution – darting around historic battlefields – or engaging entire armadas in ship-to-ship battle, the series had seemingly moved on from its roots.
With “Origins,” though there are plenty of meaningful changes and additions, it feels like the purest “Assassin’s Creed” game in years. The game’s main campaign path is literally a list of names, and your job is to work toward crossing those names out.
There are loads of side missions that have you doing all manner of things – it’s not as though there isn’t variety. You’ll even captain a massive ship at least once. But the focus of the game, the main story, is centered on assassination.
At one point, in a moment that’s perhaps too on the nose, a story character says, “Now is the time for assassinations!” Indeed it is.
Sneaking around and taking out enemies is better than ever in “Origins.”
Being a good assassin in “Origins” isn’t just about leaping from rooftop to rooftop, though I certainly did plenty of that. “Origins” borrows a system from “Horizon Zero Dawn” to make sneaking an effective tactic in every instance: You can easily hide in foliage.
There are three major cities in Bayek’s Egypt: Alexandria, Giza, and Memphis. There are also vast stretches of desert, dotted with small towns. There are also ruins to plunder, in search of loot and adventure.
This diversity of environments means you’re just as likely to hide behind a massive statue of Anubis as you are to float past guards on a rooftop.
Best of all, you’ve got an eye in the sky: An eagle named Senu.
More than just a totally sweet-looking eagle, Senu is a way to tactically plan out your many assassinations. By tapping up on the directional-pad, I was easily able to switch between Senu and Bayek – while playing as Senu, you can mark enemies, treasures, and places of interest, which then applies to Bayek when you switch back.
It’s a really smart addition that makes a massive difference in how I approach the entire “Assassin’s Creed” experience.
Though I was still casing my next mark, carefully walking around areas of interest or sneaking around on rooftops, I used Senu as my first step in planning.
How does Bayek see from Senu’s point of view? Best not to think about that too deeply.
When you do have to fight in open combat, “Origins” has a surprisingly deep new combat system.
The “Assassin’s Creed” series has tried a variety of different systems for combat, but the system in “Origins” feels like the right one.
To be clear, it’s got a steep learning curve. I died a lot in combat. Enemies gang up on you. You are not an immortal video game hero. Someone will come up and shank you. And that’s actually a good thing. You’re an assassin, remember? A far more successful tactic to taking on missions is to play the game like an assassin – not like Master Chief.
But, if you do have to fight a few enemies, the combat feels more like “Bloodborne” than “Batman.” Each fight could mean death, so I found myself playing far more strategically – carefully planning each swing of the game’s many, many weapons.
“Origins” is gigantic, and its world feels alive.
Day and night cycles impact how many people are on the streets of a given town or city. The market is bustling with activity at mid-day, but only a few peddlers are around in the middle of the night. Main thoroughfares in Alexandria are bustling – if you don’t look both ways, you might get run over by a thundering horse.
And the desert! Sunset on the desert is magical.
Beyond it just being gorgeous, which it clearly is, the world of “Origins” is full of people to talk to, places to go, and stuff to do.
Exploring ancient Egypt is flat-out incredible.
“Origins” is historical fiction with a level of depth and immersion that no other artistic medium is capable of producing. The “Assassin’s Creed” series is known for putting players into detailed historic environments and allowing them to explore. “Origins” takes that to a new level.
More than any previous “Assassin’s Creed” game, I spent a tremendous amount of time just walking around and looking at stuff.
Ancient Egypt is, obviously, somewhere that none of us will ever go. “Origins” offers an incredible look into a world that we’ll never see again.
“Origins” stars a person of color, surrounded by other people of color — a rarity for blockbuster games.
The “Assassin’s Creed” series has always been more diverse than most so-called “triple-A” game franchises. The first game in the series starred Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, a Syrian-born assassin, and “Assassin’s Creed 3” starred a Native American.
“Origins” continues this tradition with Bayek and Aya, his wife – a welcome change from the usual white knight trope.
“Assassin’s Creed Origins” is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. It costs $60, and it’s well worth your time. Check out a trailer of the game in action right here: