Two hours spent with Assassin’s Creed: Origins left me with two strong impressions. Firstly, it’s definitely a more RPG-centric affair than earlier games in the series, as Tom explained in his preview, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still, at heart, an Assassin’s Creed game made by Ubisoft. Secondly, it’s great that you can actually headshot snakes in this game. Did you know you can headshot snakes in this game? You can.
Actually, PETA will likely be on Ubisoft’s case big time, because the vast majority of my time spent in Origins was murdering animals. I murdered hippos, crocodiles, weird flying vulture-like things, and I landed headshots on snakes (thus murdering them). I didn’t do this gleefully: it just so happens that, in ancient Egypt, virtually everything wants to kill you. And if you kill them back, you get XP for it, and some loot if you’re lucky. Just hope the NPCs don't have the same lust for XP that you do.
The region I explored was Kanopos Nome, a sleepy town on the edge of the Nile, and a relatively pleasant expanse of Origins’ sprawling map. I wasn’t allowed to explore beyond this due to the return of Assassin’s Creed’s fuzzy black invisible walls, which gates off areas of the map not yet unlocked by the story. As the gif below demonstrates, it’s a small fraction of the whole map, but it felt pretty big while I was exploring.
Tom has played the same section of Assassin's Creed: Origins, focusing his thoughts on the new RPG systems. Check out his preview for more.
I didn’t really do any story missions. Or at least, I tried, but because I was a few levels below the level requirement I needed to complete some side missions first. Entering a level 20 mission as a level 17 build is not wise: I got utterly rinsed by the mobs, not to mention the mini-boss character I needed to slaughter. So I spent most of my time sprinting around the map, trying to get a read on just how different this game feels on a moment-to-moment level.
While Ubisoft has tweaked the UI so that there’s no “mini-map” full of icons, there’s still plenty of icons, and there’s still a main map. The main difference is the Skyrim-esque directional line at the top of the screen, though marked quests still appear by default as icons floating around the screen. The first thing I did was try to take out the Anthylia Outpost, a place full of guards with a war chariot acting as a sentry. The outpost has a series of objectives: kill the captain, kill the commander, and plunder the treasure. There’s also a separate side quest requiring me to also take out the war chariot. Thought Origins would do away with tick-the-box type activities like this? Think again. The requirement to meet a certain level before you can tackle story missions will likely make some of them essential, too.
This is how my efforts to take Anthylia Outpost panned out, by the way.
Not that the side missions are bad, and it’s not Ubisoft’s fault alone: The Witcher 3 had us herding a lost lamb, remember? But it does mean that Origins definitely feels like an RPG version of an Assassin’s Creed game—it hasn’t lost its splurge of icons, they’re just displayed differently. One mission had me kill two of three different animals in order to collect stuff for some vendor who needed this stuff before he could do some other thing… you get the drift.
Am I angry about this? Not really. I like the RPG stuff and I feel like this world is already a lot more varied and fun to spend time in than any Assassin’s Creed game since Black Flag. Also, there’s a whole loot grind aspect to look forward to: loot is colour-coded of course, coming in the form of armor, garb and weapons, and in the short time that I played, finding something fresh (and better powered) can genuinely shift your chances against those damn hippos.
You can equip two ranged and two melee weapons at once. The ranged combat is fun enough, but the melee stuff shines: it feels like a less measured, more arcade-oriented version of For Honor’s system, and it’s acres ahead of the sticky Arkham-like combat seen in later Assassin’s Creed games. There are heavy weapons and light weapons, dual-wielded swords, huge maces and hopefully a huge range of others to look for. One thing's for sure: the maces are effective against hippos.
That loot though: it makes the open world feel worth it. It feels gross to boil one’s enjoyment down to carrot-on-stick RNG, but it nonetheless offers the incentive to actually look around. At one point, galloping towards some distant pyramids (which in the end I couldn’t reach due to the dreaded black walls), I stumbled upon the Hathor of Mefkat, a ruin half-submerged in sand. It was a small dungeon, complete with the aforementioned headshottable snakes and some very light puzzle elements. Inside, I got some loot as well as a collectible. In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you’d likely only get the collectible. And then you’d be prompted to collect 19 more of that collectible.
There are some nice strategic touches too. Those barrelling hippos that seemingly attack you constantly? You can release poison from their corpses in order to kill (or at least slow down) nearby enemies. Weaponised hippo corpses? Confirmed. Oh, and Origins’ Ubisoft drone equivalent is a nice eagle who can mark enemies from afar and also scope out quest objectives. Sure, it’s virtually the same as similar gadgets in Far Cry: Primal and Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but it’s a genuinely fun tool to use.
And stealing boats is fun. As we've been assured many times before, boats and other naval vehicles are back, and they come in all shapes and sizes. I especially liked overtaking the larger ones by stealth: swimming quietly, climbing quietly, and then macing all on board to death while watching the yellow critical hit numbers burst over the screen. Then I'd sail desperately away from reinforcements with the wind in my hair until... the black invisible wall of death preventing me from sailing further.
Is Assassin’s Creed: Origins a complete refresh for the series? In terms of the way its open world gameplay goes, it’s not a dramatic refresh, though things have changed for the better. I like the loot (I like loot in general, to be honest), and the XP grind appeals to a deep-seated impulse to watch meaningless numbers accrue. The frankly overwhelming array of iterative power-ups each new level can unlock will pour actual meaning into this number’s game, but I’m not sure yet whether they’ll result in any abilities or skills not before seen in an Assassin’s Creed game. Overall though, Origins’ RPG bent had me hooked like few recent installments have. I’ll climb towers and jump off them for a handful of XP. I’ll deviate from my course if it means I might get a blue-hued scythe. I’m keen.