In a showcase that also debuted gameplay for an exciting new Star Wars open world game and an Avatar FPS, I didn't expect to come away from Ubisoft's not-E3 show mostly thinking about Assassin's Creed Mirage. I'm thinking about how gorgeous 9th century Baghdad looks, how immediately charming of a protagonist Basim is, and his weirdly OP ability to teleport.
But more than anything, I'm thinking about how nice it is to be getting a classic Assassin's Creed game again, and wondering why Ubisoft is making it. I was one of the grumpy AC fans who, when Assassin's Creed: Origins released in 2017, was appalled at what they'd done to my stealth action series. Gear scores, loot, and floating damage numbers I can forgive, but the moment Ubi made it impossible to assassinate a higher-level enemy, it stopped being Assassin's Creed to me. Everyone liked AC's RPG future, too, so I made peace with one of my favorite series leaving me behind.
I've been operating under the "believe it when I see it" principle since Ubi announced Mirage, its "love letter" to the first Assassin's Creed game with glimpses of Baghdad's bustling streets and Basim's traditional robes. I was nervous that Mirage would still have some of the RPG baggage of the last three games, but after watching a 10-minute live demo at a press event this week, they've really done it: classic AC, resurrected in all its stabby, stealthy, and sometimes clunky glory.
The demo I watched followed the same path as Ubi's official gameplay video that premiered yesterday. We're introduced to Basim on his way back to a bureau after completing his first contract. Basim chats with his new buds, they discuss opening more bureaus across the city, and Basim unlocks the blowdart. We get a good look at six tools Basim has at this time: a torch, throwing knives, blowdarts, smoke bombs, traps, and noisemakers—pretty standard kit for the old games.
The meat of the demo is a larger assassination contract on a guy smart enough to surround himself with high walls and lots of guards. This is where my live demo went a little off the rails from the version Ubi published online. The demo driver almost immediately gets spotted by a guard and scrambles to hide in a bush, but it's too late. A fight breaks out in the same garden where the demo video shows off the blowdart. They barely escape the fight alive and quickly scale the tower to kill the marksman.
Once he's dead, Basim can use his eagle to scout the area, though because the compound is still on alert, the eagle is quickly disabled again. The chaos carried into the heart of the compound, where the video shows off Basim's crazy new teleporting kill ability. This was instead a huge brawl in my demo, ending with the eventual assassination of the target.
The dev narrating the video was noticeably disappointed that the mission hadn't gone as choreographed, but I can't think of a better demonstration of Assassin's Creed than seeing what it's like when everything goes wrong. The early AC games were at their most frustrating when you were fighting clumsy controls trying to evade detection, but this is where I'm most hopeful that the snappy movement of the AC RPGs will rub off on Mirage. At least I got to see more combat than everyone else. Unlike the spongy enemies of Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla, Mirage fights are quick and lethal.
We saw Basim instantly counter and kill guards like the spitting image of Altair and Ezio, though Ubi noted that Basim is a "glass cannon" character. Open combat is meant to be a last resort, which has always felt like the intended fantasy of Assassin's Creed, but past games weren't able to resist making its protagonist one-man-armies. It'd be great to feel like I'm in real danger when facing a handful of guards, instead of just waiting for their easily countered attacks.
Watching the Mirage demo gave me all the warm fuzzy feelings remembering what it was like in the runup to the first game. I went back and watched the E3 2007 gameplay demo for Assassin's Creed 1 afterward and was surprised at the little things I'd forgotten about that game that felt so novel at the time, like a dedicated button to push crowds away, the freedom to climb the side of any building, and hidden blade kills that are still cool 16 years later.
There might never be a proper Assassin's Creed remake, but I'm starting to think Mirage is something better: a modern reimagining of what that first game could've been on a much grander scale.