Assassins Creed: Origins has us follow the story of Bayek a Medjay— an elite protector— of Egypt who embarks on a journey of revenge that leads to the creation of the Assassins brotherhood. Though technically taking a step back in the Assassins Creed story, Origins shows that Ubisoft taking a year off of the Assassins Creed series was worth it with changes in gameplay. These alterations and improvements really impressed me in ways I didn’t expect but Origins also drops the ball in situations that, had it been handled differently, would have made this story one of the best in the series. Don’t mistake my critique though, Assassins Creed: Origins is by and large a great game but the story struggles to invoke feeling to the player.
I will start off by saying that the gameplay in Assassins Creed: Origins is beyond phenomenal and was probably my favorite part of the game. Admittedly, It did take a little while to grow on me and it was a rocky start but the true open-world style of Origins was charming enough to help me see through its misguided introduction.
The first village you encounter is Siwa, the land where Bayek is from. As I approached the town I took a second to take it all in. Everything around me looked and felt like a huge open space full of different aesthetically pleasing locations that, when combined, made up ancient Egypt. It was beautiful and though it wasn’t the ancient Egypt I had expected to see, it was a brilliant depiction that further sustained Assassin Creeds great reputation with historical architecture.
The first 20 minutes of the game were rough, however, lacking in a proper introduction to our protagonist and his story. It does this cliche flashback type of storytelling that only works when there is a clear direction for you to follow. Because this is an open world game with beautiful architecture and plenty of side quests, you lose the effect of what would have been a cool intro and instead are left confused for a good portion of the games beginning.
What I did enjoy from the very beginning, however, was Origins’ combat. In fact, I will go on to make a bold statement and say that this is the most fun I’ve had with combat in an AC game. While many found the combat to be stiff and complex, I found it refreshing and felt that it allowed for more player agency. AC Origins doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its combat mechanics and it doesn’t need to, not when it offers variety in weaponry and tactics. You can choose from traditional one-handed weapons like swords and sickles or go for a heavier, harder hitting weapon like an ax.
AC Origins isn’t offering players anything new in the way of weapons but they have renovated the way players use them, offering a tactical advantage and a usefulness that stems beyond combat.
Along with melee weapons, you also have a choice of ranged weaponry. Actually, to say you have a choice implies there are different types of ranged weapons but really its only variations in bow style. Each style of bow offers a different advantage and can be used in different situations. Predator bows, for example, offer higher damage output and the ability to shoot arrows from long distance but at the cost of a lower ammo count. AC Origins isn’t offering players anything new in the way of weapons but they have renovated the way players use them, offering a tactical advantage and a usefulness that stems beyond combat.
Though I loved its revitalized angles with combat, I initially didn’t enjoy the free-scaling and parkour mechanics in the game. They weren’t always responsive, not how I remembered them being in past AC titles anyway. In Assassins Creed Origins it seems they wanted a more realistic sense of parkour, only allowing you to scale the portion of the environment that shows obvious indentations or cracks. I’m also fully aware that I had a sense of bias towards AC II that made this restricted sense of free-scaling feel horrible. If this was my first AC game ever then I wouldn’t have an issue with this, I probably would have enjoyed the limited scaling and gave it credit for realism.
There were also portions of the game were the camera got in the way or the controls felt unresponsive, though those moments were few and far between throughout my gameplay. But as I progressed in AC Origins, scaling became less of an issue for me and I coped with the more realistic approach fairly quickly. Of course, the beauty and visual pleasure of climbing to the top of the pyramids helped sway my opinion. There was an emphasis on depth perception that promoted the feeling of being at the top of the tallest pyramids. It was very well done, enough to make me sit back and enjoy the miles of dessert and the starry night sky.
Assassins Creeds storytelling is always at its best when conspiracy and revenge are deeply rooted in its core.
Although my introduction to this new world was a little rough, I soon saw the version of ancient Egypt I envisioned. The large temples with statues protecting them, the markets full of weavers and blacksmiths selling their goods, gold and beautiful landscape surrounding the people as they walked by or performed their mundane tasks; a sign of an advanced civilization. What I learned as I interacted with the people though, is that this was probably the shittiest and most complex part of Egypt. Places like Alexandria, for example, was full of shady politics that saw corrupt people in power exploit the Egyptian people and their land.
The version of ancient Egypt I envisioned actually turned out to be an aesthetically beautiful place but with a lot of ugly practices and corrupt politics hidden behind the curtains. Which brings me to our protagonist Bayek. See, the story of Bayek is full of revenge and corrupt politicians, much like every installment in the AC series. Assassins Creeds storytelling is always at its best when conspiracy and revenge are deeply rooted in its core. The stories are supposed to feel personal. So in Origins, You, as the protector of Egypt, are supposed feel an entrenched responsibility for the lives of your people and your loved ones.
AC Origins follows this formula extremely well in the first 1/3 of its main story. It was dramatic, full of skepticism and conspiracies which brought the type of fictional historic storytelling that made previous installments like AC II so great. Then as I got to the latter part of the game my interest in the story began to die out.
Bayek started to feel less like a father looking for revenge and more like a mercenary exchanging assassinations for information like currency.
Bayek started to feel less like a father looking for revenge and more like a mercenary exchanging assassinations for information like currency. AC Origins’ main quests only gave me motivation and a sense of attachment to Bayek when it felt personal. Midway through the game, It didn’t feel personal anymore. This is when Origins’ main quests started to lose their allure. My assassinations no longer fueled my fire for revenge and I saw myself slowly start to stray away from main quests.
To make up for the lack of immersion as a Medjay in the main quest, I then directed my focus to a large number of side quests throughout this open world. These side missions for me were what really highlighted your responsibilities as protector of the people of Egypt and instilled a sense of motivation. The quests weren’t vague, they often told a story and it gave me a deeper sense of what troubles the people.
Side quests ranged from helping a farmer retrieve the corpses of his dead family members after a group of hippos killed them to being hired as the personal bodyguard of a merchants daughter and ensuring she gets home safely. Some of the side quests had you perform mundane tasks but this, in my opinion, helped make me feel like I was directly making a difference in these peoples lives. It created a sense of hope and optimism in an otherwise confusing and malicious period of time.
Although it was nice to feel accomplished and bask in whatever emotions had arisen from the different side quests, this actually was a huge problem. These side quests are optional and if I hadn’t been open to taking them on, I would have had to rely on the main quest’s storyline to provide emotion and motivation but it struggles to do this.
AC Origins uses strong themes in Bayek’s story, like the murder of his son and the complexity of his relationship with his wife due to the life they lead. The issue is that while the story is lengthy, the situations and dialogue felt so uninspired. Characters were seldom given a chance to grow on you and you are constantly being introduced to a new individual that you give the title of “brother” or “friend” upon meeting them. You meet close friends on your journey but you as the player don’t get a sense of why you’re so close. There’s no issue in labeling characters as such but as the player, I had no context beyond the dialogue and the understanding of the situations in front of me.
The deaths of certain characters weren’t as hard-hitting for me, mainly because the story didn’t do a great job of showing me why Bayek felt so strongly for these characters in the first place.
I was frequently left feeling nothing while Bayek displayed various emotions that a person would usually show towards someone that is seemingly close or considered a loved one. The deaths of certain characters weren’t as hard-hitting for me, mainly because the story didn’t do a great job of showing me why Bayek felt so strongly for these characters in the first place.
It was the games inability to invoke emotions during these situations that left the story of revenge feeling so empty and baseless at times. I wanted to be moved by what was happening around me. Egypt as Bayek knows it is being destroyed, his relationship with his wife is apparently suffering the same. I didn’t get too much dialogue that made me believe there was a gap in their relationship. But according to the game, there was and again I was left feeling virtually nothing for these otherwise heartbreaking moments.
As I chugged along though, Origins did a very good job of bringing me back in. As we got to the final missions we started to see more of what was happening behind the scenes with Bayek. We got a stronger sense of connection with the people he would come to form the Assassins brotherhood with. The conversations he would have were meaningful to his story of revenge and to his promise to protect the people of Egypt.
As Bayek’s motivation was reinvigorated, so was mine and the final moments of the Origins looped me back in. It was a revenge story again and full of plot twists and conspiracies that had a hint of authenticity to them. This is what made the first Assassins Creed great, it was only fit to see the reboot close out in a similar fashion.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with how things turned out for Bayek and his wife. The Assassins Creed: Origins finale was quite good and looped me right back into enjoying my time as the founders of the brotherhood. Of course, the ending of AC Origins is open-ended but it did so in a way that allows for the series to go in any direction without destroying what they’ve built in Origins.
Assassins Creed: Origins brings the series back to form while introducing a better open-world experience that can be improved and implemented in future installments. Egypt, in both politics and landscape, was used in an imaginative way and I thoroughly enjoyed AC: Origins even with my disconnect during some emotional scenarios. I highly recommend this game and it’s easily one of the best titles of the year. I think the future of the series is bright again and that is something that hasn’t been said about an Assassins Creed game in quite a long time.