Assassin’s Creed: Origins review – Blood in the sand

Credit: Ubisoft
Credit: Ubisoft /

The Assassin’s Creed series undergoes a rebirth in Origins that blends both old and new in a captivating prequel experience.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC (version reviewed)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

“Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” It’s been almost three years since I’ve heard the Brotherhood’s code echo through my headphones. The Assassin’s Creed series has long been a staple of my gaming career. The unique historical locations, the engaging story and lore, and the feeling of empowerment you get from assassinating unbeknownst enemies – these games drew me in. But the formula of its annual releases rarely changed, unless you enjoyed mobile spinoffs and the pirate simulator that was Black Flag. Like many, I slowly began to lose interest in the series over the past couple years, to the point of me opting to skip the last entry entirely.

Ubisoft decided to let the next game in the series cook in the oven for an extra year. And ultimately, the wait was worth it. Assassin’s Creed: Origins, as its name implies, tells the story of how the Order began. But the game not only acts as a genesis story. It ultimately is a much-needed renaissance for the franchise. After playing Origins, my long lost love for the franchise returned in a blazing glory as hot as the Egyptian sun.

Origins takes us back, way back, to 49 B.C. in tumultuous ancient Egypt. The country is experiencing a shift in power thanks to the influence of the Greeks and Romans. The chaos is only amplified by the oppressive Order of the Ancients – the enigmatic predecessor to the Templars. Players control Bayek, the last of the Medjay, a sworn protector of the Egyptian people. Origins leads Bayek, his badass wife Aya, and his trusty pet falcon Senu from his native village in Siwa across the deserts and cities of Egpyt on a story of revenge, mystery, and justice.

It’s a powerful journey for both Bayek and Aya as they come to terms with emotional loss and what it means to protect the people and land that they love.

Assassin’s Creed storytelling has previously been, for lack of a better word, predictable – especially in the last few mainline entries. Origins, however, manages to avoid the “cookie cutter” trap that it could have so easily fallen into being a prequel origination story. The prequel delivered a plot much more compelling and emotional than I was expecting.

Bayek is constantly balancing his thirst for revenge with his duty as a protector of the people. At heart, he is a family man, and players witness how these trials and tribulations ultimately affect his relationship with Aya. Throw the volatile Cleopatra in the mix, along with the mysterious and evil masked men of the Order of the Ancients, and things turn dicey quickly. It’s a powerful journey for both Bayek and Aya as they come to terms with emotional loss and what it means to protect the people and land that they love.

Assassin's Creed: Origins
Credit: Ubisoft /

Along with this captivating narrative, where Origins differentiates itself from previous iterations is in its location. Ancient Egypt is a natural choice for the series – it’s ripe with mystery, religion, and violence. Being an Assassin in this era feels right at home. There’s nothing like headshotting an enemy soldier with your bow in front of the Temple of Horus, the god of hunting. Death plays a big role in Egyptian mythology as well, and the mythical stories of their gods tie well into the game’s mysterious lore.

This world is massive – the biggest Assassin’s Creed experience on land yet.

Egypt itself provides a perfect geographical landscape for this type of game. The blend of deserts, oasis, rivers, and varying ancient architecture from two different ancient civilizations makes for an immersive and beautiful experience. Not to mention the pure scope of the game’s map. This world is massive – the biggest Assassin’s Creed experience on land yet. It abides by the general rule of thumb that if you can see it, you can explore it. Climbing desert mountains, diving into the Nile River, exploring underground tombs beneath the Pyramids of Giza – the list goes on and on.

Assassin's Creed: Origins
Credit: Ubisoft /

Origin’s expansive open-world is just one of the many changes the game makes to the Assassin’s Creed formula. In true Ubisoft collect-a-thon fashion, the map is littered with things to do and people to kill. But gone are the days of the linear memory sequence game flow. Players can choose what and where to go next – at least in theory.

All quests have a recommended level attached to them. While nothing is stopping you from trying the quests anyway, if you are any more than two or three levels lower than what is recommended, you won’t find much success. The level scaling is brutal in Origins to the point where enemies can kill you in one or two hits if you’re too underpowered. These quests won’t even reward you with better gear, either; gear drops are based on your current level, no matter how high of a level the enemy is.

Assassin's Creed: Origins
Credit: Ubisoft /

This level gating results in a fair amount of experience grinding, which ultimately causes pacing issues. Nothing kills the mood after an intense main story quest than having to stop and grind out some side quests for a few hours. Luckily, Origins has taken notes from games like The Witcher 3 in side quest design. Each quest tells a compelling, independent mini-story that often ties in with the main objectives. One quest might have you rescuing a captured civilian from an enemy camp while another might have you investigating crimes, Arkham Batman style.

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Eventually, the base objectives of these quests start repeating themselves despite the sheer number of them. I lost count how many times I rescued someone from an enemy camp. While these side quests are the most effective way to level, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to content. There are still multiple types of special hidden locations to find, temples and tombs to explore, Hippodrome chariot racing, gladiator fights; the list goes on and on.

Assassin's Creed: Origins
Credit: Ubisoft /

The most notable of changes Origins makes to the Assassin’s Creed formula is the overhauled combat system. And when I say overhauled, I do mean overhauled. The enemy AI is much smarter and tougher, and they will gang up on you quickly, forcing players to no longer rush into combat haphazardly. Attacking a fort becomes more about stealth and planning out your attacks, making you feel more like an assassin that must stick in the shadows. Your eagle Senu helps provide an aerial view to plan out the perfect plan of attack.

What makes Origins gameplay all the better is how much choice it leaves up to the player.

What makes Origins gameplay all the better is how much choice it leaves up to the player. While stealth will prove to be a useful tool, it is in no way required. Gone are the days of required stealth missions; it’s up to the player how they want to tackle an objective. This leads into the game’s new RPG-style ability tree. Abilities are focused on three main styles of play: warrior (melee combat), hunter (ranged and assassination), and seer (traps and tools). Players can pick and choose abilities as they see fit. I feel like the idea is a solid one, but its implementation leaves a little lacking. A big chunk of the abilities just provides players with extra experience points for killing in certain ways, which does little to customize your experience.

Additional gameplay customization is also provided via the new loot and crafting system. Gear is treated more like Destiny than it is in previous Assassin’s Creed games. Weapon choice also plays a big part in combat style. Players can choose from a variety of ranged and melee weapons, each with their own style and attributes. Want to snipe from afar? Try a Predator Bow. Prefer fast-paced combat up close and personal? Dual Swords fits that niche. You can additionally craft upgrades to your gear to raise your base stats, or pay to enhance a weapon at the blacksmith. This allows you to keep that awesome legendary sickle you got at level 3 and use it even when you’re level 30.

Assassin's Creed: Origins
Credit: Ubisoft /

One of the first things you will notice about gear (and basically be forced into noticing) is the frequent pestering about the in-game store. It’s no surprise an AAA open-world single-player action game has microtransactions these days. The store sells everything from gold to crafting materials to mounts and outfits and treasure maps. The button is always there, ready for players to save time by spending real money instead of playing the game.

Don’t be too tempted, though. You can easily find everything you need within the game and without extensive grinding. I never found myself wondering if buying a new sword in the store would make the game any easier. I cannot condone the utilization of these microtransactions, and they are absolutely unnecessary to complete anything within the game.

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And while we are on the topic of AAA gaming, what would an open world gaming experience be without a few bugs? Assassin’s Creed: Origins revamped a lot of the series, but it was sure to keep some of its obscure glitches. The majority were related to strange NPC behavior: disappearing, floating, and duplicate characters, and the occasional z-fighting graphical issues. Watching a random carriage get tossed through the air was amusing, but obviously not ideal. Only twice did these bugs cause me actual issues, which were fixed with a quick restart of the game. No game is perfect, but I would be remiss not to mention the typical Assassin’s Creed jank that made an unwelcome appearance once again.

These gripes aside, Assassin’s Creed: Origins has successfully revamped the series in a much-needed way. It has openly embraced the open-world RPG genre, meshing its action-adventure and stealth-lite mechanics with tense combat and gameplay customization. The story of Bayek and Aya is intense and heartwrenching, though it’s pacing is staggered by level-gated missions and experience grinding. The level of detail taken in crafting this expansive Egyptian landscape is astounding, everything from the hustle and bustle of small villages to the glory of the Pyramids on the horizon. While not perfect, Origins delivers one of the best Assassin’s Creed experiences to date that can be enjoyed by both longtime fans and newcomers alike.

8.5. <em>Assassin’s Creed: Origins</em> marks a new beginning for the series as this open-world prequel successfully merges the old and new. While not perfect, the result is still a deeply satisfying Egyptian playground that will revitalize your love for a series that was starting to fall by the wayside.. Ubisoft. . Assassin's Creed: Origins

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.