Sunday, March 1, 2020

Console Corner: Review of: Assassin's Creed: Origins

A new year, and a new Assassin’s Creed game.  Oh wait, 2017 was a little different; Ubisoft had taken a two year break to change the formula with Assassin’s Creed: Origins...  Or did it?

Before I start bemoaning the state of Ubisoft, it’s best to jump into what AC: Origins is.  Origins is the story of Bayek, medjah of the desert town of Siwa.  Egypt ruled over by the despot Ptolemy, Bayek works to protect his town from Ptolemy’s generals whose greedy, ambitious soldiers persistently kill and steal from the people.  But things hit closer to home for Bayek one day when he and his son are abducted by one of the generals and forced into an underground occult ritual, a ritual whose results prove devastating to Bayek, pushing his life in a new direction.  Revenge now his goal in life, Bayek must travel throughout Egypt to take down the generals and ultimately the pharaoh who wronged him.

Foremost, AC: Origins is stunningly beautiful.  Ubisoft’s representation of Egypt is knock-your-socks-off gorgeous.  From the pyramids to temples, deserts to oasis towns, everything in the game seems photo worthy to the point it can almost be distracting.  Distracting?  As the main quests and side quests start to become repetitive (fetch this, clear out this bandit camp, fetch that, clear out that base of soldiers, fetch this…), the beauty of the landscape and surrounds starts to draw more of the eye, and in some sense be the motivation for exploring a new area (versus the story that should most often be the motivation).  If only Ubisoft spent as much time/money on their quest lines as they did the details of their setting, the game could have achieved the quality of games like The Witcher 3 or Horizon: Zero Dawn.

An open world, action/stealth rpg, AC: Origins nevertheless is a lot of what fans of Assassin’s Creed games have come to enjoy, but with significant changes.  Traversal, stealth kills, collectibles, a wonderfully detailed location, assassins vs. templars, real-world scenes, etc., etc. remain; Origins is recognizably an Assassin’s Creed game.  But at the same time, it departs significantly from previous games’ combat and upgrade systems by adding an rpg selection and progression system.  

Origins overall system is very similar to a lot of games on the market, particularly Ubisoft’s own titles.  From one perspective, it proves the idea that the game giant are pushing all their big AAA titles toward a generic action-RPG formula.  The Division, Ghost Recon, Far Cry, and Assassin’s Creed all follow the same pattern.  1: Build a beautiful, wonderfully detailed representation of some piece of Earth or history. 2: Create a very simple but epic storyline that can easily be achieved, but prevent players from achieving that by adding five or six targets (typically NPCs) that must be defeated at the player’s convenience before unlocking the path to the big boss.  3: Add a myriad of repetitive main and side quests and collectibles that seem to justify putting effort into the beautiful map. 4: Add a myriad of weapons and armor appropriate to the setting and allow for various degrees of customization that give the player the illusion of progression, all the while the enemies ramp up in parallel.  Voila, you have a AAA Ubisoft game as of 2019, and is the reason why I’m not sure if Origins actually reinvents the IP.  

The game roughly 25 hours long (more for completionists), after about 5-6 hours it becomes clear that the player has explored the extent of gameplay, and it only remains to grind through the experience points and locations necessary to trigger the plot points.  This is relatively disappointing.  The time and effort invested in the story of early Assassin’s Creed games has given way to investing time in setting, collectibles, repetitive side quests, etc.  For gamers who like that type of grind, no problems here.  But for gamers looking for something distinctive in terms of plotting and escalation, games like God of War, Tomb Raider (2013), or Jedi Fallen Order, they will need to look elsewhere.

In the end, if you are a fan of recent Assassin’s Creed games, or a fan of Ubisoft’s overarching for action rpgs, then Origins will very likely satisfy you.  The setting the game’s universal bright spot, journeying, traversing, stealthing, and fighting your way across ancient Egypt never looked so good in a video game.  It truly looks amazing.  The rest of the game, however, will depend on the individual’s needs and preferences.  The biggest potential turn on/off is the questing.  Highly repetitive (one might say soulless), character motivation feels like a lot of copy and paste.  Beyond that, the standard rpg upgrade system, the standard fighting system (light hit, heavy hit, shield), are implemented with care, and work well.  Overall, Origins is competently designed and implemented, but lacks the uniqueness (save setting) to make the game something truly special.

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