Was Assassin’s Creed Origins a Successful Refresh of the Series?

 The following post contains spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Origins

Assassin's Creed OriginsDeveloper: Ubisoft Montreal

Genre: Action-adventure

Release Date: October 27, 2017

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Writer: Alain Mercieca

Biography: Assassin’s Creed Origins is the tenth main game in the series and revamped many of the systems of previous titles. With more focus on RPG elements, the game is set in Ancient Egypt and follows Bayek, a Medjay who along with his wife Aya seeks revenge for the death of their son by a powerful, masked group of individuals.

For the first time in the whole series, Assassin’s Creed took a year away from store shelves in 2016 to re-examine what made the action-adventure series popular in the first place. Caused by a widespread understanding from hardcore and casual fans alike that the franchise had stagnated, Ubisoft decided to reinvent the series with Assassin’s Creed Origins which explores how the notion of an Assassin Brotherhood came to be in Ancient Egypt.

The plot focuses on Bayek and Aya, a husband and wife duo who after the murder of their son seek revenge on the masked group responsible known as the Order of Ancients. The character’s motivations don’t stray away from the core themes of Assassin’s Creed: revenge, freedom, politics and power but where the game does differ is a more mature tone and dynamic between its main protagonists. Bayek and Aya are clearly still in love but their time spent apart puts a strain on their relationship. Aya works for Cleopatra, who at this point in time has been exiled by her younger brother and current Pharaoh, Ptolemy XIII. Since the Order of Ancients are manipulating the politics and society of Egypt, Aya figures this is the best route to her son’s killers. Bayek on the other hand is a Medjay, essentially a sheriff of Egypt and he feels a sense of duty to protect the people of Egypt. The two work together but separately to track and kill the targets in the game.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is a sprawling adventure taking you across a vast landscape with countless quests and locations. Never has the impact of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt been so apparent as it’s clear that Origins takes big cues from the hit RPG. From side quests that branch off right down to the design of question marks showing locations, it becomes apparent a few hours in where Ubisoft envision the series heads from here. Although the game might lack some of the depth of CD Projekt RED’s game, for the most part Origins succeeds in giving you interesting detours which usually give some glimpse into Ancient Egyptian politics, culture and religion. Quests themselves can vary quite a bit: from diagnosing a sick, sacred crocodile in one of the game’s many temples, saving a mourning bride from suicide or helping a runaway gladiator to escape the clutches of his owner. The best side quests give insight into Bayek as a character – he’s great with kids, has a strong sense of honour but is also a little naive when it comes to trusting people.

Although Bayek is the main character you’ll control, Aya is also a playable character for a few main quests. She’s a strong willed individual with a fierceness to her attitude that Bayek lacks. Aya also proves herself to be a capable diplomat and key ally for Cleopatra as she negotiates with Rome to usurp her brother’s rule over Egypt. Another character not to be forgotten is Senu, Bayek’s trusty eagle who can tag targets, find treasures and even distract guards. She certainly comes in handy at key moments in the story but it would have been nice to know why Bayek has such a strong connection with the animal.

The main game is set during the late Ptolemaic period (49-47 BC), a time of great cultural upheaval in Egypt. Alongside Egyptians are Greeks and Romans who also occupy the land and this causes a lot of conflicts that Bayek gets involved in both militarily and culturally. The country is somewhat of a melting pot of cultures at this time and political uncertainty with pivotal historical moments like the meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra and the Siege of Alexandria. Cleopatra and Caesar are larger-than-life characters and Ubisoft doesn’t shy away from portraying them as such. As is typical for the series, Bayek and Aya are involved in events intricately here although unlike some previous games it feels as if events are unfolding around them rather than the characters causing big, historical moments to happen. The conflict in this time period is reflected in Bayek and Aya who are struggling to come to terms with the loss of their son and their place in this new world as killers and assassins.

In terms of presentation, Assassin’s Creed Origins presents the story with quite a dramatic mindset. The cut scenes where you confront and kill your targets are brutal particularly in the game’s opening hours and sometimes reflect the mythology of Egypt in stunning ways. Voice actor for Bayek, Abubakar Salim really comes to life in these moments showing his ferocity and relentlessness. These help to add to the sense of achievement when defeating one of your targets.

Once again there’s a present-day element to Assassin’s Creed with actual gameplay involved rather than just cut scenes like in Unity and Syndicate. Layla Hassan, an Abstergo researcher and field agent goes rogue with her new design for the Animus and takes a trip to Egypt as an opportunity to test it out. We aren’t really given an opportunity to get to know Layla much here but it’s encouraging that Ubisoft are dedicating a little more resource to this part of the game, after all it’s the only part of the series that has a sense of moving the overarching story forward. There are plenty of notes and emails to read which tie in to the character of Sofia Rikkin and the Assassin’s Creed film which released the previous year. There’s also further exploration of the Isu, the ancient civilisation responsible for creating the Pieces of Eden, focusing on time and simulations. This seems to be setup for what’s to come in this year’s game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey where for the first time players can affect what has previously been a linear timeline with a choice of characters and dialogue options that will impact the game’s story.

Assassin's Creed Origins

One of the game’s most memorable moments is the ending, a bittersweet moment between Bayek and Aya who can no longer continue their relationship, unable to forget the death of their son but forging ahead with a new purpose to build something greater than themselves and their own revenge, away from the controlling influence of leaders who they find to be corrupt and unfaithful to the people. The game doesn’t offer neat and tidy beginnings to the various Assassin mantras and traditions in use by Altair’s time – some of this is explored in the Hidden Ones DLC – but instead introduces the concept of a secretive force fighting for freedom and free will. It’s a compelling and satisfying conclusion to the journey but leaves plenty of interesting threads on the table should Ubisoft choose to revisit these characters.

I’d also encourage witnessing the story of the game’s DLC. The first expansion, The Hidden Ones involves rescuing the Sinai Plateau from the cruel grip of Romans but more interestingly explores in more detail some of the traditions and structure of what will become the Assassins and we get to see Bayek as more of a mentor. The Curse of the Pharaohs on the other hand delves deeper into the mythology of Egypt and its kings with some stunning locations which see Bayek enter the Afterlife. Interestingly, this DLC felt like it had a lot of production behind it with more cut scenes and intriguing characters on display than some parts of the main game.

Overall, the choice to go back to the origins of the Assassins is a smart one and gave Ubisoft the opportunity to visit an often requested location from fans. The attention to detail and the scenery of the game are stunning and the decision to explore a husband and wife’s relationship give Origins a different, more mature tone than its predecessors. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey this year will further evolve the series into an RPG and it’s exciting to think about the storytelling opportunities such a move will craft for the series.

What did you think of Assassin’s Creed Origins? Did you find Bayek and Aya’s story compelling?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

For more story exploration check out Story Mode.

To learn more about Aya’s story check out this montage – contains spoilers.

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