“Be the chaos that comes to be. Gods are just like you and me”
So the long-awaited “last straw” of the Assassin’s Creed franchise has arrived. If you didn’t read my previous post looking at why my hatred grew and grew for the franchise, you can find it here. Alternatively, here is a summary: boring gameplay, bad writing and lack of imagination…and a clear strive to make as much money possible with the smallest amount of effort. Despite that being the case, I was eager to play Origins and after 40 hours in 5 days, I have finished the game. In this post I’m going to summarise the game for you and also look at what they did well, what they did poorly and where the game could and should go in the future.
This will probably turn into a fairly lengthy article but you can look at it as being divided up into the following sections: The first section will look at the downsides of the game followed by the pluses. The second section will look at how certain aspects of the game set it up for future installments as well as looking at the directions that Ubisoft may choose to take.
This post will be riddled with spoilers. If you haven’t played the game then I’d advise not reading any further. So what are my thoughts? Well, it certainly exceeded all my expectations. I have to admit, that there is definitely a bias here. I have a huge fascination with Egypt: I’m currently reading my 2nd book this year on it, my computer wallpaper is the Pyramids of Giza, visiting there is on my bucket list…I could go on. Suffice to say, being able to explore pyramids and see what Egypt could have looked like around 50BCE was on its own a fun experience for me.
As for the game itself, while there were some negative elements. I LOVE what they have done with it. To me, this almost felt more like a reboot (and a much needed one at that). I made some initial notes when I first started playing but they began to sound petty the more I went on. Things like the “animus pulse” felt a bit out of place to me. I wish they had just called it “eagle intuition” or something like that because while it would have sounded ridiculous, it would have made more sense. I mean why would using the animus allow for memories to be changed? It just doesn’t fit in. Other things like changing the ‘assassinate’ buttons from X to Y also seemed a little unnecessary. Points like these were shadowed by the massive enjoyment I experienced from playing through Origins.
Grasping at Straws
As I said, I loved this game…and for that reason I’m going to start my summary with the negatives. These are the things that brought the game down just a little for me. Most will sound petty but I’ve got to be honest. We’ll start with the story elements.
Negative Points: Film Connections
One of my biggest issues (which was something I’d hoped wouldn’t happen) was their blatant desperation to connect this game to the Assassin’s Creed movie. We see SO MANY references to it that it just becomes impossible to ignore. Most of this takes place outside that animus through e-mails, files, etc. I wouldn’t have had an issue at all if it weren’t for the fact that the film didn’t relate to the games. It was never explained why the Apple was so small or why Abstergo seemed to know very little about the pieces of Eden. Instead, it feels like the film tried too hard to be generic without addressing any previous lore and then this game tried to connect them back together. It’s not a huge issue but it does make me wish the film had been a little more thought through. If only they had aimed the film at fans of the series then maybe we’d have something better to discuss. The fact that they are releasing another 2 films makes me wonder how much of this is just them laying the groundwork.
Negative Points: The Ending (in the Animus)
Another story element that did annoy me was the ending. I mean, not the very end (that was actually a great way to end the game). However, when we have just had a 2 day long battle on the Nile and finally face the two remaining members of The Order, we get a pretty disappointing outcome. I feel like they could have done more with the war aspect rather than setting up two arenas to fight in. Like why would these people just be hanging around in a war, waiting for a one-on-one? I was worried the game was going to end at this point but everything that happened after this was great. I just feel like they could have tied in a feeling of being more involved in the war that was going on rather than giving us simple boss battles.
Negative Points: The Ending (out-with the Animus)
Now this was ridiculous! I know that many, many of the Assassin’s Creed games have ended in a similar fashion: you discover your next destination or need to move base to escape Abstergo. I can even accept William Miles randomly showing up (with a different voice) but there was no real explanation as to why they are going to Alexandria. We’ve had maybe 4 games with stupid endings in terms of the modern day, most of which had very little connectivity to previous games, so I feel like they should have given us a bit more to go on. I’ll come back to this later one when I discuss the future of the games because it sort of annoys me that both bodies were in the tomb yet from what we can tell, Aya is now in Rome.
Negative Points: Glitches and Timeline Mix-Ups
I found how they handled the side missions in relation to the main story really well done…but…I found myself returning to some side missions after completing the main story only for Bayek to act like certain dead characters were still alive or that he was still searching for his son’s killer. I feel like it wouldn’t have been that much effort to record a few extra phrases for certain scenarios in order to cover this issue.
I also found it incredibly annoying when I’m freeing people from cages only for them to start attacking me. I first discovered this on a boat when searching for copper. I had killed all the guards already and thought I’d be a decent human being and free the captives, only for them to start attacking me. This happened a few times and became quite an inconvenience. From that point on I just let them rot in their wooden cells.
Negative Points: The Pre-Cursor Messages
I’m not going to linger too long on this point as actually, other than for this small point, I believe the pre-cursor stuff was done well. Finding these hidden chambers and activating these messages was cool but for the most part, I didn’t feel like I was gaining much from them. It bugged me that they were referring to Layla in the same manner that they’d shocked players by referring to Desmond at the end of Assassin’s Creed II.
I also feel like while talking about time and displaying pictures of wormholes is interesting, there wasn’t a great deal of substance to them. I plan to go back through and explore them deeper (you may have heard certain words were said backwards) as I’m sure there is more to offer. Maybe they are just setting up the next game but in comparison to some of the pre-cursor stuff we’ve had before, these messages just let me down which is a shame because the temples were awesome!
Negative Points: End the Mainstream
One thing I was hoping for in this game (perhaps it was just an example of wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations) was for the story to destroy the mainstream narrative of history. The franchise has always been great at combining real history with the fictional history in a manner that tends to work really well. I was hoping that the idea that the pyramids and the Sphinx are much, much older than mainstream history leads us to believe would be explored within the game. It could have been the perfect Segway into life after the catastrophe. It could also have made people want to research it more (Fingerprints of the Gods is an excellent book, just saying).
Using the tunnels under the Sphinx in all honesty, made my dick hard. That is something I’ve recently been researching and while I doubt there is a set of Isu armour under there, the mystery itself is still hugely intriguing. I think the idea that the pyramids weren’t tombs could have been used in incredible ways within this game. Perhaps they could have been entrances to pre-cursor tombs or energy stores or something completely unexpected that just brought a bit more of the pre-cursor story into the world beyond coded messages. I mean the pyramids are one of the biggest mysteries on Earth and I just feel like Ubisoft didn’t play on that as well as they could have.
But that’s all the negativity out of the way (looking back through it I realise I’ve made a pretty big list out of tiny little points). These may all seem pretty minor but they genuinely impacted on my enjoyment in playing the games and are what stopped this from being my favourite game ever.
Bask in the Joys
Now we can explore what made this game great and improved it drastically from the last few years of dead cow milking we’ve had from Ubisoft.
For me, Ubisoft nailed the storyline. I was a little confused at the start when being thrown into flachbacks then different flashbacks then random scenes here and there that it turns out were blackouts…but once we got down to it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a little disappointed that Bayek shaved his beard because I thought it looked pretty bad ass but other than that, I don’t have many complaints. There was never a moment where I felt bored of the storyline. It seems that Ubisoft did a pretty good job of balancing the main storyline with the side quests and side activities which was a good change from the last few games.
My only complaint would be related to the vault that we opened at the end. I feel like they could have made what was inside it a little more exciting…but that’s neither here nor there. I also wouldn’t have minded fleshing out the final missions a little more. After all the build-up and then the chase across countries, I feel like there was a missed opportunity for a few more missions. Also, for those less up-to-date with the history, I feel like we could have explored how Marcus Junius Brutus discovers and explores the Colosseum Vault. Again, a completely minor thing that doesn’t remotely take away from how much fun I had playing through the storyline and exploring Egypt.
Overall, I felt thoroughly gripped by Origins and for the first time since maybe Revelations, I was actually incredibly interested as to where the storyline was headed. What I loved was that as a player, we knew early on what the vault was and how it could be opened but couldn’t do anything about it. I spent so long wondering what was behind those doors. Nearing the end of the game I started to worry that we may never find out but exploring Alexander’s tomb and seeing the staff in there was a joy.
Again, I think Ubisoft did an excellent job of coming up with an interesting character. I can’t say it shocked me that they found a way to slip playing as a female character in there but Bayek was interesting and likeable (unlike maybe the last 3 or 4 main characters). I’m still torn as to whether he is actually an ancestor of Desmond’s (there was certainly a similarity and the scar on the lip used to be the tell-tale sign).
Aya was also a like-able character (other than when her story arc called for you not liking her). I feel like she may be the focus in the next game but we’ll discuss that in a moment. It was good to see a strong female character without it being forced down our throats. I mean she was strong because the situation called for it as opposed to the previous games where the female characters tended to be stronger than they should be or incredibly annoying.
As with most Assassins Creed games, the new features took a little getting used to. Unlike the last few games (I feel like I need a codeword for referring to all the games between 3/4 and Origins) the new features didn’t feel like someone came up with them during a 3 minute brain storm session
. Anyway, Senu the bird added a refreshing element to the gameplay. I found it changed how I played the game a lot and it actually took me the entire 40-odd hours before I used her in the most efficient manner. I worry that they’ll force that into every game which would be fun but also devalue the connection that Bayek had with his pet. I guess they could maybe find some way around that but anyway, this was an incredibly successful new element that truly enhanced the gameplay.
The combat system was another aspect I was a little worried about at first but now, I can’t imagine how it will feel playing the old games. It truly made combat not only more entertaining and just fun in general, but more fluid and challenging. There was a higher level of strategy required in certain situations which brings me nicely onto that very aspect.
The level system seems a little crazy at first. It took me a while to realise that I couldn’t just fight everyone which can be a little frustrating at time (such as getting hooked on the storyline but being unable to progress due to your level) but also made the game as a whole more fun. It meant that for some missions, you had to actually be incredibly strategic and stealthy. With most Assassin’s Creed games you might try to do it like that but upon failing you can just fight everyone. That’s not an option when you’re at a lower level than everyone inside a fortress. I said ages ago, way back at like AC 4 that we needed something like this and I’m so relieved they did it in a manner that worked. Even the whole skill upgrades idea was wonderfully refreshing. They trialed it with AC Unity and improved it a little with Syndicate but they nailed it (finally) with this one. They broke it up in a similar manner to that of Far Cry 3 which I think was a good decision.
Refreshed Boring Aspects
One of my main complaints in previous games was related to those stupid stone things that you match up. There was no challenge to it, finding them was a pain in the ass and ultimately the reward was never worth the effort you put in. Using the stars and making it more visually appealing certainly made things more interesting for me but finding out that they’d hidden a whole precursor temple under the sphinx related to these stones made it VERY exciting! I felt compelled to find them all (and luckily there were only 12). I was a little disappointed that all you got was some Tron style armour. I feel like it would have been another opportunity to explore some more First Civilization stuff rather than just presenting us with some unexplained armour. Even if they’d given us some sort of backstory or reason for it being there, I’d have been a lot more relieved to find it. Still, they toned it all back from the previous games and I give them two thumbs up for that.
Another thing that this game did really well was the structure of the missions. You can have multiple on-going at the same time which was a refreshing change. Also, the idea of being able to play some of a mission, realise you’re not a high enough level, go do other and then continue where you left off is simply a great feature. Nothing is more soul-destroying than having to bail on a mission and then do it all over again.
At the start, they also managed to completely refresh an element from the original game that had always been annoying. You’d have to go to a dude to start the mission, you’d then go find someone else usually to get more information, then you’d kill someone, then you’d have to go back to one guy, then the first guy again…they scrapped that in Origins which was wonderful. You could take on like 4 new missions, work through them and never have to go back and forth between people. It made the run-up to an assassination seem a lot more realistic but also drastically less boring and repetitive.
The only thing that did get a bit stale was the hunting aspect. I feel like it was almost perfect but by the last few levels of each aspect (melee, assassins blade, etc) I found myself just getting bored and usually not bothering to explore it any further. I think I only got two aspects fully improved.
Future of the Series
This is where I become a little concerned. I feel like there are two elements to explore here and I will discuss my opinions on both in just a second. The game can advance two aspects of its story: the present day and the past. The manner in which it will do this has been hinted at within Origins but I feel like only time will tell which direction Ubisoft heads in. My main hope is that they take the proper time again to come up with ideas and develop them. Origins was a refreshing reboot and it would be a shame to scrap that by rushing to release a sequel.
I get the feeling that Bayek’s story had been told. There’s no need to explore Egypt anymore (from a gameplay standpoint) and since Bayek continues on there, I can’t see him returning, at least not as the main character. His wife on the other hand, Aya, is a prime candidate for the next game. Having changed her name to Amunet (literally meaning Hidden One), Aya went in pursuit of Cleopatra and spared her life, only on the understanding that she would rule over the people of Egypt in the way that she’d promised. We know from previous Assassin’s Creed games that she kills Cleopatra within the next two decades.
As Aya/Amunet has moved to a new location and as her character was developed throughout the game, I feel like Ubisoft may follow her in the next game. We could see her involvement in the destabilization and ultimate fall of the Roman Empire and even though we’ve seen Rome as a city before, that’s over 1400 years from when the game would be set. That’s not to say they would even explore the city of Rome at all as you’d have the entirety of the Roman Empire in all its glory to play with. I’d be quite happy playing her in the next game and it would allow players to stay connected and feel like the game followed on properly from the previous one (something that they failed to do in the last few games). The game could even start off with the assassination of Cleopatra and then follow Aya as the assassins are outlawed and banished.
One element that is essential to the storyline in the past is interaction with the First Civ temples and artifacts but more importantly, the history. We NEED to get a game sooner or later that lets us explore the first civilization, even if just a tiny bit. Perhaps flickers of memories that help tell the story that little bit better. They’ve essentially been teasing us with that since like Brotherhood, maybe even as far back as Assassin’s Creed II. Certainly it’s been an idea since Black Flag but I can understand why they are hesitant. I don’t think anybody wants a full game based in that civilization as it would lose the feeling of interacting with history that we’ve come to enjoy. They just need to find some new details to share with us instead of simply rehashing the same First Civ stuff. That does take us onto the other issue: the present day storyline.
So it looks like we have a new main character: Layla. Not my favourite and certainly no Desmond (although her higher intelligence can certainly be appreciated). It seems that the modern day storyline is going to link in with the past. William Miles arrives at the end to take her to Alexandria without any real explanation as to why. My first thought was to collect the apple but the odds of it sitting in a random box are pretty astronomical. Besides, after doing a little research it seems that the apple from Origins is in fact the same one that ends up in Solomon’s Temple in the first AC game. So why the fuck are they going to Alexandria then?
A question for the next game I’d imagine. What we can gather from the messages from after the cataclysm is that Layla is going to be involved in some sort of time travel or universe hopping. The pictures and audio all suggest that she will create an animus that actually allows her to travel through time to relive the memories of people but also change the past and impact the future. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first but if they do it well then I can totally get on board.
However, before doing that, they need to decide what the fuck is going on. I mean where is Juno? She was released all the way back in AC III, she was interacting with the world and creating a following in Black Flag and then she basically just vanished. If she is the threat then that needs to be established. The present day storyline in this game revealed very little about what was going on (and trust me, I read ALL the emails and other nonsense on Layla’s laptop). The next game needs to establish how Juno is either not going to be a threat or is going to be defeated and it needs to tie this in with whatever time travel or alternate reality shit they decide to explore. They need to worry less about tying the games to the film and instead focus on tying the games to the other games.
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