I have a few big holes in my gaming experience. I’ve never played a proper Final Fantasy, (though I loved all three tactics games), I’ve never played a Metal Gear game, and I’ve never played a single Resident Evil game. I’m certain that I have other blind spots, but I do get around to most of the contemporary “AAA” gaming franchises. Up until two weeks ago, Assassin’s Creed was one of those franchises that I’d just never gotten around to, but as of now, I can finally count myself as an Assassin’s Creed convert (maybe?). AC: Origins draws inspiration from some of the best games of recent years, and mashes them together in a satisfying way. But it is for this reason, as a person coming fresh to the series, I can’t say for sure if I like Assassin’s Creed games, or if I just like this particular Assassin’s Creed game. This is because I don’t know how much of an Assassin’s Creed game AC: Origins actually is.
Exploring Ubisoft Montreal’s beautifully realized version of Hellenistic Egypt as Bayek feels a whole lot like exploring the world of CD Projekt Red’s “The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt” as Geralt. Make no bones about it, AC: Origins is a full on RPG, or at least an action RPG, and it feels like it draws heavily from elements which make Witcher 3 the game that it is. The inventory screen, health bars, and enemy levels are nothing new for a Western open-world game, but the similarities between Origins and Witcher don’t stop there. For example, AC: Origins has the same type of multi-stage, complex side quests that were so groundbreaking in Witcher 3. Like CD Projekt Red’s game, Origins consistently goes out of its way to show that the quests that you’re doing to keep filling up your XP bar are interactions with a greater world, and not just a checklist with boxes to tick off. Origins tries to present the player with interesting situations that feel like they have some emotional, or at least narrative weight.
Of course, Witcher 3 generally does it better, with intriguing and emotional stories that involve fantastical monsters and often relate to the central theme of the game. With that said, Origins does a nice imitation, and though I often find myself skipping cutscenes and proceeding to objectives, it does enough to make it feel like there’s an internally consistent world in which Bayek exists.
Origins also takes ideas from Breath of the Wild. It’s not as obvious as the Witcher comparison, but Bayek’s mobility and the way that he parkours through the world feels very Zelda-y. One of the things that makes Zelda so great is the fact that Link can climb literally any surface, and Origins kinda-sorta does that too. After playing Breath of the Wild, free climbing just makes an open world feel more accessible, and it makes the player feel like they have more freedom to experiment in an open space. However, I say that Origins only kinda-sorta allows you to climb anything because there are a few surfaces and buildings that can’t be climbed, and it always seems bizarre and limiting when 90% of the world is scalable, and then you run into one of the walls that can’t be scaled. Again with Zelda then, AC: Origins takes an idea from a better game, and doesn’t quite execute as well as the game that inspired it.
The above points may make it sound like I don’t like Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and yes, it’s true that Origins isn’t as groundbreaking as the recent games which draws from, but I actually loved the game, and had a great time playing through the campaign! It borrows liberally from better games that execute its core systems better, but it manages to pull many of those systems together successfully. Last time I checked Geralt can’t climb up the sides of any buildings, and Link isn’t too talkative.
While I’ve focused on Witcher and Zelda, there are certainly echoes of still other recent games present in Origins with its Souls-lite combat and the Destiny-esque loot system (complete with colors!). And yet, somehow Ubisoft: Montreal has made it work, and has produced a quality piece of software which is greater than the sum of its parts.
It works because all of its component pieces come from great games, and they’re put together well in Origins, even if they’re not reproduced perfectly. But the question remains, is any of it an Assassin’s Creed game? Have I finally discovered Assassin’s Creed after a decade, or has the series evolved beyond recognition? Clearly further research is necessary. Good thing I picked up Black Flag on the Steam sale last weekend.