Monday, December 4, 2017

Assassins Creed: Origins review

    ASSASSINS CREED: ORIGINS is a bit of a late review because I've been taking my time with this game. I often have very positive first impressions of video games, only for my opinion to start to go down in the long haul--especially if they botch the ending. Fallout 4 is a game I really enjoyed but the sheer staggering number of half-measures ruined the experience for me. I also loved Deus Ex: Mankind Divided but the ending was a crash-landing on what was previously a great ride. 

    I finally finished Assassins Creed: Origins and have given myself a couple of days to ponder what I think of the story.  Overall, I think AC:O is a massive return to form for the franchise and probably the best installment of the game since Assassins Creed: Black Flag. However, it's not a game without some serious flaws which drag down the experience from being equal to Assassins Creed 2 (which remains the gold standard by which all others are measured).

Bayek is one of the most entertaining and well-developed of Assassins.
    The premise is a new modern day protagonist, Layla Hassan, is investigating the life of the first Assassin Bayek of Siwa. She's done this by breaking into his tomb and plugging him into the Animus. Bayek and his wife Aya are on a mission of revenge against the "Order of the Ancients" who killed their young son. While you get to play as Aya a few times, you mostly play Bayek and follow
him on his open-world quest to do good while tracking down the Order's members.

    The best part of the game is where the game diverges from the traditional AC formula. They tone down the First Civilization elements that have been dragging down the series since AC3. They also more or less wholesale copy The Witcher 3's rules in order to make a vast open-world which includes many interesting side quests. Bayek and Aya are fascinating personalities with the former being deeply religious as something new to the franchise (that primarily consists of irreligious protagonists).

    While revenge is an overused plot to motivate characters, Bayek and Aya are real in their grief as well as how it affects them. The death of their son has resulted in a rift between them and not even Kill Bill-esque vengeance is going to heal it. I also love the beautiful architecture of Ptolemy Egypt, which has been resurrected in all of its ancient glory. You can visit the Library of Alexandria, climb the Lighthouse, and visit much older monuments. The ability to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza to its top is worth the price of admission alone.
Bayek and Aya have a wonderful relationship.

    Even so, the villains are a bunch of one-dimensional targets with the fact they're just proto-Templars making me wonder what it would be like for Assassins Creed to have another opponent for once. Part of what made Black Flag so interesting was your targets were, by and large, other pirates or slavers. The treatment of historical personages in this installment is worse than usual since they go with a very stereotypical treatment of some of the period's most fascinating personalities.

    Julius Caesar is an arrogant one-dimensional tyrant and Cleopatra is a whining party girl who schemes with Pompey at one point. Her brother, Ptlomey, is treated as a dictator himself despite the fact he was a puppet ruler. Her sister is just outright excised from the story. Julius Caesar is a controversial figure in part because while he was dictator of Rome, he was also a man who spent large amounts of his personal fortune trying to win the common man over. Given Brutus was a man who loathed the common people, it seems strange seeing him as a champion of the early Assassins.

Eagle vision becomes literal of this game.
    There's a few acceptable breaks from reality like the fact we don't see the massive amount of slavery at the time since that would force our hero to either be anachronistically against the practice or lose him much of the audience's sympathy. We also get an early period for the Assassins' origins that keeps them locked in the present day versus making them responsible for all of history.

    Do I have any complaints about the gameplay? To an extent, yes, that the wholesale absorbing of the Witcher 3's gameplay doesn't really work for the setting. You should be able to sneak up and stab someone or drop on them from above so they die. Doing so and them getting back up doesn't make any damn sense, ditto when you shoot them in the head with an arrow.

    If you go after a target while underleveled, you might as well be fighting an indestructible tank. That means AC:O isn't so much a stealth game as a fighting game. The fact you have to constantly level up your weapons also feels silly in a "realistic" setting. As such, you have to do a lot of sidetreking in order to get to the end of the game. On the plus side, we do have a great new advantage in gameplay with Semu the Eagle. Bayek, for whatever reason, can see through his pet eagle's eyes and this allows you to mark targets as well as discover secrets about locations before planning your attacks. I also applaud the removal of synchronization challenges with the game allowing you to kill targets however you want.

Cleopatra is modeled after Elizabeth Taylor.
    There's also the fact the final portion of the game is played with Bayek's wife Aya who is not possessed of any levels of special equipment. While this is what I complained about earlier, it's a jarring gameplay shift and you've spent the entire time focused on getting your equipment to maximum then it's going to feel a trifle frustrating. You want to kill your final target (which is admittedly the mother of all assassinations) with your special Sword of Ptah +40, not a random bronze dagger.

    The map is huge and when I mean huge, I do mean huge. More of Egypt is detailed than I ever thought possible with Alexandria, Memphis, the pyramids, the Sahara Desert, rocky coasts, and the Nile all giving it a massive open-world feel. There's some flaws in this, such as the fact Alexandria was the second largest city in the world at the time while it's barely a map dot of a few key buildings in this game but acceptable breaks from reality. There's a staggering number of locations spread across the game. Plus, I do appreciate the opportunity to outfit Bayek in Pharaoh armor as well as riding around in a bling-covered camel.

A bit too much melee. Not enough stabbing from behind.
     A warning for those who hate microtransactions, Ubisoft did provide the game with a "pay to win" function that allows you to buy all the difficult-to-acquire skins and materials you need to max out Bayek's equipment. As gouging customers go, though, Ubisoft is doing the least offensive version possible since none of the stuff they're selling is necessary to win the game. I bought some cool outfits and they cost about $5 each. It's a far cry from gating away, say, Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker like some of the companies we know.

    In conclusion, Assassins Creed: Origins is a great Assassins Creed game but it isn't the best in the franchise. The game feels a little too much like a Dungeons and Dragons-themed fantasy RPG versus what the series has traditionally excelled at. The characters are likable but the portrayal of the time period is mixed. I'm glad I got the game and am glad I played it to the end but they could have gone a bit further with it.


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