Assassin's Creed Origins Hands-On Preview
A quick tour through Ancient Egypt as the first Assassin.
Assassin's Creed Origins lives up to its name in that it takes the series back to the origins of the Assassins and Templars, in fact, all the way back to a time when there were no Assassins or Templars. The Nile Delta region during the time of Cleopatra wasn't free of behind-the-scenes conflict between warring factions, though. The Order of the Ancients is working against the Queen of the Nile, tapping into dark relics and rituals to impose their view of order on the world, a mission that they will presumably continue for centuries as the Templars. Standing in their way is Bayek, a warrior agent of the queen known as a Medjay, and who is in essence the proto-Assassin, the first of his order before there even was an order.
The most striking thing about Assassin's Creed Origins when you first sit down to play it is the size of its world. I had about half of a province opened for play for me, and I didn't come close to exploring it all or completing all of the quests, side quests, and other activities available in the area in the four hours of time I had with the game. A quick count of the provinces on the game map came in at around thirty. Rather than confining you to the crowded cities found in the past few Assassin's Creed games, Origins provides you with an entire country to explore. The province I was able to explore was an agricultural area along the Nile. Farms and small villages dotted the landscape, along with untamed areas left to wild animals or bandits. The local population goes about its lives while you go about your mission, driving cattle, collecting water, trading goods, and everything else you'd expect a rural population to do in ancient times. Story and side quests all take place in the midst of all of this, the world never pausing around you simply because you are in pursuit of a quest goal.
There's a lot of Far Cry and Ghost Recon Wildlands DNA in Origins. The warring factions, the provinces with enemies that will prove invincible until you reach a high enough character level, the animals which can be hunted for materials to be used to craft new weapons, armor, and ammunition, and more will have you thinking about your time spent playing the last few Far Cry games. Origins is still very much an Assassin's Creed game, though, as you'll still be able to scale walls and run along rooftops with acrobatic grace as always, and a stealthy approach to taking down your enemies is the best way to stay alive the longest.
When you do find yourself discovered and in the midst of a face-to-face fight, you'll also find that Origins has a brand-new fight system. It's no longer a matter of tapping an attack button at the appropriate moment during an attack animation to kick-off a combo attack sequence. Battles are more strategic now, and the type of enemy you're facing and the weapon you're wielding will impact the way in which you'll need to approach each fight. There are heavy and light attack buttons, a block for when you're wielding a shield, and a dodge move that can be enhanced by the direction that you move the left stick. You'll need to look for an opening to make your strike while being ready to anticipate when you'll need to dodge an incoming blow. There is a large variety of weapons in the game, ranging from small blades to large maces and scepters that require two hands to wield. The heavier weapons will slow you down and make the timing of your attacks more critical, but when you land a blow it will be devastating. You'll also have access to bows, but even these come in a wide variety that are suited to specific attack styles. The new combat system will take a little getting used to for those who've played Assassin's Creed games before, but I found it a welcome change to the game that makes the fights far more strategic than they've been in the past.
Transportation was limited in the ancient world, but most of the options of the time will be available to you. Travel by foot is of course available, but you can also commandeer a reed boat to move down the Nile or cross a lake. Moving across land quickly can be done on horseback or camelback, and you can even fight while mounted. I have to say that it is fun to ride into a village being harassed by soldiers and cut a swath through them from the back of camel. Fast travel is also available once you visit the points, so you can teleport across Ancient Egypt when true old, old school travel is just too slow.
Far Cry and Wildlands players will be familiar with the routine of sending up a UAV to scout an enemy encampment and tag enemy locations. What's an Ancient Egyptian to do, though, a couple thousand years before the invention of the UAV? Make use of the only eye in the sky available during the time, a bird. Bayek is always accompanied by his faithful eagle companion, Senu. Send Senu into the air and you can scout the surrounding area for enemies, animals to hunt, or items of interest that will bear investigating on the ground.
Several things impressed me during my time with the game. The feeling that I was in Ancient Egypt was impressive as the game really brings that long-gone world to life. Watching the different people go about their lives rather than simply staying rooted to the same spot for the entirety of the game made the world feel more alive. The volume of things to do outside of the story is impressive, and while playing I didn't even get around to all of the story missions available in the region I was playing in. I'd make my way toward the starting point of a mission only to find a desperate farmer begging for my help after a hippo had slaughtered some of his people or looking for a shortcut I found myself stumbling into a bandit camp where a prisoner was being held. I'm eager to explore more of the game's world when it's released, but it remains to be seen if the game manages to still feel like an Assassin's Creed game or if it strays from the path to become a Far Cry game set in the ancient world.
Transmitted: 1/19/2018 8:08:52 PM