After months of speculation and all sorts of leaks, Ubisoft chose its E3 conference to officially unveil the next entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise. Origins takes place in Egypt, circa 49 BC and will allow players to embody Bayek, a Medjay who is the founder of the Assassin's brotherhood.
Ubisoft decided to take a break after the agitated release of Assassin's Creed Unity in late 2014, which came out as unpolished, full of bugs, and unable to win the hearts of fans, despite its promising gameplay mechanics. For many fans it signaled a decline in the franchise, which was suffering from fatigue due to a hectic yearly release schedule that did not allow players and developers to catch their collective breath.
Ubisoft seems to have gotten the message loud and clear, and #AssassinsCreedOrigins could shape up to become a fan favorite for the following reasons.
1. A Vibrant Setting
Ancient Egypt was a destination long requested by fans of the franchise. This period and civilization possesses one of the richest cultures and histories, and the thought of it being used as the backdrop in the Assassin's Creed franchise fueled the imagination of many players.
In 49 BC, ancient Egypt has already had 3000 years of history, and the land's past is as much a mystery to the men of the time as it is to us. The period depicted in the game is a turning point in that civilization's history as it serves as an end to the culture, customs and beliefs, in favor of a new era, reflected by the Roman dominance over the Mediterranean basin. This age also sees the emergence of significant historical figures such as Cleopatra, Caesar, Ptolemy and Pompey, who will considerably influence the political orientations of the century.
There is one particular aspect of the #AssassinsCreed franchise that I feel got lost over time. It is the feeling of adventure, of discovering a new location after hours on horseback. In my first playthrough of the original AC, after having ridden my horse throughout the Syrian countryside, I remember being in awe at the sight of Damascus and its vibrant color palette noticeable from the top of a hill.
It is something that I never felt again while playing AC, even with Black Flag, which emphasized exploration. It is something that a game like Horizon Zero Dawn did remarkably well, and with a setting as vibrant and beautiful as ancient Egypt, I hope to recapture that sensation while playing Origins.
Bayek is one of the last Medjay of Egypt. Medjay were the sheriffs of the time, and while this term initially designated the inhabitants of Medja, a region of what is now thought to be northern Sudan, it evolved into the name used to refer to the Egyptian police. Creative director Jean Guesdon tells Game Informer of Bayek:
"He’s older. He’s not this young adult in the story enjoying life like Edward [Kenway] was. ... In our case, we wanted the story of one man who was already grown up but had to adapt himself to changes.”
Bayek is from Siwa Oasis, located in the middle of the desert — which we got a glimpse of during the Microsoft conference — and is already an established and competent character in this world. He's in his 30s and is a well-known figure across the region, owing to his exploits as a Medjay. It is a complete departure from previous protagonists such as Arno and Connor, who we followed through their reckless younger years. #Bayek cannot be defined by one single adjective and seems to be a more three-dimensional character than his predecessors.
During the demo, we can see Bayek smile and play with a little girl. Later we see him grow angry at the realization she might be in grave danger. There is an intensity about this character that could help shape him into one of the most memorable assassins of the franchise.
3. The Birth Of The Brotherhood
This component might be the most intriguing of Origins. In the first Assassin's Creed, we saw the Assassin Brotherhood as a structured organization, with hundreds of members, bureaus in each big city, and the chief Al Mualim at its head overseeing every operation. However, this did not happen overnight, so how did we get to that point? The ideological conflict between assassins and the Templars is thousands of years old, but the two orders as we know them in the games did not appear until much later in history.
If Bayek is not the founder of the assassin ideology, he very much seems to be the spearhead behind the transformation of this vague way of thinking into a structured organization that will propagate itself throughout the world. Many symbolic elements of the brotherhood will be explained, such as the wearing of a hood, the removal of the ring finger for the hidden blade, and the leap of faith. It will be fascinating to see how those cornerstones of the Assassin's Creed franchise came to be.
The tale of the creation of the Assassin Order could also spawn several games, with Bayek having to instate the brotherhood in different regions, such as ancient Greece or Rome. It's merely speculation at this point, but this era has so much potential and wealth of history that it'd be a waste to not exploit it to its fullest.
4. The First Action RPG Assassin's Creed
At its core, Assassin's Creed has always been first and foremost an action game profoundly narratively driven. This aspect has been one of the key elements of the franchise for a decade and while it occasionally borrowed some elements from the RPG genre, Origins seem to take that inspiration to new heights.
As demonstrated in the numerous gameplay videos that have popped up on the internet, the game appears to borrow many elements from productions much more #RPG oriented, such as The Witcher or Skyrim.
The combat system has been overhauled in favor of a hitbox system, akin to CD Projekt's masterpiece, and is more strategic and less choreographed than previous entries of the franchise. It did look clunky and it was my only gripe about what was showcased, but given the alpha status of the game, it might be comprehensible. Also, the mini map is gone and in its place is a Skyrim-oriented compass that only indicates objectives and markers. It might seem small, but this new feature allows for players to take their eyes off the bottom of the screen and admire the stunning landscapes of Egypt.
The game contains several tombs and hundreds of side stories more narratively driven than in the past. One of the main complaints about the franchise over the years has been its lack of meaningful content, aside from its main story. It makes for a longer lifespan while not feeling artificial and tiresome, the way collectibles often do.
AC now contains a fully developed skill tree which will, way more than Unity or Syndicate, make each player's experience a unique one, depending on which profile they decide to dedicate themselves to. In a similar vein, each weapon has its specific characteristics — levels, that will drastically change the way we play Assassin's Creed. There seems to be a real emphasizes on giving players the liberty to shape Bayek as they wish, but at the same time the game has to tell a story worthy of the franchise's lore and heritage.
AC: Origins will not be a Mass Effect type of game, with multitudes of dialogue options and different endings. It is not what Assassin's Creed is all about. However, borrowing some elements from various genres while staying true to the franchise's spirit is a welcome change. It shows a much-needed open-mindedness on the part of the developers that should reassure fans about the future of AC and its capacity to reinvent itself in potential sequels.
5. The Interrogation Point: Modern Day
Modern Day is probably the most polarizing aspect of Assassin's Creed. Some love it, others hate it and wish it would go away. Yes, it has been poorly exploited since Assassin's Creed III, yes it represents only a small part of every game, but it is what gave the franchise its unique flavor, what propelled the narrative forward for years. It cannot be swept under the rug because, alongside the first civilization, it holds too much importance to the conflict between assassins and Templars for it to be put to rest.
Origins game director Ashraf Ismail has been coy about giving any information about the cornerstone of the franchise. However, during their various interviews, he and his team have proven to be passionate about the game, about AC's lore, and seemed to pay attention to fan feedback. What's certain is that Ubisoft will not be able to please everyone. Still, if it were to bring back Modern Day, Ubisoft might have to commit and make it feel integral and vital to the storytelling. Players will be invested if they feel like time has been taking to make Modern Day worthwhile.
Assassin's Creed has been in turmoil these past few years and the year off coupled with a complete reinvention of the franchise might be what it needed to finally honor its glorious past.
Assassin's Creed: Origins will be available on October 27 for PS4, Xbox One and PC. What are you most looking forward to seeing in the new game? Sound off in the comments section below.