Special Series Playthrough - Assassin’s Creed
I played Origins for 53 hours. I travelled 500,000 miles. I altered the balance of power in Egypt. I helped usher in the Roman Empire. And I still don’t know what our Origins are.
Part nine; Origins
This time I’m not being spied on by Bishop. At least, I don’t think so. We’re no longer a gamer in Helix, we're Layla, a smug Abstergo engineer who developed a portable Animus/Helix, but Abstergo dismissed her work. To prove its usefulness, she plugs herself into a mummy she finds in an Egyptian cave; and hit pay dirt; she’s uncovered the first assassin …
Egypt, 49 BCE. We’re Bayek, a Medjay or peacekeeper, who’s peace is shattered when masked men take his son hostage and demand he open a crypt beneath Siwa Oasis, his village. Unable to do so, things escalate … a year later, with the Romans poised to invade and the Greeks flooding in, Egypt is vulnerable; as a deposed Cleopatra plans her comeback and the populace grows restless, the masked men, known as the ‘Order of the Ancients’ are still hunting for a way into that Isu crypt while manipulating events from the shadows. Meanwhile Bayek, and his equally lethal wife Aya are hunting the Order of the Ancients, exacting revenge so their son can be at rest.
The core plot is pure AC, perhaps one of the clearest, most focused AC yet, but the game is wildly unfocused, it's ACIII-level bloated, and that simple revenge plot all unfolds in a Skyrim-sized RPG demanding you never reach where you were planning on going. Meanwhile every time it looks like we've killed everyone we need to, Cleo or someone goes "oh, and there's this guy...", or we've gotten sidetracked or involved in something else. How’s about we focus on AC’s Origin? Clue’s in the title.
But keeping it compelling is Bayek, a brilliant character. Whereas ACIII's Conner was docile and naive making him frustrating to play, Bayek is fearsome and flawed, and a big softie, a natural dad which makes his loss all the more upsetting; one side-mission has him entertaining kids by leap-of-faith’ing off whatever building they chose. He’s naturally drawn to putting right injustice, ensuring the little people are protected, but has a rage in him that actually makes you worried when he sets his sights on someone; how far is he gonna go, what will we have to do? There’s a great nod in that Egypt’s venerated cats are always attracted to him. Stop and they’ll gather around his feet. Bayek is one of the most decent leads in gaming, it's great being him and quickly you accept the distractions because it's what Bayek would do.
Aya though, is a complex and conflicted character - in the cut-scenes, and that’s where she should stay, unfortunately. To play, she’s a hamstrung Bayek with better legs. When she spits out "I’m no longer a mother" you feel for her and fear her; but when we are her, its filler. Most of her missions are ship based, and they’re all the same one – get from A to B with waves of ships in the way. Other missions are constricted mini-versions of Bayek’s epic adventures. She’s a tacked-on, token nod – aren’t we learning Ubisoft?
If you’re going to do character swapping it should have been an extension of Syndicate with us switching, learning our trade, sharing and gaining the skillsets as the Creed forms around us, so when they step back and look at what they’ve achieved, we all go ‘Oh yeah! Origins!’
Still, they are the best on-screen couple I’ve ever seen. You can see why Bayek breaks into a soppy grin every time Aya appears. There’s actual chemistry there – and every cut-scene ends with them naked or making excuses to get naked. But there’s a sad undertone – many times Aya and Bayek could walk away, but they don’t. You know they’re just looking for distractions, trying to avoid facing life without their boy. The hunt is all they have left. I know what you should do; create a secret Brotherhood to resist that Order of the Ancients! No?
There are some AC nods; Bayek has an eagle, Senu, borrowed from stablemate Far Cry Primal (AC Primal might have been a better title); Senu replaces the Isu sixth-sense somehow, and … explains why we sync from eagle nests? We gain the hidden blade from Cleopatra which is a nice touch given her backstabbing reputation (and Bayek learns the hard way to watch your fingers), but that’s about it. Oh, and he wears a hood. One of the Creed tenants is ‘stay your blade from the flesh of the innocent’ and there’s a scene that could be the inspiration for it, but if you played this first, you’d not think it was an AC game ... you think this was one of the best RPGs in years. Who needs Assassins?
Origins is RPG in that ‘what’s that over there’ style; you’ll pick up two missions for every one you finish, and not do them either because you wasted hours mucking about in the Pyramids. We have level ups, perks, a loot bag, multiple weapons, upgrades, dialogue choices, everything you need to ignore the main plot. Fights are fantastic, we’re back to hack n slash and there’s an adrenaline bar which allows Bayek to unleash devastatingly cool moves; and he’s almost perfect at parkouring.
The Nile and surrounding waters are inviting even when you see a croc’s snout poking out. If you risk swimming, someone will paddle by to see if you’re ok, then you can take their raft - although crocs (and fire arrows) can sink them. The water even has currents that can affect how blood disperses – attracting more crocs. I killed a solider and he drifted with the tide alerting other soldiers to a not-assassin mucking about nearby. There’s ships you can raid to save slaves, dive ruins and wrecks, and it’s not just crocs to worry about – hippos are equally dangerous, and both can leave the water ...
Amongst the small villages and towns you’ll pick up quests, some of which are humorous domestic issues, others become huge adventures. If you’re out at night predators are prowling, cattle sleep and the villages go quiet while in the daytime it’s bustling and hot. You can use an ironmonger or seamstress and a great addition is upgrading your weapons so you’re not forced to abandon a favourite - you just level it up alongside Bayek.
There’s bushland, ruins, oasis’ or the harsh dunes and they have challenges and mysteries as well. Find ancient treasures, Isu buildings, pyramids filled with snakes and Indy refs (there’s even a T2 reference I swear), attack forts and encampments, battle bandits, take out alpha animals, hallucinate if you're exposed to sun for too long, you just never stop roaming. The sun shimmers the sand making it hard to see; is that a tree or sand people? You can even mod Origins - Layla’s uber-animus has a hack menu where you can change the values of absolutely everything. If you're a wuss.
Origins isn’t Morrowind-level immersion but Bayek the wandering Medjay, helping people and doling out justice is all you need to get lost in Ancient Egypt and it not feel convoluted. His need to do what's right just pulls you into situations in a natural way, almost as if you’re honouring your son rather than just avenging him. Where it really stands out though is in its realism; this is historically accurate, it looks just like all the Egyptian tat my nan used to collect. It’s so accurate, a version was given to schools for educational use. Guess they dropped the dialogue though, I even heard the c-word. Kids need to learn this stuff.
You can also share photos on the online map. At first I found that intrusive, hovering on a map marker only to see some random’s photo of Bayek standing by a Pyramid; but then one of my pics got loads of likes and Bayek turned into an IG Model looking for the perfect sunrise selfie. It has another use though, player’s pics alert you to points of interest; more than once I went exploring thanks to some happy snapper. I hope you all enjoyed my action shots.
That’s not the only way you see what other players have been up to. You’ll occasionally come across a player’s body and can go kill whatever NPC or creature offed them. I apologise for all the ‘avenge FBT’ markers all over everyone else’s map.
I also found a free DLC that turned out to be an advertisement for Final Fantasy XV. I got a brutal, if out-of-place weapon and shield, and what I thought was a super-fast ostrich to ride. Turned out to be a camel with a beak-mask and feathers up its arse. Final Fantasy is weird.
One side mission aptly named Precious has an exasperated Bayek chasing three brothers who found a ring and keep stealing it off each other. Another has him meet a guy who rhymes everything, and then you notice Bayek has started doing it. There’s a place called Krokodilopolis which has tame crocs; except one has turned a bit ornery and guess who had to wander its paddock to find out why. Just so much to get involved in.
Still, I just can’t shake that this is supposed to be an AC game – I’d hoped to come full circle and lead into Altair’s time, understand how we got to that place but we’re nowhere near that. There is a midway scene where Bayek, Aya and various folks join forces to resist Egypt falling under the Order’s grip (but then don’t do it), and towards the end, Bayek and Aya agree to commit themselves to weeding out corruption and protecting little people, naming themselves The Hidden Ones; cool but it’s just the blueprint, and the Order aren’t the proto-Templars you hoped for either.
The Templars original goal was peace through control, based on the notion that the Isu didn’t create us to have self-determination; we were our own worst enemy when free. Many Templars corrupted that for their own ends, but here, the Order are just power-mad and we don’t dig into their creation or views – Unity questioned the AvT war better than this begins it. I don’t mind a beginning, but this is a prequel to the beginning.
It was implied in ACIII that this is a cycle, the war for control vs freedom forever repeats, but then an Origin would be a return to Eve’s era to explain it? Our cycle began with the Templars uncovering the Isu and this isn't that Origin, which is what we signed up for. And since Odyssey is set before this, clearly it's happened before. We’re supposed to just assume the Order became the Templars and Bayek’s ‘Hidden Ones’ are the Assassin Brotherhood? For an origin story there's more questions than answers, which the game pretends not to notice.
Bayek’s kill-list is fantastic, but we’re slaughtering not assassinating. Some are heart-breaking, others anger-inducing, and you always enjoy x’ing out an Order member, but each should be a step toward if not the Brotherhood, then the Creed. But it just doesn't happen - then just as you expect credits to roll up, it cuts to Aya tracking the traitorous Cesar. Yes, Cesar’s assassination! That’s a great first official assassination but it should have happened hours ago, not be a epilogue. Or at least have the Brotherhood and Creed as we know it in place first. A DLC featured early Brotherhood chapters and the various issues they face establishing themselves, but why jump to that, and why isn't that in this game? It's called Origins not Warm Up. I just can’t face it. 53 hours, man. Just originate already.
Unity returned the series to the AvT focus and Syndicate made it fun being an assassin. This is ACIII again; an historical event irrelevant to the Assassins. They even find time to reboot the modern era again. Layla occasionally takes a break from the Uber-Animus for more padding / backstory but I’m here for the Assassin’s history not yours, I don’t care about you being a tie-in to that movie we’d all rather forget. Bayek finds Isu messages directed to Layla like Juno did with Desmond, and it’s implied she has a part to play in a future calamity. Not again.
Origins is RPG as an art form and it rivals Skyrim; and just like The Elder Scrolls, you can ignore the main mission entirely, which just doesn't feel right for an AC game and even less so for a grieving couple trying to give their son peace. We are a Medjay, and that’s fine by me. But I thought I was going to be an Assassin. This is another AC rebrand/reboot, we're into a different genre here. Bayek is the best AC hero since Edward; a fantastic, fatalistic character you disappear into - and another who isn’t an assassin. So ACO didn’t give us a new contender for best assassin or best Assassin’s Creed game. But Origins is the best RPG game in years.
Just ancient Greece left, then FBT has to pick the best AC game and his favourite assassin. He can’t put it off much longer. Unless they release another one before he finishes Odyssey.