INSOMNIA

Assassin's Creed Origins (2017, PC)

By Gian Lorenzo Bernini / October 28, 2017


I have a really hard time choosing between the "Yes" and "No" answer to whether I recommend this game. There are some things it does so well that it's just a joy to play; the environments are stunningly well-crafted and the graphics are gorgeous. But there are also some features it's either completely missing or does so poorly it leaves me wanting to bang my head against the wall because they detract from what could have been such a better game. It also runs very shakily, with regular, ugly frame drops.

   If you adore the series like me, then go ahead and pick this up. You'll get enough out of it to make it worth a purchase (as I feel I did). But if you're not a fan then skip Origins unless you love Egyptian history. This game won't convert you. And I'd go even further to say that if you're lukewarm on the series, you also probably want to skip this. All it really does well is open world and soundtrack. So unless one of those two aspects are something you love in a game, you're probably not going to like Origins enough to spend $60 on it.
   I'm pretty stunned that there are a number of things this game actually does worse than its predecessor, Syndicate, which is a game that many consider to be one of the poorer entries in the series.
   For starters, free climbing is an absolute mess in Origins. The reinvention they worked so hard on in Unity with the Free Climb Up and Free Climb Down buttons, and the perfection of that system into what I consider the smoothest free climbing in the series in Syndicate is completely gone from Origins, which instead has reverted to the absolutely terrible "One Button to Free Climb" system that birthed the frustrating moments of the worst game in the series, Assassin's Creed III. Get ready to randomly jump off walls into the middle of eight enemies in a courtyard when you're trying to stealth, or to begin climbing up the wall next to you when you're just trying to reposition yourself in the middle of a fight. In addition to this, what you can climb is not really indicated visually anymore. Some buildings have clear grooves that are not usable as handles, and there are statues that have no handholds whatsoever that are easily scaleable. Some spaces seem too far to jump but you can with ease, others seem clearly in reach but are not. It's completely arbitrary and leaves you feeling railroaded.

   In addition to the poor free climbing, combat is a clusterfuck. Ubi has swiped Witcher 3's combat system without shame, except the smoothness of that game is completely gone, leaving you janky, unnatural, strangely timed animations, and dodges that happen inhumanly fast yet still get you hit by enemies because hit detection is so inaccurate. And you have no Signs or potions to deepen the experience. It feels weird, it looks bad, and it's shallow. It's not fun. I played through Witcher 3 on Death March, so it's not that I'm bad at games. Origins saw me turn the difficulty to Easy almost immediately so I could just button mash and blast through the enemies and avoid the combat almost entirely.
   The stealth is not as good as in Syndicate, which made great improvements such as using cover and specific designs in the environment to your advantage. It's not even as good as the stealthy side missions (saving child workers, etc.) in Syndicate. It's the same stealth mechanics from Black Flag, which was fine... four years ago. Really disappointing if you love the stealth genre like I do and were happy with the improvements from Syndicate.
   Another puzzling design choice is the complete removal of the Codex and the historical info blurbs that pop up as you're free-roaming. One of my favorite things to do in an AC game is to free roam, hitting map markers, while reading the historical blurbs that pop up to provide improtant context. It's absurd that Ubi would completely remove them from this game for the first time. I'm a layman to Egyptian history and they could have provided some great context to some of these characters. It's great knowing that they're based on real, historical people. That context is completely gone and the majority of these characters I'm meeting are way too thinly written without it. They're dry as paper and may as well be scarecrows with costumes. The story is mediocre in general. It's a generic revenge tale with some oddly inconsistent tone (Bayek seems awfully cheerful for having a young son who was brutally murdered less than a year ago) and peppered with some awful voice acting. Bayek and Aya's performers are great, but Layla's is awful, and a lot of the minor characters are inexcusably bad, too.

   Okay so I'm kind of crapping all over the game here, but it does still do some things amazingly well. The addition of stat-heavy elements, including ranked loot, really help push you towards exploring, too. At its best, Origins will keep you up all night hitting question marks on the map, levelling your character, getting new loot, and generally just progressing and clearing the map. The open world is spellbinding. There's such a variety in terrain — desert, arid mountains, oases, cities, woods, etc. — that you never get tired of simply hopping on your camel or horse and exploring. There's verticality, water to dive in, tombs to raid, and caves to spelunk in. And the variety in cities is excellent as well. Gone are the samey cities from past games, and back is the huge variance in cities such as between Florence and Venice in 2. The Greek architecture of Alexandria, the old Egyptian setting of Memphis, and the varied small oasis towns and camps in between them keep everything fresh and you never feel tired of exploring. There was a point for about 50 hours when I was just free-roaming, having a blast experiencing these great environments, and I seriously considered recommending this game. But roaming an open world can't carry a game by itself. So I eventually grew bored of hitting points of interest and continued the story missions only to be forced into bad mission design, bad combat, badly designed stealth segments, and bad plot writing, and began hating this game all over again. A lot of this game reminds me of 3, with all its poor mission design and bad story.
   To be concise, the problem is that too often the great stuff in Origins is broken up by one of the negatives I mentioned earlier. I'll stealth through two or three bandit camps, hit points of interest, gain levels and hunt loot while progressing my character, taking in the quiet moments and enjoying the great soundtrack... Then I'll run into a free climbing snafu, or get bogged down in its clunky combat for ten minutes, or play some drearily designed story mission that kills any desire to keep playing.
   Despite all my hours logged, I still haven't finished the game. I've cleared most of the map icons from free roaming, but the story, combat, stealth, and general mission design failed to engage me to such an extent that I have no desire to actually complete the game. I've already gotten what I wanted out of it: A great open world experience that I can take in at my own leisure. It's unfortunate that so much other frustration got in the way. And because of that I can't honestly recommend this game to any but the most hardcore Assassin's Creed fans. So I've got to check the "No", despite my inner Assassin's Creed fanboy wanting to click "Yes".
   My series ranking: Origins is nowhere near as good as 2, Brotherhood, or Black Flag, but still a more enjoyable experience than the putridly awful 3 and the below average Unity.

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