"That Origins comes across out of the gate as being so bland in terms of gameplay and terribly unimpressive overall feels like a huge letdown [...]"
Much like life, if a video game series wants to survive, it needs to learn to evolve. While it's obvious that we continue in new advancements every day with hardware, we also continue in advancements with both gameplay and storytelling. Games can't continue to be stuck in the past, lest they feel like relics of yesteryear.
Assassin's Creed Origins, from developer Ubisoft Montreal, aims to be the next link in the evolution of the acclaimed franchise. Following a Medjay named Bayek, whose personal plight gets him entangled in a web of Ancient Egyptian power struggles, it blends the usual elements of Assassin's Creed — a huge open world begging to be explored and the titular assassinations — with those of RPGs — quests, levels, skill trees, and loot. But does it blend these elements together well?
The answer is: so far, yes and no. From what I've played, I feel like the official incorporation of some RPG mechanics are organic. We've seen skill trees before in the series, but arguably, never in such a way that focuses so much on character growth. Bayek has three areas that you can pump ability points into: the archery-focused Hunter, the melee-focused Warrior, and the tool-focused Seer. How you level up Bayek depends on how you like to play the game. I find I'm not the absolute best at stealth and that my attempts frequently result in being spotted and having to take on four enemies at a time; I mainly put my points into the Warrior section. However, I find tools — such as sleep darts — to be very helpful when I do
attempt to be stealthy, and so I put points into that section as well. Hunter has great skills of its own — they just don't suit my style of play.
This skill tree feels incredibly rewarding. Even now, after over a dozen hours, I find myself smiling when I level up. I'm saving up for an ability in the Seer section that will let me tame animals (it costs three ability points, as it's a higher level skill) and I can't wait to unlock it. Skills don't feel meaningless in the least and greatly improve how you play. I also appreciate how the skill tree links all areas together; the next unlockable node in the Warrior line can unlock a node for Seer, for example.
Loot is also a main focus in this entry. Weapons and shields now have tiers, and this should be familiar to anyone who's played a game with a loot system: common, uncommon, rare, and legendary. Gear can have both active and passive effects. I have a legendary sickle sword that inflicts poison on hit, while I have a rare shield that ups damage absorption rate. Thankfully, you can always upgrade your gear to your current level so long as you have enough drachma, so you never have to say goodbye to your favorites.
I'm both an avid Assassin's Creed fan and a player that adores loot mechanics, so I was delighted at the concept of Origins having a system like this. Unfortunately, it feels like a failure. It's not that that effects on weapons feel like an afterthought so much as it's that they just don't matter in the grand scheme of things. A common shield with no passive effects ends up feeling just as useful as a legendary with them, so the whole thing ends up seeming entirely pointless.
What I like most about the game so far is Egypt itself, which is a gorgeous visual treat that begs to be explored. The game world is absolutely massive, and this switch back to a more open, natural environment that we first saw in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was a great move. I adored climbing Roman architecture and jumping over the rooftops of London, but scaling ginormous pyramids and adventuring into the mountains is some of the most fun I've had in the series. I was initially worried about how engaging Egypt would be since I liked the more city-focused settings of the series rather than the islands of Black Flag, but Origins combines both together in a wonderful way. I love riding horseback across Egypt's sandy landscapes and sailing its crocodile-filled waters.
For the most part, Origins feels like an extremely good Assassin's Creed title but a completely uninspired game in the genre it's exploring. Lately, we've seen great success with open world action RPGs. This time last year it was Final Fantasy XV, which created an extremely energetic experience. More recently, Horizon: Zero Dawn introduced fresh combat mechanics and a world that truly felt alive. Origins might offer a stunning playground, but that means nothing when playing in it doesn't seem very special.
You never get to make a second first impression. That Origins comes across out of the gate as being so bland in terms of gameplay and terribly unimpressive overall feels like a huge letdown that's made all the more worse by the fact that there are good ideas in the game that have simply been done better by others. It's not enough for the series to want to evolve conceptually when the execution of the new mechanics is done so poorly. In the modern day, the action RPG landscape is survival of the fittest, and the fact remains that there are just better games out there that deserve your attention more.
Stay tuned to RPGFan for our official review.