"It doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from its competitors, resulting in an overall experience that feels bland and left me longing for a more capable action RPG experience."
Reinvention has always been the key component to the Assassin's Creed series, which is one of the reasons why it's been going strong for over a decade. Each entry improves upon elements introduced from its predecessor without straying too far from its foundation. It's fitting that a franchise which centers on genetic memories never forgets its past, even as it focuses on creating its future. However, sticking too closely to the roots of the original Assassin's Creed for so long has resulted in a formula that feels tired. Origins seeks to remedy this by shifting the series into true action RPG territory for the first time, but failure to embrace the change in a meaningful way is its undoing.
This game's handling of the newly introduced RPG mechanics is clunky and hinders its success. Ultimately, their inclusion isn't significant. Loot is a big focus that ends up feeling like a pointless addition, as equipment without passive abilities and effects can get the job done just as much as ones with them. Having a tiered loot system could have been a fun way to make each new drop of weapons or shields an exciting experience, but drops fail to garner any enthusiasm since they don't truly matter.
Origins also stumbles with its new leveling system, discouraging you from attempting main quests until you reach a certain level. Normally in an RPG, this would mean grinding fights; in Origins, it means grinding side quests, which effectively makes traditionally optional content mandatory. Most of these quest lines are enjoyable, but it's frustrating to have to devote time to additional quests instead of being able to enjoy the story. It's made all the more annoying by the fact that there is always a significant gap between the recommended level and the player's level. This level-gating comes across as a weird attempt to force the player to uncover these side stories to make them care about the plights of Egypt's inhabitants. Had these quests been more optional, there would be a greater sense of reward in learning about the innocent people who are caught in the middle of political turmoil, and players could connect to the world on their own terms.
Combat has been revamped from previous entries, and battles are a lot more fluid than they used to be. Still, fighting struggles to be more than just adequate. You can settle into a nice little rhythm in fights, but the action can't escape being mindless, and it all gets old very quickly. Those looking to take a stealthier approach will find more enjoyment with enemy encounters than those looking to fight their way through guards in pursuit of their target. It's fun becoming a silent and methodical killer, but it's disappointing that being a merciless force doesn't truly capture the spirit of a good power fantasy. Ideally, the game should be engrossing no matter which path you go down; realistically, it's not.
It's a shame that the gameplay isn't very engaging because Origins does
offer up a wonderfully compelling story. Bayek and Aya are the best leads we've had in the series, and each matures naturally in their own separate arc that explores emotions, such as grief and anger, in different ways. This is a pair on a quest for vengeance, and the game truly does a terrific job of making you understand why. Their relationship is realistic, their chemistry is electric, and the connection their share is palpable. While their journey functions as a great origin to the Assassins as a whole, it's also able to stand on its own two feet as a one-off plot. It manages to offer a conclusion that feels both intimate and grand in scale all at once.
There's potential in Origins, but it simply pales in comparison to other recent open-world action RPGs, such as Horizon Zero Dawn. Whereas Horizon felt fresh, I could never escape the feeling that I had played Origins before. It doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from its competitors, resulting in an overall experience that feels bland and left me longing for a more capable game in its genre. It's a fun Assassin's Creed entry, but it's not a very fun RPG, which makes me question the new creative direction. Fans of the series will be satisfied with what this game offers, but those who are searching for their next RPG should look elsewhere.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.