Sunday, November 19, 2017

Assassin's Creed: Origins Review

If you are not familiar with the Assassin's Creed franchise, you have missed a lot of content.  I will not get into the details of the story, but a brief summary should be able to kick start us to this game.  The franchise started with a world in which the player can discover people and places of the past through DNA memories.  These memories are accessed through "The Animus", a machine that allows a user to see the memories of their ancestors and explore the world they lived in through those memories.  The series has taken us on a roller-coaster ride through multiple time periods and geographical locations.  Starting in the Middle-East, going to Italy, America, The Caribbean, China, India, Russia, England, and now to Egypt.  Over the span of 10 years, players have been to so many places and seen so many things, but sadly the franchise took a dip with stagnation in gameplay as well as its story.

In Assassin's Creed: Origins (AC Origins), we get a fresh coat of paint and a completely re-work/re-design of how players not only travel this new world, but also how they interact and engage in combat.  While playing AC Origins you play as Bayek, a Medjay that still stays true to his duty of helping and protecting the people even though the Ptolemy family has disbanded them.  After suffering a great personal loss, Bayek goes on a journey of revenge to kill all of those that had a hand in his hurt.  The story building in AC Origins does a great job of immediately engaging the player to want to know more about Bayek.  The character is multi-layered and not as one dimensional as some of the previous protagonists of the series.  While he is motivated by revenge, it never stops him from acting too brashly and he maintains the honor of his position in helping people over getting his revenge.

The game world is vast and beautifully sculpted.  It feels alive with vendors and people walking through the streets.  The ability to listen to conversations while walking around, hear the laughter of children while the play in the streets, and see all of them reacting to each other creates a brilliant immersive environment.  While wandering in the wild, players can take the opportunity to admire wildlife from afar or engage in hunting them for materials.  Predators will attack prey, including Bayek, and non-predators will run away.  The only thing missing is fishing, but the ability to swim and engage with the underwater environment is still breathtaking.  Draw distance's look clear and made me want to explore the world more than just play quests.  I found myself just traveling the desert for miles appreciating the details put into it by the development team.

I was initially unsure of the combat changes and afraid that they would change the dynamic of fighting in a negative or unenthusiastic way.  Players of the franchise had become very accustomed to playing with the hit box animation that the series used.  The more free-flowing system does not let the player down at all.  If anything, it makes a fight feel more real.  You do get parry abilities or you can spend your time dodging the enemies attacks to open up for an attack to their flank.  Assassinations work just the same as they always have, but with the RPG elements of the game you may not always succeed in an immediate take-down.  Also, with a multitude of weapons at your disposal, there is a variety of combat tactics you can approach a situation with.

The stealth mechanics are much more realistic in the sense of motion that can be picked up by NPC enemies.  If you move slowly in the bushes, they are less likely to notice you, but if you try to move quickly, they will notice that the shrubs are shuffling an awful lot.  Climbing works beautifully with the stealth action of the game as you can climb most surfaces as long as there is something to grab onto.  Players can also take utilization of a variety of bows that work both for stealth, quite well, or for more actionable combat.  Each type of bow acts similarly to guns that a player may have come across in most first-person shooters.  There is a light bow that acts as a quick multi-shot weapon, a war bow that works in a similar fashion to a shot-gun, the predator bow for all of you sniping needs, and the hunter bow which is a mid-grade bow somewhere between the light bow speed and the predator bow range.

One problem the franchise has suffered from is replay value.  The side quests have been there, but it never felt like there was enough of them.  The quests never felt unique or engaging either.  It was simply assassination contracts, fetch quests, races, etc.  The problem was that there was not much of a story involved in any of them so players would hit a point of feeling disengaged from them.  It was easier to skip the text description and just get your experience/money.  The main story of the game is roughly 25-30+ hours.  This is average for most action games today, but you can easily sink another 40-50+ hours into completing side quests, hunting animals, upgrading your gear, getting your skills maxed out, taking photos, etc.  There is a tremendous amount to do in the game and it almost feels overwhelming.  Almost, but once players start filtering what they want out of all this game has to offer, it becomes very easy to get lost in the desert sands because of the mirages.

The main story of this game is engaging and feels real.  You empathize with Bayek and he doesn't feel like the young, brash, quick to anger characters we've gotten from many of the games in the franchise.  He feels like a man with a purpose and as you travel through the story with him, you feel his pain.  You begin to understand his motivation.  I ended up in one quest that actually made me angry.  It didn't make me angry because of a problem in it.  It gave me the same anger the character was feeling due to the events that unfolded.  It has been a long time since players could engage with a character this way and it is a welcome feeling.

Now, I am aware that much of this review is singing the praises of this game.  This is not to say that the game is not without problems.  AC Origins does have some glitched issues that the developers are working on fixing while also releasing more content.  As of the time of this writing, there is a known issue with a trophy/achievement because of an item issue from later in the game.  There are some small bugs that cause animals to spawn oddly, but there hasn't been any issue that was game breaking.  I found myself missing elements of previous installments of the franchise, but I believe that is only because of my comfort with those elements.  I am positive that if players push through the differences, they will find that this is still an Assassin's Creed game like any other, but with many improvements that outweigh the old style.

All-in-all, I give this game a 9.5/10.  The reason I can't bring myself to give it a 10 is simply because of the small glitch issues and the major one that is causing some players to not get full trophy/achievement completion.  When you invest 70+ hours into a game this is a frustration point that does deteriorate the experience.  Get this game!  You owe it to yourself if you're a long-time fan, someone that stepped away after Ezio, or wanting a new gaming experience.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

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