It’s fair to say that Assassin’s Creed has suffered from its annual release cycle of late, with Assassin’s Creed Unity arriving riddled with bugs and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate failing to prove itself a year later. It hasn’t been since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag that an Assassin’s Creed has really worked its way into our hearts.
But it might just be that after a year’s break from the series, Assassin’s Creed Origins really is here to revitalise one of Ubisoft’s biggest franchises with a brand new setting, fresh characters and a whole new set of gameplay features that might make things feel new again.
At E3, Ubisoft guided us through an eye-opening Assassin’s Creed Origins preview that made us incredibly excited for the series this year. And despite the new features, you’ll be pleased to know that Origins still feels very much like an Assassin’s title.
The latest game is set thousands of years before any of the games in the series so far, with a brand new hero called Bayek taking us back to Ancient Egypt and the Great Pyramids. Our Assassin's Creed Origins preview gave us a glimpse of a typical mission for the game, with Bayek travelling into a waterside town on horseback through a desert region. A young slave boy is being beaten by a priest wearing an alligator hood.
The boy has been accused of stealing two gold statues, but he claims his ship was wrecked and the statues merely sunk to the bottom. Bayek volunteers to try and retrieve the pair of status in return for the boy going unpunished.
Both Assassin's Creed Origins and Far Cry 5 are ditching the traditional mini-map guidance tools, so instead a vague directional marker appears on the new guidance compass at the top of the screen, and as the boy suggested, you're going to head out into the open water.
And what a body of water it is. You can either grab a boat, go for a swim or use your eagle pal, Senu, to scout out the exact locations of the two statues from above. It's a great way of getting an aerial view of the situation and making a plan before diving in. But once we've found the two spots, we dive into the crystal waters and sink into the depths. The clearer water lets you see some of the beasties that are lurking there, with the underwater foes including hippos and crocodiles, and there's something incredibly magical about watching the sun's rays dance on the surface as you re-emerge to catch your breath.
After grabbing one of the statues from the boy's shipwreck, we are forced to climb aboard an enemy vessel to search for the second. Once aboard, it all starts feeling rather familiar, with Bayek able to move noiselessly along the edge of the ship and perform ledge take-downs or silent assassinations if he's managed to get a sneak attack in. One of our favourite moments in our E3 Assassin's Creed Origins preview was managing to pull an enemy off the ship straight into the jaws of a hippo waiting in the water below, who snaps him into bloody chunks in seconds.
But it's when we get caught in some close-quarters combat that we really notice the main changes Ubisoft is making to Bayek's movement set. Initially, the combat felt very familiar to other Assassin's Creed titles, but it quickly became apparent that there are serious RPG aspirations with this game. Attacks are now mapped to the shoulder buttons and triggers, with the face buttons used to block, dodge and even break enemy blocks. It's far faster and more fluid than the AC combat of old.
The enemies have gotten a bit wiser too, no longer waiting patiently to attack you in turn but instead attacking en masse, forcing you to choose your moments wisely and relying more on blocking and dodging than ever. And that's even more apparent when we got the chance to sample the new Arena mode that pits you against waves of enemies, followed by a beastly boss. It's not clear as yet how it fits into the main story, but it should be a great place to get to grips with Assassin's Creed Origins' new combat system.
Our Assassin's Creed Origins preview ended with us returning the gold statues to the Priest, freeing the boy from his beatings and sliding one of Bayek's blades deep into the priest's throat before fighting off his goons.
It was a tantalisingly brief look at a game that already feels incredibly promising and that's without even delving into the other RPG elements including a skill tree, Destiny-esque rarity levels on gear and completely customisable character. From the little swoop around the world we did with Senu, it's also looking like the best looking Assassin's Creed in years, although there have never been many problems with the series' visual fidelity.
Is Assassin's Creed Origins going to be good?
Although it was a short segment of what promises to be a vast game, we're already incredibly impressed by Assassin's Creed Origins. This already feels like the overhaul the series really needed, whilst still maintaining all the tropes that will have Assassin's Creed fans coming back in their droves.
Ubisoft always said this series makes history your playground, and this ancient playground is one we can't wait to explore and discover all its secrets.