As­sas­sin’s Creed Ori­gins

The be­he­moth took a year off, but has it re­turned a changed se­ries?

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Isome­times won­der if I ex­pect too much from As­sas­sin’sCreed. For me, from its hold-down-a-sin­gle-but­ton plat­form­ing, to com­bat that re­quires lit­tle more than a press of a coun­ter­at­tack but­ton, to open world maps lit­tered with empty ac­tiv­i­ties, I strug­gle to see the pos­i­tive in­flu­ence it’s had on big games. It’s a se­ries that awk­wardly plays it­self. But even I have ex­cep­tions. Black­Flag’s in­tri­cate and skill-based sea bat­tles seemed to have the op­po­site de­sign phi­los­o­phy be­hind it, and I think that’s why peo­ple liked it. I think the rest of the game should be that in­ter­ac­tive, in­clud­ing the plat­form­ing and melee com­bat. Why isn’t it? Jean Gues­don was the cre­ative di­rec­tor of Black­Flag, and is now helm­ing Ori­gins, which has been in de­vel­op­ment for three-and-a-half years. While not a rein­ven­tion of As­sas­sin’sCreed, it’s learned lessons from a few of the griev­ances I listed above. Ori­gins has a re­vamped com­bat sys­tem, nar­ra­tive quests in­stead of an over­stuffed min­imap, and a gi­gan­tic land­scape to ex­plore. It’s as close to a rein­ven­tion as As­sas­sin’sCreed has got since it be­gan ten years ago, yet my first im­pres­sion is that it still feels a bit too sim­i­lar. Plat­form­ing con­trols the same, and my first quest—re­triev­ing some­thing from a ship that a man is falsely ac­cused of steal­ing—wouldn’t be out of place in any of the pre­vi­ous As­sas­sin’sCreed en­tries. Then again, a game of this scale is dif­fi­cult to show off prop­erly in a 25-minute demo with a sin­gle mis­sion.

I ask Gues­don about the sig­nif­i­cance of As­sas­sin’sCreed tak­ing a year off for the first time in eight years, and what com­ing back now means for Ubisoft. “When we started the game three-and-ahalf years ago, we wanted it to be global, to be full, so this is why we aim for a fully seam­less en­tire coun­try now. We touched a bit on that with Black­Flag, this sense of mas­sive scale and to­tal free­dom, and we wanted to bring that on land, for the very first time, with an en­tire coun­try. This ex­tra year re­ally al­lowed us to take the time to de­liver on that high qual­ity.”

I’m en­cour­aged to check out the map dur­ing my hands-on of Ori­gins, and this is a gi­gan­tic-look­ing ver­sion of An­cient Egypt. I don’t get much of a sense of scale while I play—this demo is set in one river­side area of the game—but size isn’t the only thing Ori­gins has in its fa­vor. Re­ac­tive AI sys­tems have been wo­ven into As­sas­sin’sCreed this time. I see a croc­o­dile ran­domly ha­rass some civil­ians, for ex­am­ple, and Gues­don ex­plains that you should be able to see this sort of in­ter­ac­tion all over the world.

“For us, it’s some­thing that we re­ally want to push,” he elab­o­rates. “We want play­ers to have their own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, which means less script­ing and less hand­hold­ing. We cre­ate a world, we place some con­tent in it—we have dozens of quests, and peo­ple that you will meet who will tell you sto­ries. But in be­tween, when you’re in the world, a lot of things can hap­pen. And no two peo­ple will have the same ex­pe­ri­ence—it’s just not pos­si­ble.”

Hip­pos vs crocs

As­sas­sin’sCreedIV’s sense of ex­plo­ration in­spired the world de­sign. “We learned a lot about that on Black­Flag, and so the way we built the world, we re­ally ex­panded this archipelago struc­ture, where we have lo­ca­tions that are hand­crafted by our very tal­ented artists. You see the re­sults: We have se­crets, mys­ter­ies, trea­sure, and so on. But at the same time, in be­tween, we are fill­ing the world with some new tech. First to cre­ate the ter­rain, sec­ond to pop­u­late the world. We’ve re­worked the AI so that all liv­ing be­ings in the world are real AI. The lions are hunt­ing an­telopes, the crocs are at­tack­ing hip­pos if there are any around, and the world is much more liv­ing than be­fore.”

A game of this scale is dif­fi­cult to show off in a 25-minute demo

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