Assassin’s Creed Origins
The behemoth took a year off, but has it returned a changed series?
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