Quick Thoughts on Assassin's Creed Origins

After having experiencing swarms of revolutionary citizens filling the streets of Paris in the spectacularly over-ambitious Assassin's Creed Unity three years ago, I didn't think Ubisoft would dare to dream big again. The immediate follow-up Syndicate was delightful in many ways but fundamentally played it safe by returning to the less demanding urban simulations of earlier entries, and after that the series took an unprecedented year off.

The new installment Assassin's Creed Origins is awesome, in the original sense of the word. While neither the gameplay or the story represents any significant new developments as far as the time-honored AC formula is concerned, the enormous open world does ancient Egypt justice by being an achingly beautiful place with a rich history and culture just waiting to be uncovered and explored.

The developers chose to set the game in late Hellenistic times rather than during the heyday of the great Pharaohs, and that's a bit of shame - Cleopatra and Ptolemy are cool and all, but it would probably have been even more exciting to, say, meet Akhenaten and Nefertiti during the Amarna Period. That being said, there's still a strong sense of stepping into a fascinating and mysterious pre-Western world which is utterly unlike all of those European societies we see in most games with historical themes and settings. And who could really ask more than that from a series that's always been the ultimate vehicle for triple-A escapism?

I never quite warmed to the Han Solo-esque roguishness of fan favorite AC protagonist Ezio Auditore, and generally feel that Ubisoft's character work has been rather uneven throughout the series. Syndicate's bantering twins Jacob and Evie were quite charming but they largely stuck to the Ezio playbook, whereas the more serious heroes have tended to be a bit dull and forgettable (AC1's Altaïr and AC3's Connor etc.).

My very first impression of Assassin's Creed Origins' Bayek (voiced by Abubakar Salim) was of a rather generic and straight-faced leading man, but several early scenes revealed a warmth and disarming humor which changed my mind. The reunion with Bayek's badass spy master wife Aya (Alix Wilton Regan) was satisfyingly tender and bittersweet, and I definitely want to see where the story takes this fetching couple (apart from all that Templar/Assassin stuff, which is always dreadfully boring).

While Assassin's Creed Origins doesn't shy away from the dirty Realpolitik and daily squalor of ancient Egypt in a time of decline and turmoil, the game is also quite eager to indulge our romantic notions of that long-lost empire centered on the Nile. No more is this evident than in the desolate district around Giza - already a ruin of previous eras by the time Bayek rolls around - where the grand monuments of Pharaohs past dominate the landscape and the sweltering heat gives rise to haunting mirages. Climbing the impressively large pyramid of Kufu for the first time was probably one of the strongest individual gameplay moments I've had in a game this year...

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