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“Assassin’s Creed: Origins” returns franchise to prominence

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Following its inaugural successes in 2007, the iconic videogame series “Assassin’s Creed” churned out at least one new installment per year for the next decade. Despite each game taking place in a new location and time period, fans eventually became fatigued with the constant retreads released by developer Ubisoft Montreal, who effectively oversaturated their own niche market.

As sales continued to flounder with the 2015 release of “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate,” Ubisoft announced that they would be taking a two-year hiatus before their next chapter in order to “step back and re-examine” the franchise.

The result was an immensely improved product and experience in “Assassin’s Creed: Origins,” which came out on Oct. 27, 2017. An immediate hit, the game sold twice as many copies in its first ten days than its predecessor, while digital downloads increased 23 percent.

For those unfamiliar with the background of “Assassin’s Creed,” the main premise is chronicling the millennia-long conflict between two secret societies; the rebellious Brotherhood of Assassin’s who fight for free will, and the Templar Order, who seek to control the world from behind-the-scenes. Although neither organization exists in reality, the games adeptly combine historical fiction with real-life historical events and figures, based on the era in which the story is set.

“Origins,” is true to its name, finally providing fans with the creation story of this epic power struggle, placing players in Ptolemaic Egypt between 49 and 43 B.C.E. You play primarily as Bayek of Siwa, with the occasional cameo of his wife Aya, as they strive to take down the Order of the Ancients who ruthlessly murdered their son and are seemingly apart of every evil event that plagues Egypt.

A key element unique to the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise is how the story is presented. Most open-world action/adventure role playing games occur entirely in said open world. In “Assassin’s Creed,” you are frequently alternating between the historical realm and modern-day, thanks to a fictional device known as the animus.

Your modern day character in “Origins” is Layla Hassan, who is tasked by her company Abstergo (who created the animus) to recover an ancient artifact in Egypt. During her quest, she discovers the tombs of Bayek and Aya, allowing her to obtain sequences of their DNA. Layla is then able to use their DNA in conjunction with the animus to relive their memories inside her own mind, with the goal of finding out any crucial information to boost her standing within Abstergo.

The Ptolemaic Egypt open world that Ubisoft Montreal has constructed is arguably the most breathtaking and immersive of any game to date. Every aspect of the culture of that time is portrayed excellently, and as with prior “Assassin’s Creed” games, the detail of the architecture is flawless. Particularly of note are the pyramids, which are joyous to both climb, and explore the tombs that await inside.

The world of “Origins” also features a wide variety of interactive Egyptian wildlife, many of which can be lethal if not treated cautiously. In addition, you are provided with diverse modes of transportation, such as horses, camels, oxcarts, chariots, and several types of boats.

Although it is a discrete, easily overlooked detail, what separates this video game world above the rest is the ability to travel anywhere on the enormous map without reaching a loading screen. This is not to say that the game itself doesn’t have any, like when utilizing the fast travel feature, but it is the first of its kind to contain this type of unencumbered realm.

Among the many changes Ubisoft Montreal made during their extra year of development is the control scheme. Everything has been completely revamped, from the combat, to the parkour, to even the basic functions of running and hiding. Although the modifications have been a point of contention among diehard fans and present a relatively steep learning curve, they provide a much more fluid overall gaming experience. The one negative I have come across is the removal of a sprint button. This may seem minute, but only ever being able to run at one speed is not only annoying, it also leads to many unnecessary conflicts that you previously could have outrun.

Another significant change is the weapons system, which is both uniquely vast and also familiar to previous entries in the “Assassin’s Creed” story. There are a multitude of variations on each style of weapon, such as bows, swords, axes, scepters and maces. What’s new in “Origins” is the rarity rating, which controls how often you can find a particular item as well as its resale value, and the ability use in-game currency to increase the level and power of your favorite devices of destruction. But despite the alterations, certain staples of the franchise like the hidden blade still remain.

Having completed the entire campaign, I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment. “Origins” allows the most freedom in style of play out of any in the series. You can choose to play true to the “Brotherhood” and stealthily assassinate your enemies in your quest for justice, or, if you’re skillful enough, go full on badass brawler and never worry about remaining hidden.

The story is highly intriguing throughout, full of interesting individuals complimented by excellent voice acting. Bayek and Aya team up to be remarkable main characters who, despite their murderous tendencies, are easy to root for. Regardless of who you are playing as, the mission variety keeps you engaged. Whether you are just casually exploring a tomb, in the midst of ship-to-ship combat on the high seas, fighting in the gladiator arenas or assassinating an emperor, there is never a dull moment.

As evident in the aforementioned sales statistics, Ubisoft Montreal’s decision to delay “Origins” has paid off. According to metacritic.com, most critics agree, as 53 of them gave the game positive feedback, 10 gave mixed feedback, and none gave negative feedback. The developer feels so strongly about the results that they recently announced they will be instituting a similar timeline on their next three games.

Multiple critics have declared “Origins” as either the best or one of the best installments in the series. I have personally played every major release and confidently believe it to be the preeminent “Assassin’s Creed” game, setting a new standard of excellence for the franchise.
If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” is available worldwide on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. I highly recommend it.

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“Assassin’s Creed: Origins” returns franchise to prominence