Addictions never leave us, according to Margaret Atwood, but lie dormant like flowers in the desert.
Certainly, the words were written of more debilitating vices than action-adventure stealth games, but Assassins Creed, the perennial dagger-in-the-dark franchise, has more than once flirted with abuse of its fan base’s addiction. Aptly, Origins takes place in Egypt, amidst rolling dunes and desert oases. I approached it with my hopes staunchly guarded.
With 2017 marking 10 years since the first instalment, we have seen both moments of soaring brilliance and ones of maddening repetition. Almost every game has also been spiced with Ubisoft’s famed glitches.
In Origins you start out as Bayak, a desert scout-cum-policeman called a “medjay”, who roams Egypt in the days prior to the formation of the titular assassins’ brotherhood. He’s drawn nto a battle against the oppressive Ptolemy, and the Assassins are formed.
None of this makes much difference to the basic gameplay. You still parkour your way around town, and clamber several hundred feet in the air with the self-assurance and disregard for life of a Russian teenager. Vegetation still renders you inexplicably invisible, and you still bristle with blades of various descriptions with which to dispense bloody justice. But it’s good again.
There have been iterative improvements in movement and character interactions, which are subtle, but add depth and realism. If Bayek runs through water he will emerge dripping and flick his hands free of droplets. If you’re hiding in bushes near a tethered horse, it will nicker with unease. You have an eagle sidekick whose viewpoint you adopt to scout enemies, and flying peacefully over cities is blissful.
The game’s crowning triumph, however, is its fine balance. You don’t have to dedicate hours of planning for a mission, but without patience and restraint you will quickly run into trouble (and in Assassin’s Creed, “trouble” means rapid, gory death). On the flip side, Ubisoft avoids teetering too far into fun-sucking realism or overly complex skill-trees. The world is deep, full of life and the story is full of sneaky thrills and ridiculous, fun weaponry, even if the back-story emerges a little disjointedly. Stick with it.
Anyone hoping to kick the Assassins Creed habit should shelve their plans for now, because this one’s almost perfect.