Game review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR embraces virtual reality Assassin’s Creed is a great idea for a video game, with the perfect excuse to create an infinite range of sequels that ensure at least some level of reinvention every time. But that idea has never been fully realised. The best entry is a decade old this year, and the last two were easily the worst. Ubisoft has realised there’s a problem though and have taken clear steps to try and fix it, but their solution is only a half measure.
Like an obstinate patient, that refuses to take the full course of their medication, Assassin’s Creed Origins shows some surface improvement, but the underlying issues are left to fester. For the first time in a long while there was no new Assassin’s Creed last year, but a year off was never going to been enough. And although Origins is a better game than Assassin’s Creed Unity and Syndicate, it’s not by nearly as significant a margin as you might hope.
Origins is set in Egypt during the time of Cleopatra – the furthest back in time the series has ever been – and sensibly keeps the modern day sequences to an absolute minimum. As the game starts there are few clues that this is actually a sci-fi game about relieving ancestral memories, as you take on the role of a sort of ancient Egyptian policeman named Bayek. In keeping with most previous Assassin’s Creed games he’s rather dull, and although not quite as humourless as past protagonists he lacks any real charisma.
But at least Bayek seems to have been given an authentic accent, and although we admit we know relatively little about the period there seems to be a greater effort in general to make things more historically accurate. And while some may consider that an unimportant detail it does prove the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction, and the sheer alienness of exploring a world this far back in time is one of the game’s key appeals.
Unfortunately, the plot almost instantly becomes an overcomplicated mess, and within a few hours we’d given up caring about anything other than who we had to assassinate next. It’s much more interesting to simply set off exploring the huge open world environment, which is something that the game encourages with a much looser structure that allows you full freedom to pick and choose which missions to tackle, and when.
The three pillars of gameplay remain exactly the same as usual: stealth, melee combat, and parkour. The problem with Assassin’s Creed is none of these elements have ever been very good individually, with the stealth and combat having been dumbed down and simplified more and more over the years. The stealth still isn’t terribly complicated here, although at least it doesn’t actively restrict your movements as it used to. But this often backfires, as the game constantly gets confused as to whether you want to use or climb over ledges when creeping around.
The combat is almost completely new, and seems to be influenced to some degree by Dark Souls. Not in terms of the difficulty, but the emphasis on blocks, parries, and dodges is immediately reminiscent. But the movement is much too fast and jittery, with Bayek moving around like some weightless ballet dancer. The lock-on system and camera also have real difficulty dealing with multiple enemies at once, which ends up making the combat feel clumsy, imprecise, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Clumsy sums up the game’s movement system in general, and although the parkour is definitely an improvement on previous games there’s still very little grace or flow to your leaps and bounds. It is the most accomplished of the three main mechanics though, and does make getting around easier and more enjoyable than it has been. Especially as you have a pet hawk that you get to use exactly like a drone, to scout out areas in advance and tag targets.
The new loot system also works well, but the wider attempts to position the game as an action role-player, which it never really was before, create another double-edged sword. There’s a sizeable skill tree that allows you to specialise in whatever you please, but the flipside of this is that many enemies and missions have a level requirement and if you don’t match up there’s nothing for it but to go away and start level-grinding.