I was crouched behind some rocks just outside the entrance to a cavern. The prisoner I was tasked with freeing was just 100 meters or so away. Unfortunately, so were an untold number of bandits, who were unlikely to let me just stroll on in and spring their captive. What's an ancient Egyptian Medjay to do?
Call on some help: That's what. I summoned Senu, my faithful eagle companion to give me, quite literally, a bird's eye view of the canyon and where all the baddies were stationed. I then whistled for my horse, mounted my trusty steed and rode into the canyon, sword unsheathed, before my enemies knew what hit them. Some very satisfying hacking and slashing later, and I had rescued the prisoner.
Welcome to the world of Assassin's Creed: Origins, the latest installment of Ubisoft's long-running open-world action/adventure series. This new game, first unveiled this summer at the E3 gaming show, is a prequel set in 49 BCE. That's before the time of the Assassins and the Templars, as Origins serves up our first look at the start of the Assassin Brotherhood.
Ubisoft has offered numerous looks at Assassin's Creed: Origins, which puts you in the role of Bayek, one of Egypt's last Medjay protectors. In the game, he travels throughout Ptolemaic Egypt, taking on quests and righting wrongs across a sprawling-but-detailed landscape that takes great pains to get the historical details just right. In advance of the $60 game's Oct. 27 launch on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, Ubisoft offered gave us the chance to spend a couple of hours with Assassin's Creed: Origins, going in-depth with many of the changes the game-maker hopes will add new dimensions to the long-running series.
I'm not going to pretend to be the world's foremost Assassin's Creed expert, having last dabbled with the debut entry in the franchise a decade ago. In an encouraging sign for both Ubisoft and anyone who's been wondering if they should give the newest game a try, I found it pretty easy to get sucked into the Assassin's Creed universe, without feeling too out of my depth. While it took some trial and error to get used to the Xbox controls — let's just say I'm very thankful for Bayek's ability to come back from the dead — after two hours of gameplay, I was feeling more comfortable in the Assassin's Creed universe and, more importantly, could have kept on playing.
Savvy Assassin's Creed veterans won't have that steep a learning curve, though they will find some changes to the game they've come to know and love. And, as Assassin's Creed: Origins creative director Jean Guesdon explained to me, those enhancements to the combat, navigation and narrative found in Assassin's Creed should make Origins an appealing new installment if you're a long-time fan of the series.
You're Going to Fight Differently: One of the first things you'll notice when you play Assassin's Creed: Origins is that combat is different in this edition. Previous versions of the game used a paired animation system, Guesdon told me — visually impressive, but featuring a lot of enemies standing around, waiting for their turn to fight you.
Assassin's Creed: Origins turns to a hitbox system. Everything has a collision box that takes damage when you strike it; that goes for enemies, animals and even inanimate objects like fences. As a result, the weapons you use in battle matter more. Switch to a long spear in a multiperson melee, for example, and you could wind up inflicting damage on three enemies at once.
"People who've played the game previously see the difference and enjoy it," Guesdon said.
You'll See Some Rich Details: Honestly, I spent most of my time with Assassin's Creed: Origins marveling at the scenery. From dusty roads to marshy riverbanks, it's clear the people programming this game put a lot of thought into how ancient Egypt should look.
That's not surprising, considering the effort Ubisoft puts into recreating historic settings in the Assassin's Creed series. You'll see that amped up next year when the Discovery Tour expansion comes to Origins as a free update. That addition lets you dive into elements of Egyptian culture — everything from mummification to hieroglyphics — without having to worry about combat or narrative. It should really give you the chance to explore this world Ubisoft has recreated.
You've Got a Lot of Ground to Cover: And it's a pretty sprawling world, too. I spent the better part of two hours with Assassin's Creed: Origins, and I feel like I only saw a fraction of the land that Bayek can cover. In that time, I rarely found myself retracing my steps, or exploring a region I had already thoroughly covered.
Assassin's Creed: Origins throws in some tools to make this expansive landscape manageable. A fast travel feature makes it easy to move on to your next quest whenever you don't want to take your time exploring the Egyptian countryside. The aforementioned eagle gives you a big-picture look at the world around you, too, saving you from having to leave the game behind to sort through the menu for your options.
More Interactive Scenery: Assassin's Creed has traditionally been an urban game, with you scaling walls and towers to get the jump on enemies. The Origins installment moves the action into a wider array of settings. You can climb rocks and cliffs, and you can dive underwater as well.
You'll need to take advantage of some of these new abilities. The waterways of Bayek's Egypt are populated by hippos and crocodiles who aren't always willing to let you pass by unmolested. And honestly, I think I may have gotten as much of a thrill subduing rampaging hippos as I did hostile soldiers.
Quests Are All Around You: Spend any amount of time exploring Assassin's Creed: Origins, and you're going to run into a quest, usually when you're already in the middle of a quest. Guesdon described the approach as the game makers wanting to tell more stories and embracing the RPG elements of Assassin's Creed. "Each quest is a different story," he added, giving you the opportunity to meet dozens of characters.
Guesdon isn't kidding. During my time with Assassin's Creed: Origins, I tackled everything from rescuing that prisoner from bandits, to avenging the death of a chariot-maker slaughtered by occupying soldiers. And along the way, I talked to a variety of different characters, giving Assassin's Creed: Origins a depth that will keep fans of the game coming back for more.