Assassin’s Creed Origins: Game Review & A Baby Duck Syndrome

There’s a well known “baby duck syndrome” thing concerning media series (comics, books, movies, games etc). The legend is: a duckling would recognize the first object or creature he sees after birth as his mother, also known as imprinting. Likewise, gamers, readers and movie fans would most likely recognize the first book, comic, movie or game in the series they came across as a default standard and compare all other titles to it.

And so a sequel, a “good old classic” – or a same genre item must really surpass this first impression in one or many aspects to be recognized as a better one. We all know it well considering WoW: an expansion you entered first would inevitably be compared to previous ones and next ones, taken as a golden standard. The older expansions you haven’t played must have some really great story, ambience and characters to compete, and new expansions must upgrade and deliver in gameplay systems, story, QOL, visuals – in fact, everything, or else.

At my age I’m already wise enough to distinguish the baby duck syndrome from the goods and the bads of the game. And the most vital thing in my perception is: a) whether it’s convenient to play and b) whether I’m having desire to continue and complete everything that the game designers prepared for me, to explore all the sidetracks and follow characters and story. In short: am I having fun within the current installment?

AC: Odyssey was my first entry point to the series, and perfect as such. The visuals, the music, the story, the characters, the multiple goals, the actual gameplay of travels and fights made me want to live in this world and crave to follow the next adventures of my character. After I finished this juggernaut (110+ hours of gameplay time, which is quite a lot for a single player!), in a while I returned for extra stories aka expansions/DLC content and playing through them now. Very few games make you feel like home, and that’s what this game did.

The previous, pre-reboot installments – I tried 3-4 games – were a lot worse. I found myself struggling with the systems, interface, gameplay, mission design more than I did with my enemies and quests, so even if they aged well considering visuals and the stories were exciting, I dropped them for good, because: I was not having a good time actually playing.

AC: Origins is the first of the three after-reboot games (Origins – Odyssey – Valhalla) which doesn’t alter significantly from other two, so it was interesting – and valid! to explore it considering a baby duck syndrome and compare it to a perfect in all aspects AC: Odyssey.

The Gameplay:

…did not receive too many changes in Odyssey compared to its predecessor. Origins has the very same open world, free to explore in full if your level allows it, a similar if simpler combat system, a similar tree of talents, and a similar gear management. A mount on demand and fast travel as well as opening checkpoints for insta-teleport are there.

The gameplay itself in the very similar manner consists of progressing through the main story paired with assassination of baddie grid targets, doing side quests which help to immerse and enhance the world, and exploring/crossing out map checkpoints (tombs, camps, shipwrecks etc.) for extra gold, gear and XP.

So there was no trouble with tuning myself to the minor alterations and tweaks, and the process was almost similar to Odyssey. I could call them both as parts of the same game in this aspects – quite lively, fun and convenient to play, with a great learning curve for a newbie.

The Setting:

I think Ubisoft both succeeded and failed. The total success is the environment: diverse terrains (lush and moist Nile and oasis areas, magnificent desert sands complete with sandstorms and mountainous regions), quite genuine cities, pyramids, temples, fortresses and houses to explore, believable markets and houses with multiple small details. In short, if you ever wanted to walk freely in Ancient Egypt and see how people lived, the game delivers by 100%.

There were two major drawbacks too – at least for me. First, the abundance of Greek and Roman elements. Given that it’s an Hellenistic Egypt, that is: under strong Greek influence, and in the era of Julius Caesar/Roman conquest on the rise, it seems to be a must. And Cleopatra/Caesar era is probably the most well known era of Egypt history, so the epoch choice was justified. Still, more than half of the game you spend dealing with Greeks and Romans, fighting Greeks and Romans, bonding with Greeks and Romans, and walking/acting among Greek and Roman buildings and cities. Well… I’m here for Egypt, aren’t I?

The second drawback was a failure to sell me the Egypt culture and mythos as I expected. The native folks casually mention gods (that they don’t really believe in, it seems) and do some casual domestic rituals in the shrines, but this is it. They do not interact among themselves – focusing on hopelessly resisting the Greeks and Romans and trying to survive. So if you wanted to get acquainted with the lifestyle, culture and beliefs of Egyptians, it’s not the game you seek. You get literally NONE of this – and the only way to get any impression is by observing the environment. Quests and characters will not provide! This is super strange, considering that the whole point of time-travel and historical games is exactly the total immersement. In comparison, AC: Odyssey does all these things top notch.

The Story and Characters:

Again, the game both succeeded and failed. Origins major story (as in: origins of Assassin Order) were done perfectly – who and how came to a decision of forming an anti-tyrant, anti-scheming organization, as well as their assassination methods is portrayed well both in terms of narrative and character development. And I nearly cried in awe at the moment they revealed the AC series symbol origins! Fighting with the scheming baddies order and their assassination was also quite well shaped and motivated.

Again, the problem starts with the side quests, which occupy a significant, if not major part of the game and were supposed to immerse us into Egypt. Instead of exploring the culture, the attitudes, the society, the beliefs we get a most boring streak of questlines and characters you could barely tell one from another.

The main character, Bayek, is a medjay which is a local term for a sheriff. And sheriff work he does. There are two types of quests: one, someone is beating, robbing or kidnapping the locals (most commonly – local, Greek or Roman soldiers), so you go to extract the kidnapped and/or punish the baddies. Two, there is a crime of domestic abuse, murder, stealing, poisoning or something else worth of a weekly IRL police TV show. By quest you inspect the crime scene, talk to the witnesses, and kill the responsible. If you dreamed of a routine police work, then it’s the game for you! If not – well, it grows old very, very fast, by questline number five or so.

If this boredom was not enough, you can’t simply walk happy once the problem is resolved. In a tantalizing – obligatory and long – cutscene as you finish the quest, Bayek would also work as a shrink! It’s never enough to solve a problem and get your thanks, no. You have to wipe the snots and tears from the abused’ teary and miserable faces and console them, telling them that it’s gonna be alright.

And it’s not gonna be alright, too. AC: Origins is a very, very dramatic and grim game. There is no comic relief at all, and everybody dies – or at least stays beaten, crazy, miserable or unhappy even when you’ve helped them. So… what’s the point…

Learning this much from my experience, by the middle of the game I rushed forward through the main story at top speed towards the finale, abandoning “immersement” and exploration altogether. You can safely finish the game story at level 35 (40 is level cap, required to enter high level zones for extra exploration), and even so I had to grind my way through 26-29 and 32-35 levels by side questlines, so I did most of them anyways.

Conclusion:

AC: Origins is a very grim, dark game in Ancient Egypt (kinda) setting. You can expect a convenient and immersive gameplay, similar to the next installments – all the major things are there. The atmosphere is very genuine, worth simply walking among cities, villages and the wilds, to see how the Egyptians in Cleo era lived (keyword: see). The major story is immersive and interesting to follow.

Sadly, AC: Origins does not deliver in the department of cultural immersement. You get NONE of the Egypt culture in the stories and character relations and attitude, you will learn nothing about priests, mummies, gods, society, their everyday life – if you came for any element of pop-culture Ancient Egypt that you’ve fallen in love with, you won’t find it. What you get is a lot – like A LOT of your local sheriff/police mundane work in other decorations.

It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too good either. I do not regret the time and money spent, but at the same time I’ve uninstalled the game immediately after the main story ended without regret either – with no desire to return or play through the expansions.

Well, back to Odyssey DLC content now, and then we try Valhalla. Kassandra, I’m home! :)

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