Ruins leave a much to the imagination. Surviving thousands of years through untold wars and water damage is an achievement for any building, but time takes its toll. Even our most recognizable landmarks are just a shell of their former selves. Video games often give us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in unattainable worlds. Is there a game that lets us know what it would be like to explore an ancient historical icon? Maybe even kill a man while we’re there?
Yes and yes. Assassin’s Creed Origins from Ubisoft is one such game. Set in Egypt during the rise of the great Cleopatra, Origin takes us into this legendary setting with more depth and breadth than any game, and it even managed to breathe new life into an old franchise.
Origin is, as the name suggests, an origin story for the franchise. This prequel story reveals the roots of the Brotherhood of Assassins by placing players in the hands of Bayek or Silwa with hidden swords in the year 48 BC. Like most heroes in the franchise, Bayek is out for revenge. His son was murdered by a shadowy cabal of Egyptian rulers, so Bayek forms a group of assassins called the Hidden Ones to bring justice.
It is also anchored to that famous Assassin’s Creed historical cameos. Cleopatra is your greatest ally, handing out missions and rewards. You face the evil pharaoh Ptolemy XIII, a brutal teenage ruler and Cleopatra’s rival, and meet Julius Caesar.
The real cameo, of course, is Alexandria’s painstakingly detailed reinterpretation. Alexandria, the seat of Egyptian power and influence, comes alive in ways no other media has ever captured. Of course there are detailed buildings and temples. Assassins have to climb something, right? Many a history teacher has used the in-game Discovery mode to walk the streets without getting in the way of the tedious gameplay or story.
Beyond that are the details that can be found in how the world behaves. Real-life dramas unfold that seem insignificant from a video game perspective, but are steeped in history. A Reddit thread describes how an exchange between priests complaining about a shortage of mummified cats was a real, literal thing that happened at a time when mummified cats were like the NFTs of the afterlife.
What good is a brilliantly recreated ancient wonder of the world without any action? Origin has enough. And, more importantly, it introduced some new ideas for a franchise that had already released nine main games and 10 secondary titles at the time. Origin turned away from action/adventure in RPG and the series benefited greatly. The following titles, AC: Odyssey and AC: Valhallafollowed his lead and also found huge success.
These RPG elements meant that players had more freedom to explore the beautiful map than in previous titles, which locked areas depending on where players were in the story or how they had explored the map. It’s populated with some of the best side missions in the series, including some ship battles for everyone to enjoy AC: black flag lovers. It’s a game where discovery feels more organic than linear. It drives your curiosity in ways previous titles didn’t. Who wouldn’t want to climb the Great Pyramids of Giza or pick the nose of the Sphinx?
Assassin’s Creed Origins is available on PC, PlayStation and Xbox. It’s out now on Game Pass too.