Assassin's Creed: Origins

I've got a good 28-30 hours into playing this title on my One S, and so I figured I could put forth a decent review of my current gameplay. I haven't finished the main story yet, so there won't be any spoilers about how this ends. There may be some spoilers herein about things in the main story, and I apologize up front about that. Remember that this is just one person's opinion of the game, and therefore, your mileage may vary.

I fell in love with this series in 2015 when I was able to pick up 7 of the AC titles for mere pennies on the dollar. And I'm happy to say that a lot of what I fell in love with about the series continues to be part of the game now.

Stunning. Beautiful. Amazing. I can't put into words how smooth and detailed everything looks, from Bayek's costumes to the weapons to the temples and tombs. Hieroglyphics and statues and ruins and even the blowing sand all look real. And not "boy, that's some decent rendering", but rather "am I looking at a game or a movie" REAL. It literally looks like you can reach out and feel stone if you touch your television screen/monitor/projected image. I just can't get over how awesome everything looks.

To pile on with the graphics, the transition from outside to inside and back again is flawless. The animators/designers did a pretty darned good job with lighting, and there aren't any glitches or hiccups that I've seen when moving from the sun-baked desert to the darkened interior of a pyramid or hut. And to even see in the dark requires the use of a torch, which throws light perfectly and the way a torch really should. Nice job by Ubisoft here.

Weapon Selection
Wow. I'm not sure how far I've gotten into the game - perhaps 50%? - and I've easily come across 75 different weapons. Be careful with that; what I truly mean is that in the several categories of weapons that exist, I've come across 75 different variations. And we do really have a wide selection of both Ranged (4-5 different types of bows) and Melee (single swords, dual swords, blunt, axes, poles/spears).

I think the best thing about the weapon selection is that you not only have the ability to wield 2 melee and 2 ranged (with the proper skill progression), but you can flip between them far easier than you could in previous iterations. Right on the D-Pad selects the first melee, right again selects the second, and holding right selects the Torch (or another tool you have equipped). Left on the D-Pad selects the first ranged, left again selects the second, and holding left selects another tool you have equipped. Because of this, you can easily go from sword to bow to sword and then to smoke pellets with but mere thoughts. It really makes for smooth combat.

Skill Progression
I'm not sure about previous iterations of this game since Black Flag (as I haven't played anything beyond that title), this game has true skill progression. You gain experience by doing a multitude of tasks, from killing bad guys to discovering new areas to completing quests, and once you gain enough experience you level up. And at every level you get an Ability Point which you can spend to gain a new Ability. Not all abilities, however, cost a single point; the cooler ones (Auto Looting Assassinated Victims or Hijacking Enemy Mounts) cost 2 or 3 Ability Points. I tend to like this progression system as it gives you the option to level up how you want to, now how the game wants you to. It's not linear.

You do have to pay attention to how you are leveling up, however. Just because you have an Ability Point does not mean you have to spend it right away. You have to take a look at where you are, what quests you want to undertake, and what that means to how you spend your points. It's obvious at first that you want to get multiple melee and multiple ranged weapons to take full advantage of that, but after what? Do you want to become a better hunter? Are you more in line with waltzing in to combat and smiting everyone? You have to make conscious decisions about this as the expenditure of Ability Points goes a long way towards your gameplay experience.

Eagle Vision
Gone. You no longer get to just push L3 and have everything highlight indefinitely. Now you have Senu, your eagle companion, that you can call upon to get a true bird's-eye view of the surrounding area. You can fly him around, zoom in to spot enemies and potential ambush spots, pick out the commanding officers, and scan for incoming bogies. I have learned to stop about 100 meters before any target I've selected to head towards and use Senu to plan my attack. Even areas that I think may be devoid of enemies are scouted this way, just to make sure. It's helped me plan far more than I ever did in previous games.

Best part of Senu is that his perception - and therefore your ability to scout using him - gets better as you synchronize viewpoints in the world. Which means that over time, he'll be able to see through solid objects, or hone in on a specific target quicker, as you sync the viewpoints.

I love this series, and I love this game. But the game is not without its flaws.

The combat system is far harder now than it has ever been. Gone is the auto-block and kill strategy of previous iterations. Now you have to time your block/parry against incoming attacks, which then opens up your opponent for an attack of your own. And this is the only way to get through the tough baddies that are using shields; you must parry their incoming attack first before you can do damage to them. Failing to do so results in your attacks just bouncing off their shields. And if you mis-time your parry? You are going to get hit. Multiple times. Before you can react. This takes some serious practice which, I'm sorry to say, isn't available in training sessions but done through going into combat.

Although not required, it is highly suggested that you lock onto targets in combat. Pressing R3 will lock you on (and pressing again will unlock you), which will force you to auto-face that opponent. You can cycle through opponents once locked on by flicking L in any direction, but this takes some getting used to. And locking on does nothing to prevent you from being attacked from the side or behind, and in fact, in a lot of cases, I've found that once you lock onto an opponent they will sit there with your focus on them while their friends kick your behind. And if you don't lock on? You end up flailing around trying to attack while your opponents just move left and right and kill you. Can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to lock on and been just swinging wildly.

All enemies have a level, just like you do. If you use Senu as I indicated above, you'll see what level an opponent is above their heads. Unfortunately, if an opponent is too hard for you to kill, you get no level, but rather a nice red icon above them. Think you can take them anyway? 2 hit kill. That is, they will hit you twice and you die. Any opponent with this red icon, no matter how sneaky you are, kills you in 2 hits. Period. So think twice before doing this.

In previous iterations of the game, you could walk nicely around town and the guards wouldn't bother you. Not any more. Once you leave Egypt and go to Alexandria, guards will harass you just for walking by them, and they will attack you if you are moving faster than a quick walk. I've had to defend myself for no reason in almost every part of Alexandria just for being there. Which is required for progressing the story. This is probably a user error, but I've not seen anything to suggest this.

In previous iterations of the games, the mini-map would tell you when a location is a restricted area, which would help you to decide if you wanted to go into that area or not. Not any more. The only way to know something is restricted is to walk into it, at which point the main map will put a little icon up in the center of said area that shows it's red. But it won't tell you how big the area is, and it won't warn you before you stumble into one. Which then means you are going to be attacked on sight (which might be my problem above).

Side Quests
I debated putting this in THE GOOD above, but after thought it belongs here. There are just far too many things outside the main story to do. Every new location or interesting spot you can investigate shows up on the main map as a question mark, and side quests show up as either white or blue diamonds. This is nice because you can at least see where you want to go. But there is just so much to do that it's literally mind-boggling. I have explored probably 50% of the map, and of that 50% I've probably covered 50% of the stuff to do without hitting the white diamonds. I will probably be playing this until the next generation of XBox comes out.

Eagle Vision
Another part of Eagle Vision that's gone is being able to press L3 and see all of the treasures light up. You now have to hold up on the D-Pad, which will push out this ring of vision to locate treasures. If any are found in your area, a little triangle will show up to try and guide you towards where you can loot. Unfortunately, this can be above or below you, with no indication of distance or how to get there. And in previous iterations, you could highlight the treasures on the map and just walk to find them that way; this is gone now.

Just about every location has a requirement of finding some hidden treasure in order to complete the location (and get the XP for doing so), and most of these are buried in places that aren't the easiest to determine. Sure, the ones that are underwater are easy to get to. But when you have to navigate caves and tunnels and keep using Eagle Vision to locate treasures - which, by the way, all show up with the same triangle with nothing to distinguish them as special until you are right on top of them - it gets to be a bit frustrating.

There are a couple of things that really bother me about this game. And Ubisoft really should know better.

Quest Markers
Like all previous iterations, whenever you tag something on the map you get a directional marker that shows up during gameplay for you follow and adjust course. Unfortunately, you are in the desert with the sun, and these in-game directional markers ARE WHITE. Which means that every now and again they fade into the background and disappear from view completely, which forces you to stop and turn left and right until it shows up again so you can make sure you are on the right path. This is probably the single-most annoying thing in this game.

Map Size
The world is huge. H-U-G-E friggin' huge. With a capital gargantuan. Which seems fine at first...until you start traversing it. Right after the opening sequence you leave Siwa on your way to Alexandria, which forces you to cross the desert on camel. Manually. No fast-travel, no animus fast-forwarding you there. You have to walk your camel from Siwa, over the Nile, around the Mediterranean, into the center of Alexandria.

Sure, once you start exploring you can sync up viewpoints. Which makes traveling a whole lot easier. But the sheer amount of traveling you have to do manually before you get viewpoints synced up is ridiculous. And again, I've explored about half of the entire world, so I'm not even close to being done with this.

I'm not sure why, but every encounter I've had I've found weapons that have a higher quality than the one I've currently got equipped. Which is great - new weapons! Bit the sheer volume of them is out of hand. And although you can upgrade weapons, I've gotten to the point where I've asked myself "Why would I spend money on upgrading". Weapons don't break, they don't become useless, and you have zero need of ever going backwards with equipping stuff.

The only saving grace with the sheer volume here is that you can opt to break weapons down to get their component parts so you can do crafting. Which is nice, but doesn't make up for being overloaded with weapons.

Overall, I'll give this a solid 7.5/10, with the option to increase that once I get through the main story. It's definitely worth owning and playing, even with the stuff in the THE UGLY column.