After a decade of Assassin’s Creed, players have more or less learned what to expect — there’s white robed assassins leaping down off rooftops, a giant city to explore, and a plot that barely makes sense. But the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Origins actually manages to change up the formula for the better, by moving the action to Ancient Egypt, a setting and time period that’s dramatically different from any other game in the series so far.
Origins is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal, who has been working on the game since it finished 2012’s Black Flag, which also veered from the traditional formula by grafting a huge oceanic world onto the traditional city-based gameplay of an Assassin's Creed game. As Julien Laferriere, the producer on Origins puts it, the key word for Origins is “freedom”. And it only took an hour with the game for that freedom to become evident. Instead of dropping into a story mission where I would have undoubtedly assassinated some historical figure like in past games, I spent most of my time roaming the countryside, wandering into adventures as I went.
A lot of that is due to the setting. By moving to Egypt, as opposed to more cramped, walled-in cities like Paris or Rome, Origins has much more space to breath — and much more space to give players things to do. “For us Egypt is the pyramids, it’s Alexandria, it’s Memphis, it’s the desert, it's the Nile Delta, it's all of it,” explains Laferriere. Even Black Flag — the most open Assassin’s Creed game prior to Origins — had a lot of artificial barriers where major cities were walled off behind loading screens, and essentially separate games from the explorable open world. Origins does away with that for a much more seamless experience.
Playing Origins felt a lot more like Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn than the cramped urban landscapes of prior Assassin’s Creeds where I could ride across the sands of Egypt, stumbling into a mini-boss or Roman fortress or nest of crocodiles. There’s a sense of discovery and variety that was lacking in previous games, a constant feeling that something exciting or interesting might be hiding behind the next dune or hill.
In addition to changing how you experience the world, Origins also makes a shift in how you navigate it. When you open up new chunks of the map — still done by climbing a tower and hitting a button, as is demanded by the open-world gods — doesn’t turn it into the almost comically crowded map of say, Assassin’s Creed Unity. Instead of jamming your screen full of icons with missions, collectibles, and other busywork, Origins takes a much more laid back approach, just placing some question marks for you to discover. Is it a side quest? A new vendor? It’s up to you to find out. Also gone is the mini-map, replaced by a compass at the top of the screen that highlights objectives. As Laferriere explains, “[we] put a lot of effort to put clues in the world without relying on UI — for example, if you see in the distance a hill, you might be tempted to climb on the hill and see what's further down.”
Origins new setting also benefits it in other ways. Egypt is farther away in history than previous AC games, which has a twofold effect. The developers had to work harder to ensure things were historically accuratee, given the lack of records compared to say, London or Rome. But that distance also creates some creative freeom. “There's a lot of leeway to add some stuff,” according to Laferriere “We can say ‘maybe here, that was happening.’ There's no historical record, so we could just create it if we want.”
Origins comes out on October 27, and there’s a lot riding on it, as the first game in the series in almost two years. But it seems that leaving Europe for a vacation farther afield may have been just the change the series needed.