E3 2017: Hands On: Assassin’s Creed Origins (Xbox One, 2017)

When Ubisoft announced that their long-running Assassin’s Creed would be taking a year off to afford the team some extra time for development, I was all for it. The series had needed a break for a long while. So to say I was excited to see what an extra year of development has been able to give the team on Assassin’s Creed Origins would be to undersell it. I was not disappointed.

Let me preface this piece as I do every time I report on anything to do with Assassin’s Creed — I am The Iris’ resident Assassin’s Creed apologist. I’ve been a staunch fan of this series since its inception. The ability to parkour your way around, the absolutely bonkers story and conspiracy behind it all, I love it. I’ve even found things I liked about Unity and that game was a nightmare. So remember when reading anything I write about Assassin’s Creed that your own mileage may vary.

The Assassin’s Creed Origins demo came in two parts — a short adventure and a wave-based combat sequence. The adventure takes me through a desert area where the game quickly teaches you the controls. Movement, even on horseback, feels super smooth and very precise. The aiming, too, is quite smooth.

From the desert, we move into a small Egyptian port. It’s here that you can appreciate for a moment just how lovely the environments in Origins are. The colours are gorgeous, the light is beautiful, it’s easy to imagine the heat in the air. I’m really looking forward to having this running on Xbox One X hardware on my 4K HDR TV at home.

After attempting to rescue a kid being beaten by a slave driver, you are tasked with recovering a pair of small idols the kid lost to cover his debt. One lies at the bottom of a nearby bay, the other on a ship docked in the same harbour. To find them, you can swim out (more controls that feel super smooth) or take a boat. You use your Eagle for a literal bird’s eye view of the terrain. Your bird friend can swoop about, tagging points of interest, objectives and potential enemies so you know where everyone is. When searching for objectives, you’re given a circular reticule that reduces in size the closer you get. While this makes sense from a design perspective, this was the only area that felt like it needed work to me. When icons start bunching up on screen, it can be hard to know which one the reticule is referring to.

After recovering the first idol from a recent shipwreck on the harbour bottom (and scooping up as much free loot as I could), I returned to the surface and boarded the vessel my eagle told me the other idol was stashed on. I ascended to the crow’s nest without attracting attention and found that when drawing my bow, I could light my arrow on fire by passing it through nearby flame. A neat piece of environmental interaction but nothing we haven’t seen before. After firing off a couple of arrows and getting the crew’s attention, I pulled my scimitars and got into the meat of the new melee combat system. Previously, Assassin’s Creed has leant on timing and counters in its combat. You would sit back and wait for enemies to come to you, countering and killing them in a single, fluid motion. Here it seems Ubisoft has been paying attention to games like Dark Souls because the combat is much more clear and enjoyable that I think its ever been before. While there’s still an element of waiting for your foe to come to you, it’s more about positioning, watching for telegraphs, perfecting dodges and staying on the move. Particularly when using your scimitars, its better to stay on the defensive until you find an opening, and then you let them have it.

This is where the game’s biggest changes come into play. Assassin’s Creed Origins includes a pair of brand new loot drop and XP systems for upgrading and fleshing out your character to suit your preferred play style. If you’re more of an up-close-and-personal problem solver then you should focus on your melee skills and ensure you’re equipping any powerful swords, hammers, maces, etc that yo find. If you’re more about stealth or attacking from range then focusing on those skills and equipment trees will be more helpful. It’s an interesting change for the series, even if these systems themselves are quite familiar to gaming enthusiasts by now. During my playthrough, I asked my handler about whether or not the game had taken inspiration from Ubisoft stablemate The Division in this regard as the two systems are remarkably similar, and he visibly chafed at the suggestion. Apologies, friend. I meant no offense.

do like what these changes mean for the series, I think it takes the franchise in some interesting new directions. The trouble is, these directions are only new for this franchise and not necessarily new to gaming as a whole. I’m interested to see what the wider world makes of these changes when the game releases later this year. As an ardent fan of the series, I’ll be there with bells on.

Assassin’s Creed Origins releases on PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC on October 27, 2017.

The author is reporting from E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Centre. Accommodation in Los Angeles provided by The Farmer’s Daughter Hotel. For rates and booking, click here.