Last year, Ubisoft announced that it would take a short break from Assassin's Creed to "...evolve the game mechanics and to make sure we're delivering on the promise of Assassin's Creed offering unique and memorable gameplay experiences." The company revealed the fruit of that hiatus, Assassin's Creed: Origins, at E3, and the new game is more than just another iteration on the franchise. Ubisoft Montreal made changes to this game that even made us, longtime followers of the series, feel like we were playing something new instead of just another Assassin's Creed title.
We noticed the first change when we started the demo (which was played on the Xbox One) in the region of Faiyum as Assassin's Creed: Origins protagonist Bayek of Siwa. In the past, you could sprint in any direction by combining the movement of the analog stick with the press of another button. In the demo, you automatically sprinted in any direction, but you could move slower if the analog stick was slightly pressed. This bodes trouble for keyboards, which can’t perform the same action with a single button. We asked how the PC controls would address the issue--we’re assuming with a toggle key--but our representative didn’t have an answer. Despite the shift in movement, however, climbing and descending structures still works in the same way.
After traveling through a small field and town on horseback, we reached a quest marker. A priest was hitting a young boy in the head because the priest believed that the boy stole two golden statues. However, the boy said that the statues actually fell into the river. In order to prove the boy’s innocence, we had to dive into the nearby lake to find said statues. Instead of swimming underwater (more on that later) blindly in search of the statues, we had to summon our companion: an eagle named Senu. With Senu in the air, we could see the nearby position of our enemies, potential loot sites, and more importantly, the location of the lost statues.
The introduction of Senu is strange in that it brings another degree of ridiculousness to the game. We could control Senu's movemens, and we could even let it hover in one place to scout a specific area. Another Ubisoft game, Far Cry: Primal, also used a controllable bird to scout the area. However, the animal companion made sense in that game as the main character had the power to control animals. This wasn't the same case with Bayek. In fact, using Senu felt like we were using an ancient version of a drone, which is absurd. It would have been preferable to use the traditional Eagle Vision--or even a regular scope--to look for a way to get to the statues without being spotted.
With the bird scouting business out of the way, it was time to grab the statues, which Senu told us were underwater. However, there were enemies in nearby boats, so we opted to take them out first. As usual, you'll have the hidden blade (as well as a bow and arrow) to take out enemies quietly, but to try out the new combat mechanics, we had to face the enemy head-on. Instead of the quick flurry of attacks from previous titles, this game now includes buttons for light and heavy attacks. There's also a dodge button that lets you evade devastating blows from enemies.
This is a slower and more strategy-focused style of combat than what was found in previous Assassin's Creed titles. You have to find the right time to strike or defend, and it’s even more important to get the timing right when fighting against multiple enemies. The new combat system doesn’t take long to learn, but properly executing it in fights will take some time to master. If you prefer to approach each enemy encounter with stealth, the game can make it an easy affair by allowing you to manipulate the time of day with the press of a button. Nighttime missions usually mean less guards, so you can sneak around, but we didn’t fully explore the other benefits of playing during the night as opposed to the day.
For the first time in the series, you can swim underwater, as we found out when we had to retrieve the statues. Retrieving the statues wasn’t difficult because we knew the exact location (thanks again, Senu) but our chaperone for the demo told us that there was also undiscovered loot nearby as well. By using our Eagle Vision’s “Pulse” ability, we sent a sonar-like wave across a small distance, and tiny objects glinted in the water. Some of these collectible items are sold for money, but they can also be additional weapons and gear that you can use. If you have items that are considered obsolete because of new equipment you can dismantle it to get crafting resources. You’ll be able to craft additional capacity for items such as your quiver, and you can also improve the damage output of a specific weapon.
Test Your Skills
With the statues returned to the priest, we then tried another part of the demo called the Arena, which is a small area full of enemies and traps. If you survive, you gain experience to try out new abilities or obtain gear to make yourself stronger. For us, however, the Arena was the best place to better acquaint ourselves with the combat system.
Within the small stadium, we had to fight three waves of foes in order to get the rewards. Some enemies carried a spear and shield; others were larger and wielded dangerous clubs. It was the ultimate test of combat, and it took a few deaths to get the hang of dodging or knowing when to strike with a lethal combination of light and heavy attacks. The fight also introduced the idea of a special “Adrenaline” attack, which you can only activate if its gauge is full (you fill the gauge with each successful hit). In some situations, the special move is a guaranteed kill, but more often it merely puts a massive dent in the opponent’s health.
As we found out in the next part of the Arena match, facing three waves of enemies was a cakewalk. The Arena boss battle featured a single enemy that was harder than any foe we previously faced, partly because he inflicted greater damage and partly because it took a considerable amount of time to even get his health down to the halfway point. The Adrenaline attacks helped a bit, but we still had to whittle him down with regular attacks. At one point we were this close to killing him, but we mistimed an attack and it led to our demise. However, we walked away with a better understanding of how combat works.
A Different Direction
Any series running as long as Assassin's Creed has faces the risk of stagnation. Sooner or later, the same old mechanics that made the games popular in the first place will become dull, and their implementation will seem lazy.
The series' brief hiatus seemed to give Ubisoft time to reflect on how to move forward, and it shows in the demo. A complete overall of gameplay features isn't necessary, but changes throughout the game are the deciding factor between success and failure, and Assassin's Creed: Origins leans towards the former. It didn't take long for us to learn the new methods at E3, but we’ll have to wait for the final version to see how it translates to the game as a whole. So far, it's piqued our interest, and we’ll keep an eye on it in the months to come.