So pharaoh, so good for prequel

by Shane Dillon
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WITH the end of the year fast approaching, some of the biggest games of the year are getting released into the wild – and they don’t come much bigger, or wilder, than Assassin’s Creed: Origins (PS4, XBO, PC, Cert 18, c. €60).
It’s a huge game – so huge, this review has to sprawl across two pages – that’s not only one of the biggest games of the year, but also one of the biggest games ever.
Almost entirely set thousands of years ago in the dusty hills and plains of ancient Egypt, it’s a game that presents a complex, brilliantly realised look at some long gone civilisations, with uncertain times ahead as fading empires make way for newer upstarts.
From the legacy of Egypt’s mighty but fading rule to the slow but steady encroachment of Rome, its a gaming world that’s rich in history, lore, and above all, some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen.
Taking in the sights and exploring the almost incomprehensively big world brings players through a set of starkly realised landscapes.
Whether wandering through noisy cities, splashing through river deltas, strolling through flowering meadows, clambering through cobwebbed tombs or pushing through blinding sandstorms out in the harsh desert, the team behind Origins have created a vast, diverse landscape that’s teeming with life in some places, yet bleak and inhospitable in others – much like modern Egypt.
Origins marks by far the biggest game made by the Creed team yet, with its makers – generally used to releasing a new franchise game per year – taking a couple of years or so to get this one together, and the extra time and polish shows in most places.
At heart, Origins is a story of revenge, with a main storyline seeing a father, Bayek, tracking down – and killing – the people responsible for his young son’s death, while some (mercifully brief) modern-day sections have echoes of this ancient past.
The main story is something of a McGuffin – while there’s a big overall plot to follow, gamers will ignore it to pursue lots of side quests and optional activities, potentially adding dozens and dozens of extra hours to their run-through as they goof off.
Just exploring and finding new places is almost a game in itself, let alone all of the other activities to engage in, from tomb raiding to chariot racing, defeating enemy strongholds to finding lost treasures, helping villagers or even fighting elephants, and all the while trying to level up the character to be able to fight ever stronger, tougher bad guys.
There’s no getting away from it – there’s a lot of violence in Origins, which doesn’t shy away from the assassin aspect of the popular franchise.
For all of the relaxing wandering past flocks of flamingos, or taking in the sights of tumbled, sun-bleached columns at some unmarked desert ruin, or eavesdropping on handmaidens in a cool marble palace hall, gamers will spend an awful lot of time fighting, killing and looting people as they roam around.
From assassinating key figures to attacking groups of soldiers, or even just defending themselves from mercenaries, the threat of sudden, bloody violence is never far away, with sprays of blood constantly soaking the sands and temples as glistening, gleaming blades flash and slice through the air.
Still, it’s a remarkable game that presents a still largely unique world, with ancient Egypt still a largely untapped and elusive setting for most games (bar endless strategy titles).
The game borrows aspects from many of its peers – for example, Bayek’s eagle, Senu, acts like a player-controlled drone to scout the terrain and mark enemies and assets – an imaginative repurposing of modern tech in the game’s setting.
Origins has lived up to the hope for a new direction for the series, which had grown stale – but choosing an ancient land has given the series a fresh energy and life again.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have a couple of chariot races to win…

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