Yahtzee reviews Assassin's Creed Origins.
And so we reach the third game that came out on "Let's All Piss in Each Other's Mouths Day", the one that I was hotly anticipating with very familiar feelings of exhausted dread. Yes, it's the new Sasso Creedo, Sasso Creedo Richie Rogie. Assassin's Creed is a once-interesting historical adventure series that became part of the collective Ubisoft sandbox, a sort of amorphous blob of mediocrity that comes around to haunt us every year or so like a monster from a lower-end Stephen King book. It went on a bit of a hiatus to see if it could find a way to recapture the magic, and after two years of thinking very hard, this is what they've come up with: a prequel with the subtitle "Origins". Whoever's job it is to prevent the Ubisoft creative team from committing mass suicide, they cannot possibly be getting paid enough!
I was about to make some joke along the lines of "When can we expect Assassin's Creed Reloaded and Assassin's Creed Revelations?", 'cos I genuinely forgot they'd already done that one. No hiatus was going to be long enough, 'cos even without Sasso Creedo, the Ubisoft sandbox has continued to come around, continually larger and more betentacled than before, to steal our cattle and cause our pregnant women to miscarry. And of course, AAA gaming as a whole has long been firing off miscarriages like a nightmarish 21-gun salute.
AAA games are now merely platforms for blatant attempts to fleece money from colossal dimwits that somehow have financial independence despite not being able to open a tin of beans without losing an eye. And then the publishers will say, "Hey! Just because we erected a giant sign saying 'Please jump off this cliff and dash yourselves to death on the jagged rocks below' doesn't mean you have to do that!" Granted, but I object to the way most of the game takes place in the shadow of the giant sign, and the rest of it is spent perched astride the giant sign. What I mean is, Assassin's Creed Origins is one of those AAA terminal cases where everything seems to have been built around the giant cliff-jumping sign as an afterthought.
Firstly, it's got all the usual variables: character levels and XP, in-game currency, weapon upgrades, crafting items; 'cos of course, the more things you can quantify, the more imaginary prizes you can put in a loot box, the more you can base the gameplay around making numbers bigger and hypnotize the players into wanting a weapon identical to their current weapon except with a whole two numbers bigger more than they want their next fucking meal! I can't think of what other purpose giving every character a level could possibly have. It's certainly catastrophic for immersion, when anything more than two levels higher than you will just mash you into a fine paste even if you do get a stealth attack on them; one would think a hidden blade to the windpipe would be a pretty decisive argument-ender no matter how many press-ups they did that morning.
Also, it means that you can't just stick to story missions, because they don't provide nearly enough XP Bran Flakes to keep you regular; so you've got to side-quest a bit, but are restricted to a tiny pool of side-quests for your current level, as lower-level ones don't provide enough XP to be worth the effort and higher-level ones are like trying to trim your pubes with an angle grinder. So much for the fucking "go anywhere" sandbox! But then, these haven't been sandbox games in a long time, have they? Minecraft is a sandbox; what Ubisoft calls a "sandbox" these days is an unholy mashup of open world, RPG, MMO, and side-activity amounting to "go to icon on map and press contextual button", closer in spirit to data entry than action adventure, and they make the games like that because the accounting department says they have to.
As I say, the plot almost feels like an afterthought. We are Bayek of Siwa, an ancient Egyptian policeman-type thing who's very cross because his... (spin the Wheel of Motivation) ...son was killed by proto-Templars, and also because his people are being oppressed, but which one he's the most cross about varies depending on what the current mission needs him to do. We don't know his backstory at first, because the game starts mid-assassination and Bayek has a great big "fill in backstory later" note pinned to his head, because I guess the accounting department said the action had to kick in straight away.
From there, it's a fairly typical Assassin's Creed plot progression: travel the world map, stabbing anyone who openly sneers at a member of the working class, participate in a dramatization of some historical events that the average shithead could be trusted to know about, with some kind of ridiculous action sequence contrived into it; in this case, the seduction of Julius Caesar by Cleopatra which, at one point, features Bayek and Caesar in a high-speed car chase like it's a fucking mismatched buddy-cop drama by way of a Bill and Ted film. Don't expect this being ostensibly the origin story of the Assassin Order to mix up the formula much; I remember feeling profoundly disappointed at the scene when Bayek's missus gives him a hidden blade and says, "This is a weapon from ancient times." Bitch, we're in ancient times! I wanted to know who built these fucking things, and why they didn't fall apart the instant an Italian teenager got his greasy hands on them 1,400 years from now.
Standard combat in Sasso Creedy-Richie is definitely tacking to the RPG side of things; it's now a sort of very watery version of Dark Souls combat where enemies glide around the arena like they've got paint rollers for feet and the charged strong attack beats basically everything. Gone is the Arkham Asylum-style counter combat. You remember counter combat; it's that thing that requires a certain amount of skill. You remember skill; it's that thing that mattered before the main deciding factor was "Who's got the highest number?" And speaking of tacking, every now and again, you get to play as Bayek's missus doing ship combat missions, which I find mystifying; does Ubisoft think we now expect Assassin's Creed to have ship combat, just because Black Flag had it and it was a little beacon of joy and light glimmering all too briefly from inside Ubisoft's churning mass? Because I don't want your ship combat if you're just cynically crowbarring it in like a nice ball of glittery tin foil to look at while we're getting sodomized over the recycle bin.
And now, a list of things I liked about Sack of Greasy Oranges; don't worry, it's brief! Scenery's nice... um... Removing the mini-map and getting by on scouting with the eagle works pretty well, although it does make it way too easy to mark targets, and even without the mini-map, the quantifying of everything means the screen's still sprinkled in bullshit-- Oh, how embarrassing! This list of things I like has somehow turned into more gripes! Look, I'm not mad at you, Assassin's Creed Origins; I'm just disappointed. And bored. Mostly bored. I might have had a better time if the game had let me speed through the story campaign instead of forcing me to grind up dull, repetitive side-quests to reach the minimum level for the next main mission.
I don't like the feeling that the game is fighting with me to stop me getting what I want out of it; actually, maybe I am mad at you, Assassin's Creed Origins! I'm so sick of all this; I'm sick of playing AAA games that feel like they exist not because a creator had a vision and an idea that excited them, but because quarterly income projections needed to be met. It's like Blackbeard going into stock market fraud; yeah, it's more lucrative, but there's no freedom or adventure, and they won't let you carve tits on the figurehead!
- Walks like an Egyptian: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And when we were in the proto-Assassin hideout and our missus said "These are my new friends Brutus and Cassius" I couldn't roll my eyes hard enough
- Just in: hidden blade caused extinction of the dinosaurs