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A step in the right direction, but still falls short

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    Assassin’s Creed Origins

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    A step in the right direction, but still falls short

    Ubisoft took a year off from Assassin’s Creed games in 2016, and went back to the drawing board on how they can move the franchise forwards. There are signs that this move helped, but also some signs that they’ve learned nothing at all about the actual problems with with these sorts of games.

    Petering towards more of an RPG than most of the other Assassin’s Creed entries, Origins is an enjoyable game to play, particularly at first. The parkour is perhaps more simplistic than previous games, but I like that. Most buildings can be scaled with ease, with the only ones that take some thinking to navigate being the pyramids and a couple of other large structures. But there’s no more getting stuck halfway up a wall because a certain sticky-out stone can’t actually be gripped onto.

    It cannot be denied how beautiful this game looks. Ascending to the top of a pyramid and looking out across a gigantic representation of Egypt is a moment you won’t forget in a hurry. The landscape is diverse as well; it’s not all sands and dunes. There’s villages, towns, forests, mountains, and of course the Nile to explore too.

    The combat takes a step away from the Batman Arkham games and towards Dark Souls territory; but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as tight. The parrying felt clunky, and I did find myself still just button mashing a lot of the time. Strafing around behind an enemy and then slashing their back became a go-to attack that effectively got me through the whole game. I also wasn’t keen on the enemies having ¡®levels’, meaning I could shoot a level five enemy in the head with an arrow for an instant kill, but that same enemy at level twenty somehow survives. Or even a sneak attack with your hidden blade somehow does absolute minimal damage to an enemy who out-levels you. It took away a lot of the realism, and made me feel like my character was just a number that I had to grind up to be able to beat the higher numbers.

    I can’t say I was a fan of the whole loot system either. Having endless pieces of equipment crammed into my inventory just became tedious, and every hour or so of gameplay I’d just have a check through what I’d collected, equip the strongest weapons and shield, break down the rest into crafting materials and then rinse and repeat an hour later. It got boring quick. I’d have much preferred a select few swords, bows, and shields that can be found through exploration/quests, rather than being overwhelmed with hundreds of them with the minutest differences. It also negated a lot of the good work into trying to make the side-quests more interesting, as I knew the reward at the end of it would likely be utterly pointless.

    You can see that Ubisoft tried to steer away from the cluttered map that Assassin’s Creed had been infamous for. Scaling a tower to reveal the points of interest in an area was quite a decent idea originally, but it quickly became old in each individual game, never mind over the course of the entire series. Oddly though, although identifying this as an issue, the only solution implemented in Origins is to have the points of interest on the map labelled as question marks, and show up without needing to climb a tower. This suggests to me that, though Ubisoft learned that people didn’t particularly like them, they didn’t really have any idea why.

    Personally, as a completionist, I found myself having to go to each question mark and clear it off the map. I’d say there’s well over a hundred in the game, but the variety in what you can find at them hits about five. An animal lair, a loot cache, an enemy camp etc. This became dull after the second or third of each activity. To fill the map with them was just plain lazy. It also negates the joy of exploring, as you never stumble upon anything or uncover secrets for yourself, but instead just follow or question mark ¨C or if there isn’t one, you know there’s nothing for you to find.

    To break up the usual gameplay, you’ve got your standard filler bits outside of the animus, and also certain segments where you switch characters and engage in the naval battles that were so successful in Black Flag. In a very strange move, you also take control of the protagonist’s wife for a few missions towards the end, stripping you of all the upgrades and gameplay perks that you have spent dozens of hours developing over the course of the game. If felt very unsatisfactory to have created a character with so many perks and ability points committed to, yet be unable to use him for some of the game’s toughest missions.

    Origins feels like a step (albeit a small one) in the right direction for Assassin’s Creed. But Ubisoft seriously need to let go of some of their mainstays to advance it further. Bigger does not mean better, and this is a game world that could easily have been half the size and would likely have been better. Quarter it, take away the points of interest so that we actually have to explore, and then give us variety in the things that are there to be found, and you’re looking at a far, far better game. I could also have done without all the adverting for the DLC been thrown in my face through the start screen and then every time I paused to look at my map. It’s a bit rich for a game that’s about 30 hours too long already to be plugging more content to me expecting me to pay up.

    I’ll be interested to see where the series goes next, but I’m crossing my fingers that Origins was the first in a long line of changes, rather than just the new guideline for all future games to follow.

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