No other civilization has the power to inspire quite like Ancient Egypt. Its enduring legacy has probably drawn more interest than any throughout recorded history and the image of majesty and splendour it still projects—even after thousands of years—is bolstered by the amount of high quality art and architecture it has left behind for generations of humans to study and marvel at. ‘Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ brings it to life like never before and spending time in its world makes one feel that they are participating in a grand historical epic.
‘Origins’ invites you to travel back two thousand years in time to Ptolemaic Egypt, a tumultuous period in the country’s history at the twilight of its dynastic timeline. To inhabitants of the day Egyptian culture was already ancient, its first dynasty having been established around three thousand years earlier. Despite its longevity, its continuation was under severe threat. In the first century B.C.E. the kingdom was already ruled by Greeks and within a few years it would be absorbed into the Roman Republic as a province. The juxtaposition of these three mighty and influential powers provides an intriguing background for the game’s narrative.
‘Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ presents the story of Bayek of Siwa, a rip-roaring fellow of many guises. It is primarily a tale of revenge as he travels far and wide to hunt down the murderers of his son. During his quest for justice, Bayek and his wife (Aya) become embroiled in the political upheavals of the day, yarns that are skillfully woven into the parents’ tapestry of tragedy. What begins as their personal vendetta evolves into something more, culminating in the founding of the group that would later become the Assassin Brotherhood—hence the game’s name.
The shining star of ‘Origins’ is the amazing digital version of Egypt that Ubisoft created. It stretches from the northern coastal Mediterranean city of Alexandria to the sunbaked deserts south of the Faiyum Oasis, and from Libya in the west to the eastern banks of the Nile. Two DLC packs add the Sinai Peninsula and a large area around Thebes but even if one forgoes those, visiting all the locations in the base game alone takes many hours. That such a huge portion of the country is fully explorable is impressive in itself, but the effort the developers have gone to to make areas feel varied and to include so many minutely accurate details is astounding.
The team at Ubisoft collaborated with Egyptologists, archaeologists, and historians to ensure that every element of the game was as authentic as possible. This is evident in the design of the innumerable objects that litter the land, the demographic make up of its cities, and the ancient languages spoken by its hundreds of non-player characters. They even went so far as to give each NPC a realistic daily routine that involves them moving around their local area carrying out various tasks depending on the time of day. These factors make ‘Origins’ one of the most immersive games made to date.
The attempt to recreate Egypt as it existed so many centuries ago is audacious; the fact that it was accomplished so successfully is mind-blowing. Other recent historically-themed games, such as ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’, provide good examples of how to incorporate the results of thorough cultural research to make their settings believable, but even they fall short of the obsessive level of detail on display in ‘Origins’. Temple walls are adorned with perfectly carved hieroglyphic script, roadside stalls have intricately handcrafted religious amulets for sale, and the individual threads of characters’ traditional garments can clearly be seen during their conversations.
While progressing through the main story players will come across a significant amount of information relating to ancient Egyptian beliefs, customs, and cultural practices. To give an example, NPCs provide insights into funerary rites and the process of mummification as Bayek investigates the cause of an apparent curse that has afflicted the city of Memphis. There is so much educational material interspersed throughout that Ubisoft went on to release a separate mode that lets players partake in narrated ‘Discovery Tours’ as one of several avatars. During these they can learn much more about specific aspects of ancient Egyptian lifestyle and society without having to worry about questing or combat.
After its world, the second best thing about the game is Bayek himself. He is a complex and motivated character, able to go from showing heartwarming kindness and sympathy one moment to exploding in a fit of murderous rage the next. For this we can thank the tremendous performance of his BAFTA-nominated voice actor, Abubakar Salim. In more peaceful situations Salim makes Bayek both likable and relatable by imbuing him with a humanity that is evident whether our protagonist is helping children, bantering with adults, or trying to talk someone out of taking their own life.
The talented voice actor is equally adept at presenting Bayek as a fearsome whirlwind of martial destruction. As he roams the land righting wrongs and vanquishing his enemies, the Siwan often erupts in intense verbal and physical outbursts ignited by his sense of justice and thirst for vengeance. Despite their violence, it isn’t difficult to empathize with Bayek during these moments when one considers the reasons for his anger. He vents his strongest emotions with the tip of his tongue as much as with the edge of his sword and when Salim delivers his most powerful lines, it seems they could do almost as much damage as sharp tempered steel.
As we travel further with Bayek it becomes clear that he is a man who cares deeply for his country and its traditions. He also loves his family and his natural disposition (as well as his job as a protector) is to uphold the divine laws and help people. He hates that Egypt is being preyed upon by greedy foreign powers, laments the slow murder of its customs and culture, and is hell-bent on delivering justice to everyone who has contributed to the damage and pain inflicted on his land, his family, and himself. The investment Ubisoft made in developing such a realistic protagonist really pays off as Bayek seems more and more like an actual person the longer we spend with him.
The core combination of a having a remarkably detailed world to explore, a strong and lengthy story to work through, and a well developed and likable protagonist to travel with ensures that ‘Origins’ is already superior to most other narrative-driven digital adventures. There are however further layers of excellence in the game that deserve exposition, many of which come as a result of Ubisoft’s decision to lengthen the normal ‘Assassin’s Creed’ development cycle. Rather than release a new title annually—as had previously been the case—they chose to ship ‘Origins’ two years after its predecessor.
Ubisoft used the extra time to make innovative changes and modifications to the tried and tested formula the series had relied on for so long. The implementation of role-playing elements, which make it crucial to level up Bayek’s skills, weapons, and gear before entering certain regions, brought a new depth to gameplay. Vendors sell a variety of aesthetically pleasing items ranging from shields to horses to outfits, some of which can also be found and picked up elsewhere as loot. As players progress from standard to legendary gear, they can acquire very powerful weapons with unique attributes.
As for the combat, a new hitbox system was introduced that creates strategic and more challenging encounters. Players now have to take attack distance, weapon range, and speed into account, which makes emerging victorious from duels feel well earned and more satisfying. The attention given to this fresh open combat does mean that there is less emphasis on the use of stealth, but players can still choose to play the game in a covert manner if they wish, as Bayek possesses all the capabilities necessary to silently sneak up on his foes for some classic assassinations.
When Bayek is not hunting his quarry or battling enemies he is usually on the move. In ‘Origins’ even this is enjoyable and rewarding because Ubisoft’s Egypt is packed with so many things to do. Aside from the main story, the game includes about a hundred sidequests, most of which are fully fleshed out with their own small narratives. They vary widely in what they task the player with but usually involve lending aid to someone. Given that Bayek’s obligation as a Medjay is to do just that, the sidequests fit in naturally without seeming like distracting interruptions. This is another example of the game’s consistent capacity to retain player immersion.
Free-roaming the amazing world offers an abundance of opportunities for off-the-beaten-track exploration. Bayek can visit anywhere on the game’s map and his pet falcon can be used to scout ahead to identify places of interest from a better vantage point, which helps with route planning and navigation. He can travel on foot, over water, by horse, camel, or chariot and can even make his way forward by hiding in moving hay carts. Most locations are brimming with detail and atmosphere, and because of this players may find themselves spending more time just wandering around looking at things than questing. This way of playing ‘Origins’ often leads to some great unscripted experiences that will be different for everyone.
A highlight of exploration is venturing inside Old Kingdom pyramids and other tombs. These places were already ancient in Bayek’s time so have an air of mystery about them that seems to affect him as much as us. Some of the hidden sanctuaries rival locations in the ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Uncharted’ series. Swimming is another recommended adventurous pastime. Our protagonist can deep dive to discover lost shipwrecks, sunken statues, and forgotten treasure. While under the waves, the game’s music changes style to better accentuate the sense of weightlessness and surreal visual effects created by the sunlight that penetrates the surface.
Back on land ‘Origins” villages, towns, and cities are hives of liveliness. Citizens engage in a whole host of activities such as harvesting crops and building temples. They forge weapons, clean bathhouses, and carry out religious rituals. Children play in the streets and stray cats make a beeline towards Bayek and follow him around begging to be petted—which players are actually able to do. This level of interactivity is really quite special. In some of the urban areas our hero can compete in chariot racing events or take on the challenge of trying to become a champion of the gladiatorial arena.
The game’s desert environments are also interesting because the designers were able to recreate the effects that the super-heated seas of sand have on those who brave their ferocity. If Bayek spends some time in them he will experience mirages and hallucinations. There is a wide selection of these strange phenomena. In the distance players may see a kneeling woman picking flowers, only for her to evaporate as they get closer. In more dramatic examples comets streak across the sky, scarab beetles fall from the heavens, and plagues of locusts envelop our hero. When these fascinating figments of the imagination are combined with the periodic sandstorms that thunder in from beyond the horizon to block out the sun the result is intense and mesmerizing.
As is the case with all of Escape & Adventure’s digital recommendations, this retrospective appraises ‘Origins’ as a stand-alone experience by criteria that represent the tone and subject matter of this website. However, unlike the other games on our list, ‘Assassin’s Creed’ titles contain a modern science-fiction element that, while largely divorced from the historical setting in which any particular entry takes place, binds them together. In ‘Origins’’ Egyptian world of the first century B.C.E. references to this are skillfully included without breaking the immersion of adventuring in that time period. The few sections of the game that are set in the present day are kept brief, allowing players to get back to the enjoyment of ancient exploration quickly.
The ‘Assassin’s Creed’ franchise has existed since 2007 and has had huge popularity and success. At the time of writing the main series consists of twelve titles. Several of those released in previous years were outstanding in their day but others left more to be desired. Although they all boasted new innovations and improvements over their older siblings, it wasn’t until ‘Origins’ that Ubisoft really took the great leap of faith of which their series’ athletic protagonists would have been so proud. Choosing to make their 2017 entry more like an RPG may not have pleased everyone, but there can be no doubt that due to its depth, immersion, and combat the series was reinvigorated.
The games that have followed used the systems introduced in ‘Origins’ as a foundation on which to build more complex RPGs with even bigger worlds. However, bigger does not always equate to better and a common criticism of both ‘Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’ is that they contain just too much to do, which can feel tiresome. Another plus point for ‘Origins’ is that its main narrative and protagonist feel more grounded and credible, especially when compared to those of ‘Odyssey’. Most crucially though, neither of newer releases brought as many significant changes or fresh ideas as ‘Origins’ did.
Curiously, the series has a direct connection to the very first game on our list of recommendations—Jordan Mechner’s 1989 classic, ‘Prince of Persia’. The original ‘Assassin’s Creed’ (2007) was actually born out of an idea for a sequel to the widely acclaimed 2003 title ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’, which was itself a reboot of Mechner’s masterpiece. Bearing in mind their kinship, it is an interesting exercise to compare ‘Origins’ to ‘Prince of Persia’ just to see how action-adventure games have evolved over the three decades that stand between them.
In terms of value for money ‘Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ is hard to beat. It showcases Ancient Egypt in all its glory and is full of satisfying content and interesting activities to pursue. Its creators bravely introduced several significant and praiseworthy new ideas, all of which paid off. The care they took in conducting thorough research and attention they gave to the most minuscule details also cannot be overstated. Ultimately though, it is the sheer amount of heart they put into the game that makes it such a wonderful and adventurous experience.
Disclaimer – A Note on Ownership and Copyright:
No ownership of copyright for the game cover or gameplay images included on this page is claimed by the creator of Escape & Adventure. A credit beneath each gameplay image references the game’s publisher and developer. The images are only shown on this site to help the reader’s appreciation of the superior works they represent. All the images have been used in accordance with what is believed to be fair use. The in-game screenshots were taken manually by Escape & Adventure during actual playthroughs and are not from any other sources. All the literary work contained on this page is the intellectual property of the creator of Escape & Adventure. Consent is required before any of the literary work can be reproduced in any form.