With a year out to clear its mind, Assassin's Creed is coming back this year with Assassin's Creed Origins, taking us to Ancient Egypt to fill the shoes of new protagonist Bayek, and we recently attended a preview event in London in which we got to see the longest section of the game yet. This four-hour demo was at an advanced point in the story, and we were let loose with our character already at level 12, meaning there was a lot of weapons, abilities, and areas already at our disposal.
We were told by game director Ashraf Ismail and creative director Jean Guesdon that we'd have to unlearn some of the stuff that we've come to know from previous games, and they weren't kidding. As we stepped into Bayek's shoes, we tried to climb something and found the first big control change - RT (we played on Xbox One X) is now heavy attack, not climb, which has been shifted to A. We've touched upon this change in previous previews, but it's worth re-emphasising how much of a difference it will be for existing fans, who may have to endure pressing the wrong buttons for a while.
The area we were plunged into was open and was comprised of many locations (not including Memphis, however, which was where our Gamescom preview took us). As mentioned, we started at level 12, but we were advised for our own sake to explore and level up a bit before tackling the main mission. A useful part of the game is that each enemy has a level, and each mission a level requirement so you can see how well-suited you are to each before you tackle a mammoth task. The main mission path was recommended for level 15, so off we went to get stronger.
There are a number of ways to get your level up in Origins. The most obvious one would be side-quests, which grant you large experience rewards. That's not all, though, as throughout the world you'll find smaller opportunities to get experience as well. Every location, for example, has an indication of what's there (loot and enemy captains, for instance), and clearing these areas will earn you experience, as does tackling rogue animals, both of which encourage players to actually discover what's around the map rather than fast travel everywhere (not to mention the all-important loot).
We won't go into all of the side-quests we completed, but there's a lot of variety in them, and notable substance. Each one we played had more depth than simply retrieving an item or following someone, which was very much appreciated after some of the tiresome tasks we've completed in the series over the years (to paraphrase game director Ashraf Ismail, he said these are more like quests than missions now).
Our first side-quest, for instance, saw us find a missing daughter from a village, before discovering her fate and seeking revenge on who was responsible. Another notable example saw us seek out a specially crafted spear called the Serpent of Serapis, which had been stolen, the thief taking to sailing constantly on a boat on one of the map's lakes. Of course not all of them are as entertaining, like the one that had us carrying dead bodies to a cart while a bloat of hippos (yes, that's the word) kept attacking us. For the most part, though, we enjoyed playing these additional tasks, which were numerous enough to provide plenty of experience, but weren't watered down by a lack of creativity. We played them because we wanted to, not just because of the rewards.
The world we were given, surrounded by enforced borders (much to our dismay, as we could see wider, interesting areas on the world map), was pretty varied, which was a relief. What's an open-world game without an engaging open-world, after all? There were several bodies of water in our area of exploration, as well as villages, towns, deserts, bandit camps, animal lairs, and more, all of which was varied from one another and had their own distinct style. You even have a horse to explore this all with, which can be programmed to autopilot, which means they follow the road automatically to your marked objective.
Part of the appeal of this world is that it feels dynamic. You can be riding along and suddenly a rogue animal event pops up, for instance, tempting you to take it down for some experience, or you could bump into some enemy soldiers who will relentlessly pursue you. None of this is entirely new to the series, but it keeps the world from feeling stale, and always keeps you guessing, much like with Far Cry, where you could get mauled by any number of things at any minute. It doesn't feel as Ubi-centric as games have done in the past, but it feels like a mesh of a lot of modern Ubisoft ideas expressed in games like Wildlands and Watch Dogs 2 specifically.
To help you explore the world you have Senu, your eagle who helps you spot enemies and locate objectives from the air. You can activate Senu easily by just pressing down on the d-pad, and thanks to easy controls (you can even hover) you can spot everything, which works almost exactly like the drone in Ghost Recon: Wildlands. This makes infiltrating and objective-pursuing much, much more efficient, and more importantly, it allows you the satisfaction of planning an assault and executing it with deadly precision. Making your way into a base silently and dispatching all the enemies inside without being detected - this is truly the purest joy in Assassin's Creed.