He smiled. Exhausted, but relieved. It has been a long journey. Traveling to nearby villages around Siwa has always been his duty as a Medjay, but this journey was far longer than he had anticipated it. A journey because of revenge. Of loss. Of justice. And for love. Bayek stared into the fire – the night was closing in.
And so, I completed Assassin’s Creed: Origins. My first Assassin’s Creed game and also the game that brought me at the brink of a long depression on playing video games 18 months ago. The game, no … UbiSoft’s open world formula … had drained me then, grinded me through, and spit me out … exhausted. I lost all will to play anything for almost two months. Remarkable, as no other game has achieved that before.
So while I sit here, typing, I wonder. What was different in the second take? Why did I restart the game again, investing another 90 hours into a game that literally broke me?
Bayek shifted, moving his aching legs from under his body closer to the fire. It was cold. He felt a chill approaching, creeping up his spine. Just a cold night? No. He stared into the fire, and as so often in the past weeks the flames answered. Faces, screaming – all the people he had killed, when he laid a bloody path through all of Egypt. He was the bringer of doom, and of justice. A shadow in the night. He killed. He killed them all. And he felt nothing, nothing at all.
The game invites you to kill. Killing is your only option and means to act in the game and the solution to every problem. And so I killed soldiers when they passed riding by without provocation, I assassinated them aimlessly for no reason in the streets of Alexandria, I shot arrows across 60 meters in their heads. I used large crossbows to mow them down. I hammered them and bashed their heads to goo in the hot desert sand. I finished them off, by ramming my sword into their spine, when they were down on their knees.
I killed them in their sleep. I burned them in their sleep. I carried oil vases into their tents while they slept and burned them alive. I whistled for them, they came, and I killed them. Almost 5.000 kills in a game where I am the ‘good’ guy; that is more than half my villages’ inhabitants. And I am not even counting the fauna of Egypt, that has been reduced to leather and other materials I needed for crafting and updating my gear.
Because of all of this, the rhythm and story of the game feels strange. Bayek is on a path of revenge, but revenge is constantly pushed back for countless hours, while you do other useless crap. This crap is almost always about killing or sometimes searching for treasure. Well, the ‘searching’ part is actually done by Senu, my eagle. Anyhow, treasure is almost always found immediately.
This gameplay formula seems to be one of those drawbacks in all “open world” games. And still, I wonder what “open world” means here. My conception of an open world game is a completely different one. In Assassin’s Creed: Origins there is no emergent story telling at all. Sometimes you find a tomb through exploration, but too often you have to go back in the same tomb again, because of a sidequest you got from a village later. This feels just like bad pacing.
Naturally, all this crap activities are nicely represented by an expecting question mark on your map; and there are more than 400 question marks on the map, just sayin’. And as I am terribly prone to such completionist-tactics, I checked them all out. Not one, or two or some. Yes, all of them. I did all of the questionmarks, and forts and all the rest. I completed not only the game via the story and the two DLCs; nope – really all of it. All achievements – 100%. I should be proud – Or shouldn’t I?
The faces in the fire started to look more and more the same, the more often he saw them. ‘Strange’, he thought. ‘I never did look too close at the Roman or Ptolemean soldiers I killed. Or the bandits for that matter. Thinking back, they really all looked strangely the same somehow.’ He drank some water. ‘Whatever. They deserved it. The Hidden Ones will remain. And Khemu … we will see each other again. In the field of reeds…’
Thinking about the main story I was sometimes impressed and sometimes strangely detached. As described above the pacing is quite off, as are the cuts at the end of the in-game cinematics. But it got better at the end of the MSQ, when I also followed the story more closely, with the aim to – finally – finish it.
The story of the DLCs is quite alright in the Hidden Ones, and really good in the Curse of the Pharaos. The production quality on the latter is exceptionally high, so I can only recommend to play this one.
Bayek’s voice actor Abubakar Salim is great. All the other voice actors are good too, but he clearly stands out. He put a lot of effort and emotions into Bayek and I always enjoyed the snarky remarks, his annoyance in the sidequests, the anger, when he confronted his sons’ – Khemus’ – killers. In the end he carried the game through and placed a believable character into an immersive and realistic ancient Egypt.
Speaking of Egypt, the world of Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the main actor of this game and just amazing, The light, the mood, the atmosphere – so beautiful. I enjoyed walking around, riding through the desert alone, scaling the highest mountains, exploring the pyramids and boarding a small boat to cross the Nile under a setting sun. The details that found their way into the game are staggering and beautifully crafted. Nothing really feels to look the same. I have not experienced something in that detail ever before, and even now, some days after I uninstalled the game, I long for all those beautiful places in Egypt.
‘I wonder what Amunet is doing… Nah, she will be fine. She has always been fine.’ Bayek shifted again to remove the unease of their departure at the shore. His horse stirred somewhere in the back. Senu was not seen for some hours. All was quiet and all was at rest. He continued to stare into the fire. His muscles ached from everything he had to endure, his fingers hurt from all the walls and towers he had to climb.
The game offers you so much to do. So. Much. To. Do. You can race in the Hippodrome, you can fight in the arena, there will be ship battles and riddles in tombs and what not. It is all in the game, and nothing is really good. The Hippodrome is easy to win as soon as you know how it works, the arena is just fighting in a more enclosed space, the ship battles work in and follow the same pattern over and over. All of it is visually amazing, but lacks depth in gameplay.
I played on hard difficulty and hardly found any challenge. Sure, some bosses were more tricky than others, especially in the Curse of the Pharao DLC, but I more often struggled with the awkward button layout, than with a challenging encounter.
What annoyed me most were bosses that where just difficult because they were completely erratic and had no ‘mechanic’ at all. They just randomly pulled all their tricks without preparation or charge times. That is not what I understand as a challenging encounter. Code Vein was really great in this regard, as you would have to learn and understand and then execute perfectly. Nothing of this is expected from you in Origins.
When you are spotted while ‘on the job’ and more and more soldiers close in on your position, you are almost always overwhelmed and die a shameful death. Early in the game I sneaked into forts and tried to be stealthy. The longer I played the more aggressive my playstyle has become. Often I just charged into a soldiers’ camp with my horse, sword raised. I circled and killed them from my horse, shot them from my horse and trampled them down – with my horse. Oh, someone managed to call reinforcements? Yes, thank you! Let them come! I killed them too in the same manner. Only then would I get down from my horse and loot the camp.
The fire started to burn down and Bayek felt the exhaustion. ‘Rest, yes… some days rest in Memphis should be fine. And I wonder, what Diocles is doing.’ He closed his eyes again and listened in. ‘Diocles… sounds Greek. Well, maybe one day I should travel to Greece… .’
The exhaustion fades and I would have to lie, if I had not considered to motivate myself on starting the Odyssey that is the next game. But I am anxious of another burn-out. Scared of feeling the emptiness again and falling into another blank state of gaming. But I long for the shallow rhythm of another Assassin’s Creed game and I always liked the Greek mythology the most.
Well, maybe I really should explore Layla’s story more…
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is nothing for the faint hearted. It is a long game that drags you into a spiral of useless activities, which are beautiful to look at but not really challenging to do.
The first time I played, I quit the game full of rage and depression. My ‘mistake’ was to expect too much from the game. A good story? – Not in there. Challenging boss fights? – No, sir. A reason to explore those question marks? – None, but thank you for taking a look.
In my second attempt, I was just looking for a game to lift my tired mind somewhere else. A beautifully and realistically crafted ancient world. An atmospheric, lively, and immersive environment, that feels hand crafted in so many hidden spots and places. With this mindest, I looked for total completion, no matter if this is meaningful or not.
This is, where Origins shines, where it playes all its cards and deals you a complete set of total fullfillment. A great place to hide.
Farewell Egypt, I will miss you.The Incompletionist