PREVIEW:

After months of leaks, Ubisoft finally revealed Assassin’s Creed: Origins today during Microsoft’s Xbox event ahead of Tuesday’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

The open-world game is coming October 27 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. After taking a break last year, the Assassin’s Creed series is back with an Egyptian setting. But Ubisoft is counting on more than an interesting location to help relaunch this 100 million game-selling franchise. Assassin’s Creed: Origins has new role-playing game mechanics and combat systems.

We had a chance to play Origins at Ubisoft’s pre-E3 event in Los Angeles. While fans of the franchise will find plenty that’s familiar, some big changes make the experience feel fresh.

Above: Egyptian sunrise.

Image Credit: Assassin's Creed: Origins revamps the series with new combat and more RPG stuff

Welcome to Egypt

Origins takes place in Egypt in 49 BCE. This is right around when the Egyptian empire began to decline, right before Cleopatra became Pharaoh (she’ll appear in the game, following a series tradition of mixing historical figures with fictional characters made for the series).

You play as Bayek, the last of the Medjay, an elite group of Egyptian soldiers. Origins takes place about 1,000 years before the first Assassin’s Creed, which the developer set during the Third Crusade. Origin will focus on the start of the Assassins Brotherhood.

Above: Fighting feels different.

Image Credit: Assassin's Creed: Origins revamps the series with new combat and more RPG stuff

A new take on combat

As someone who has spent a good amount of time with the series, I thought the new combat stood out as the biggest change. Past Assassin’s Creed games have focused on countering and combos. This made for reactive fighting, since the best strategy was to wait for someone to attack you. You could then time a button press to instantly kill them, and from there you could start a combo chain that could kill everyone else.

It looked nice, but it was dull and easy. You could kill almost everyone just by waiting to counter them, which made the whole “stealth” thing feel unnecessary. Why bother being sneaky if fighting is so easy?

Counters are gone in Origins. Instead, fights are all about blocking, dodging, and attacking. You have both light and heavy attacks, and you’ll be relying on evasive maneuvers to avoid enemies. In a lot of ways, it’s a more basic and simple system. But it makes fighting in Origins feel more dangerous, since you can no longer depend on constant one-hit kills.

Above: It’s not all sand.

Image Credit: Assassin's Creed: Origins revamps the series with new combat and more RPG stuff

More RPG for Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed has had some RPG elements for a while, but Origins is really embracing the whole “action RPG” thing. Your character earns experience points and can level up, which lets you unlock new abilities in a skill tree. These can give you new moves, like an attack you can perform in the air, or helpful tools, like a smoke bomb.

Origins also has loot. Enemies can drop weapons and gear of different rarities, all with corresponding colors (blue is rare, purple is more rare, etc.). It’s a system familiar to anyone who has played a game like Diablo III or Destiny.

Above: The water looks great.

Image Credit: Assassin's Creed: Origins revamps the series with new combat and more RPG stuff

Out on the water

You don’t spend all of your time in the desert. Origins features a large map containing Egyptian landmarks like the pyramids and the city of Alexandria. But you can also explore the Nile River. You can pilot ships and swim both on the surface and under water. And while I didn’t see any Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag-level naval battles, Ubisoft has confirmed that ship combat will be in the game.

But the water can be a dangerous place, since the Nile is filled with crocodiles and hippos. In fact, Egypt in general is teaming with wildlife, including lions and hyenas.

Above: You can fight with ranged attacks or melee weapons.

Image Credit: Assassin's Creed: Origins revamps the series with new combat and more RPG stuff

More to come

Ubisoft has confirmed that Origins will have a present day component. In the series, an evil organization called Abstergo uses a device called the Animus to access the memories of people’s ancestors. That’s how the game can shift from these historical settings to the present. But Ubisoft has not given any details on what the present day portions of Origins will look like.

We also know that Origins is going to have multiplayer, but we also don’t any details for it. Past Assassin’s Creed multiplayer modes have focused on players trying to blend into their environments while hunting each other.

Above: Shield up.

Image Credit: Assassin's Creed: Origins revamps the series with new combat and more RPG stuff

Can Creed make the comeback?

A lot of Origins feels similar. You’re still sneaking around, jumping across roofs, and stabbing people from behind. That stuff was always the core of the franchise, and it feels fluid and responsive in Origins. But the new RPG mechanics and combat do help make this new entry feel like a fresh start for the series.

But there are some trouble signs. Character models lack detail, suffering from a little bit of the “dead face’ problem that plagued Mass Effect: Andromeda. But this is still the alpha build, so that issue could get resolved before launch.

I’m also unsure about the eagle companion. You can summon this bird at any time to help you scope out locations and highlight enemies. It’s too convenient. You do have to unlock this ability from the skill tree, so you won’t have it right away, but it removes the incentive for players to scale tall structures and scope their surroundings out for themselves.

But most of what I saw was promising. Egypt look gorgeous, and I’m excited to have more time to explore this digital playground of ships, murder, and history.

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