In The Beginning…
Well… this is a development… For those of you who haven’t seen me pop up on the Zatu video games blog before… it’s because I tend to write about board games. That’s my main love and interest, the analogue over the digital. However, there are two franchises which have been in my video gaming life for a long, long time. The first is Pokémon, which my paternal grandfather brought over from Japan for a good while after the first few games came out. The second is Assassin’s Creed, a game I dipped my toe into in my late teens, borrowing the original game from a friend. It didn’t hit especially well during the first playthrough. There were annoying issues, like a lack of fast travel that dragged the game out, a storyline that was weird to follow the present day to the past, and a protagonist who wasn’t exactly inspirational. He was kind of a tool. However, Assassin’s Creed 2 came out and introduced the charismatic Ezio, who we saw raise up through the ranks on his revenge arc, and have three games to himself as we got to know his character. Fast forward 15 years and we have now 13 mainline games in the franchise, connected by common threads of Assassin’s and Templars, or the Hidden Ones and the Order of Ancients.
The Here And Now
Our latest instalment, the 15th anniversary game, is Assassin’s Creed Mirage, a return to the Middle East where we began with Altair, but now follow the history of a character introduced in Valhalla, Basim Ibn Ishaq. Basim began his story in Baghdad, where we spend a vast majority of our game, and through circumstances I shan’t spoil, he ends up with the Hidden Ones (not yet the Assassins Brotherhood). We follow Basim in his entirety of his journey from street thief to training with the Hidden Ones, starting with his initiation ritual, and his rise to Master, whilst having the usual interactions with NPC’s, your Mentor and the Order of the Ancients.
Something which brought great excitement to the community is the switch back to the stealthy styles of the early games, and away from the mythic, heroic attack focus of the last three. Gone is the vast open world, and instead we have a much smaller map to explore, albeit, littered with secrets. We have crowd blending and notoriety making a return, as well as pickpocketing, for Basim is a thief after all. We still have a development tree, although a smaller one than we had with Eivor in Valhalla, which gives some fun abilities as you progress.
We meet some historic figures, notably the Banū Mūsā brothers, who contributed greatly to the field of astronomy, geometry, mathematics, and technology, and we have some interesting dabbles with mythology and the Isu, the ones who came before. There’s some really fun nods to games past, including the construction of what looks like Masyaf Castle from the first game, even if it’s from a different place entirely.
Musings Of Murders
I’m going to start by saying I enjoyed playing through Mirage. I liked the return to form, with stealthy exploration, unlocking new abilities as he grows, a bit of an exploration of the tech of the age which led back to something we saw in Assassin’s Creed Revelations. The game designers know what their audience wants, and with this game, the 15th anniversary release, there is nostalgia. There’s an option to play with the original blue toned colours from the first Assassin’s Creed game, though I opted not to explore that particular feature. And contrary to popular opinion, I liked the Assassin’s Focus ability. One which let’s you turn into a murder-y Nightcrawler and bounce about to clear a room. Yes, it can be over powered, but on the other hand, if you don’t want to use it, you only have to use it once.
I do have a few gripes though. The first is the game is very short. Some reviewers have claimed that they completed the story in around 18 hours, some around 24. I spent about 30 odd hours ambling about, completing side quests and finding things as I went along. I’m quite easily distracted when an icon pops up on my radar and I like having a bit of an explore. But the original concept of this game was an DLC for Valhalla, as a follow up to the introduction of Basim after the story progression there. Again, no spoilers. What I particularly wanted from this game was… more. I wanted to know how and why Basim ended up in England in the 870’s, 20 years after this story is set, but this game focused on the years before that transition. Weirdly, what Mirage seems to have done is make me want to play Valhalla again, to see if there’s anything I missed. It does feel a little bit like a DLC after all the sprawling maps of the last few games. It’s definitely shorter, and perhaps a little less fleshed out than I would have expected. When I came to the end of it, I thought it reminded me of Spiderman - Miles Morales. Good and I’d play it again, but I wanted more. It felt like everything ended just a bit too early.
The next gripe I had is perhaps something affected by my more recent plays of games. Basim is weak. Hilariously so. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. After all, this game is designed to be a pure focus on stealth, and I do believe it’s possible to play through the entire story without fighting anyone beyond the forced interactions of training and the final boss. You could sneak your way through Baghdad and hide from any attacking law enforcement if you’re quick enough. And that is a big if. Basim feels slower than Eivor, his bulky Norse predecessor, and is definitely not as in as good a shape as her. A short sprint has him panting through the speakers. One early side quest is a race against another initiate to the Hidden Ones and it’s either a complete blow out in favour of the NPC, or you scrape a victory. To help with the inability to swing a sword as powerfully, Basim has a handy dodge and parry, but he also has a stamina that affects his ability to attack and defend. Once exhausted, he moves slowly and actually becomes a real problem for a short while. God help you if you get overwhelmed by enemies. Any more than three and you’re almost certainly going to die in martial combat. Drop a smoke bomb and run is my advice in that situation. It’s something I’d expect in a DLC – a character who isn’t as powerful or epic as the one you’ve sunk a few hundred hours into, not a main focus. Basim is a character that is sure to be the focus of the modern day arcs of future AC games, based on how Valhalla ended, and I’m not too sure we got that much out of his history to really inspire him going forward. But then again, a man in his 20’s is usually very different to the one in his 40’s now ambling about in modern day.
Overall though, I did enjoy Assassin's Creed Mirage. I thought it did some wonderful things for those who love the series. I liked the stealthing rather than brute force approach, even if it did feel a little forced due to Basim’s weakness. The skill tree did feel a bit forced though. These abilities could have been unlocked as the game went on, rather than gathering points to spend. Customisation is great, but when all abilities are linear, it’s a little bit unnecessary. On the other hand, the option of developing the technology of your choice is a nice one to have, so perhaps I’m a contradiction. There is another feature of this game, and that is the option to switch the language to Arabic instead of English. There has always been a spattering of the native language of the setting, but broadly the game is spent translated to English for the benefit of the viewer. I didn’t use it in my first playthough, but I probably will in my replay after I’ve delved back into Valhalla to find more out about Basim. It’s a nice touch though.
If you’re new to the AC franchise, you’re in a good place to get started. I think the soft reboot and reversion to the previous style is a good way to go, even if I prefer the open world styles of the last three games. This brings the older fanbase back in and gets them excited about what’s coming up in the next three or four games. Will this game be the standout of the series? No, probably not. But it is a solid entry point and a connection between the past and the future.
If you want to buy Assassin’s Creed Mirage you can click here.