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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (437)

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Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5
Immortals: Fenyx Rising 4.5/5
Boot Hill Bounties 4/5
Pathfinder: Kingmaker 2/5
Borderlands 3 4/5
Horizon: Zero Dawn 3.5/5
World of Final Fantasy 4/5
ReCore 3/5
I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5

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Assassin's Creed Origins   PC (Steam) 

Rough Prototype    4/5 stars

In 2017, Ubisoft, that most-French member of the Gaming Triumvirate of Evil (alongside Electronic arts and Activision-Blizzard) decided to reinvent one of its long-running and rather tired franchises. ‘Assassin’s Creed’ was always one of those series I was never interested in largely due to being too old to be hooked by edgelord assassination fantasies, and a general dislike of enforced-Stealth gameplay – this in spite of always playing a stealthy archer in ‘Elder Scrolls’ games, though this is largely due to the fact that all other forms of offense in that series are terrible.

While even from its infancy, ‘Assassin’s Creed’ was envisioned as an open-world experience with non-linear environmental structures, it wasn’t until “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag” that the series would shift focus to revolve around exploring a large, dynamic sandbox. In 2017, Ubisoft released another sequel in the series, the first to drop the numbering system of the older games and continuing with the subtitles, as all subsequent games have done. “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” (“Origins”) aimed to place the player in the biggest, freest, most ‘alive’ sandbox in series history, while also detailing the earliest foundational events in the series cannon of lore. And thanks to typically ineffectual marketing, I had no idea it was set in ancient times, well before the series mainstay setting of the Italian Renaissance.

It was only after playing – and adoring – “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” and its Peloponnesian War setting that I looked into other games in the series and found that Ubisoft was taking this IP in a direction that was right up my alley. I grabbed “Origins” during the first significant Uplay sale after finishing “Odyssey,” and decided to wait exactly one year to de-backlog it, since the worst way to enjoy a series of big sprawling sandbox games is to play them back-to-back.

What I experienced, after a year’s hiatus from this re-imagined franchise, was a mix of the expected and the unexpected, frequently showing off prototypes of ideas and mechanics that were much more refined in the following year’s “Odyssey.”

“Origins” is, like both its predecessor “Black Flag” and its successor “Odyssey,” built in Ubisoft’s proprietary AnvilNext Engine, which was simply renamed to Ubisoft Anvil in 2020. While this engine initially popped-up way back in 2007, unlike certain other companies (*coughBethesdacough*), Ubisoft has been upgrading and improving it over time, leading to a truly impressive engine that can render eye-popping environmental vistas as well as well-animated characters with realistic and non-puppety faces. The version of Anvil used in “Origins,” is, naturally, a bit less refined than the version used in “Odyssey” a year later, as there are noticeable – but not detrimental – amounts of texture and object pop-in and not-100%-smooth level of detail (LOD) transitions as the player moves through the sandbox. On the other hand, in playing “Origins,” I was using both an older version of Anvil and newer PC hardware than when I played “Odyssey” last year, and the technical grief I had with the newer game just simply isn’t there. “Origins” runs at a solid 60fps with everything on High/Ultra settings, and, outside of a handful of brief moments, the frame rate never dipped and my GPU fans never even bothered to turn on.

Outside of the praise that should be heaped on Ubisoft’s proprietary graphics engine, there’s simply a ton of fantastic environmental design going on in “Origins.” While the setting is Ptolemaic Egypt in the 1st Century B.C.E. – when many grand monuments were already falling into decay – and not the Old Kingdom, there’s still a lot of attention to detail paid to the art and architecture of the world. It’s easy to see why some history teachers use these newer ‘Assassin’s Creed’ games as pedagogical tools, because it’s much easier to get a student of history, art, and architecture to engage with a navigable virtual environment instead of a bunch of black and white photos in a crusty old textbook.

Audiowise, “Origins” is pretty solid, though it features more typical ‘Assassin’s Creed’ music and less historical recreations than I would like. The soundtrack isn’t great, but it is generally unobtrusive. Voice acting is a big deal in nearly all “AAA” releases, and “Origins” is fully voiced with a solid cast (though some casting choices, such as the main character with his decidedly non-Egyptian accent, are questionable). With the large number of cultures represented in the game’s sandbox, it’s also interesting to note that random non-player characters and enemies deliver their lines in the appropriate dead languages. So there are Egyptians yelling at the player in Egyptian, Greeks yelling in Greek, and Romans yelling in Latin, which really helps with the sandbox’s immersiveness – you don’t need to understand everything they’re saying for it to have impact.

Technically, “Origins” is still an Ubisoft game, so the PC version comes shackled to the Uplay client (renamed Ubisoft Connect at around the same time AnvilNext changed to Ubisoft Anvil). Uplay seems slightly less buggy than when I last used it a full year ago, but it could just be my new hardware brute forcing it into submission. Of course, there are microtransactions in a beyond-full-priced game – seriously, the Gold Edition costs $100 when not on sale; I only paid around $30, though. There are annoying networked “features” that don’t amount to much in a single-player game, other than giving players the opportunity to ‘avenge’ their fellows by spawning procedural quests for players in the vicinity of other players’ deaths. But, really, it’s a technically solid game with all the modern accoutrements one would expect. I only had 2 crash-to-desktop moments, and a persistent bit of weird behavior where the game changed my screen resolution and resized all my windows every time I ran it, but, eh, it was a minor annoyance at worse.

“Origins” is set in the mid-first-century B.C.E., during the tumultuous co-reign of Ptolemy the 13th and Cleopatra the 7th, the last Pharaohs of Egypt before the nation was absorbed fully into the Roman Empire. When one thinks of “The Glory of Ancient Egypt” and looks at box art showing the three Great Pyramids in their full splendor, one does not, typically, think of the last hurrah of a once-great civilization that had already been conquered and Hellenized by Alexander the Great and the line of Ptolemaic rulers for centuries. But it is what it is.

With a subtitle like “Origins,” one would also expect a game narrative that explores the earliest foundations of the titular guild of Assassins. This, the game actually does, but in such a half-assed way that it’s necessary to read about the series on Wikipedia to truly understand the backstory. Apparently – this is not presented in-game at all – the Assassins are based on a real-world medieval Islamic sect, whose name means “those who are faithful to the faith’s foundations,” and whose signature battle tactic was to avoid direct confrontation and strategically kill-off enemy leadership with daggers in the dark, poison, or long-range archery sniping – hence the Western adoption of the loan-word ‘assassin’ (with a little ‘a’) to describe any such targeted killings. While the real-world Assassins didn’t appear until after 1000 C.E., “Origins” attempts to place their philosophical founding much earlier, tied to the string of events surrounding the last Pharaonic Civil War between Ptolemy and Cleopatra and the corresponding Roman Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus.

Our hero, and founding Assassin, is a man named Bayek of Siwa, voiced by (and visually modeled after) British Kenyan, Abubakar Salim. After the death of his son at the hands of series boogeyman, The Order of the Ancients, Bayek and his wife Aya dedicate the rest of their lives to rooting out the Order’s political corruption by murdering their way up the Order’s power structure, and decapitating it at the source (which turns out to be far more difficult than either of them expected).

Unfortunately, that’s really where the competence in the game’s narrative ends. The story just kind of starts in media res and jumps around quite a bit via confusing flashbacks and occasional sections where the player is shunted into Aya’s perspective for a bit. Many members of the Order of the Ancients are killed off camera or in cutscenes that have nothing to do with Bayek’s actions, which makes introducing those characters feel completely pointless. Speculation within the games punditry community points at the idea that originally “Origins” was meant to star Aya as the lead character instead of Bayek, but that the story was hastily re-written because the audience “wouldn’t accept a female lead.” Whether that’s true or not, it’s pathetic either way.

To give praise where it is due, “Origins” does include one of the more accurate and compelling portrayals of the relationship between Ptolemy, Cleopatra, and Caesar in the history of the visual arts. It still leaves out a fair bit of the politics underpinning those events, however, instead replacing the historical context of those real-world events with a disturbing amount of Woke-washing.

Bayek constantly yammers on about “freedom” and “justice,” employing their warped postmodern definitions that would have been completely alien to people using them at the time. The narrative also coopts the popular uprisings of the Egyptians against their Greek rulers as some sort of racially-motivated activity along the lines of Black Lives Matter, with ‘White’ Greek oppressors and ‘Black’ Egyptian oppressees, when race/ethnicity were never really an issue prior to the Plantation Era in the American South. Instead, these ancient uprisings were uniformly lead by Egyptian priests who were bent out of shape about the imposition of Greek gods and the Hellenization of Egyptian gods. “Origins” had every opportunity to address this, and even could have had Egyptian characters refer to the gods by their Egyptian names (e.g, Anpu and Ousir) while Greek characters used the Hellenized names (e.g., Anubis and Osiris), but, nope, pandering to Woke sensibilities was more important. Moreover, slavery and the segregation of women in public – two absolute constants in the cultural morass of the time and place where “Origins” is set – are completely bowdlerized-away… though the writers bent over backwards to make sure the player knows that Egyptians – not those evil White Nazi Germans – invented beer.

Even Bayek, himself, is just one huge virtue signal, based on the Afrocentrist theorycrafting laid-down by pseudohistorian and revisionist, Cheikh Anta Diop, and the book “Black Athena” by Martin Bernal. Bayek is supposed to be a native of the in-game province of Siwa, which corresponds to the real-world Siwan Oasis to the West of Modern Egypt, a region which has been populated by (non-Black) Berber people for millennia. Yet Bayek both looks and sounds like a sub-Saharan African. Even worse is a childhood friend of Bayek’s that makes a token appearance in the main story thread whose face, accent, garb, and ritual scarification all point to an origin far further South than any Ptolemaic Era Egyptian would ever have gone, or indeed, have been aware existed, since all the contemporary maps of the world stopped before reaching the part of Africa where modern Kenya lies. I thought Wokeness was all about the “correct” people representing and voicing fictional characters. Isn’t doing otherwise considered “cultural appropriation?”

Furthermore, while Wokeness also loves to push the homosexual/gender dysphoriac agenda at all times, I was shocked to see the deep-seated cultural homosexuality of Siwa completely left out of the game’s portrayal of the region. While Siwan men do marry women for the purpose of producing children, culturally, they are far more interested in both homosexuality and pederasty. This Siwan culture would have been in full-flower during the time in which “Origins” takes place, never being actively suppressed until the early 20th Century by the Islamic Egyptian government. Yet not a peep is made about it, with frequent flashbacks showing the relationship between Bayek, his wife, and his son as a completely wholesome experience that wouldn’t make even the most conservative Abrahamic fundamentalist bat an eye.

In spite of being a mixed bag of bowdlerization, Afrocentrism, and actual history, the core narrative of “Origins” at least remains interesting and engaging throughout. My completionist run of the game and both its DLCs – the second of which incorporates some well-researched-and-represented Egyptian mythology to go along with the history – took about 80 hours. It’s a long and meaty game with plenty of content that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The main difference between ‘Assassin’s Creed’ games of the Historical Sandbox era and the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ games of the past is that the player generally has more tools at their disposal with regard to interacting with the sandbox. Ultimately, though, this is still a game about exploration and combat, both of which it handles well, though slightly less-well than “Odyssey.”

“Origins” still seems to want to encourage stealthiness and assassinations over open combat, because the open combat feels strangely unbalanced, even on normal mode. While there’s nothing new or unique about the combat system, being a bog-standard setup with a light attack, heavy attack, dodge, and block, it really feels like enemies are way too good at dodging, themselves. Taking a swing at an aware enemy will most likely result in them nimbly slipping out of range of the weapon before countering, or simply blocking everything and following up with an unblockable attack of their own. Even in the endgame with high-rarity weapons, many of the ‘fast’ weapon types feel like they don’t do any damage, while ‘slow’ weapon types tend to rely on unblockable gimmick moves (just like the enemies, I guess).

As in other Historical Sandbox era games in this series, the player is free to swap between assassination, melee, and ranged attacks, flowing seamlessly from one style to the next. The semi-random placement of enemies combined with dynamic enemy and wildlife migration across the map results in a very engaging system for both random encounters and cleaning out destinations ranging from ruins to bandit camps to military forts to tombs, and more.

Exploration is handled through a pet eagle that can spot for the player, and by sitting on high-elevation fast-travel points, the player can also get the eagle to add destination icons to the map. Of course, for players who hate maps and so-called ‘hand-holding,’ it’s perfectly viable to go out exploring without ever looking at the map, but it’s a lot less efficient. While traveling the vast map of Egypt (which is ever so slightly skewed and shrunken), the player is also free to ride a horse or camel, a reed canoe, or a sailing skiff. Unfortunately, the excellent ship mechanics of both “Black Flag” and “Odyssey” are relegated to a minigame that pops up only a handful of times over the course of the main story.

Sadly, I found that much of the side contend in “Origins” doesn’t tie-into the main story quite as tightly and neatly as the side-content in “Odyssey.” There are a large number of busywork missions in “Origins” that are just that, something to give experience points. In general, the way the player goes about hunting down the main antagonists feels much more structured – and poorly at that – compared to the situation a year later in “Odyssey” where pulling on a seemingly-unrelated thread eventually lead back to the main tapestry, instead of just leaving the player holding a loose thread with nothing to show for it.

The Historical Sandbox era games also introduced more RPG-style elements than the old style games had. This takes the form of gaining experience for doing things in the sandbox and then picking perks from a large skill tree with ability points that are granted for gaining levels or completing certain special site activities (like aligning standing stones to constellations). The skill tree and equipment systems in “Origins” definitely feel like prototypes for the full flowering of these mechanics in “Odyssey,” as the player’s choice in armor is limited to a shield and a costume, and while all weapons and shields have up to three unique perks (depending on the rarity of common, rare, or legendary), costumes have no perks, and are purely cosmetic. Bah!

Alongside the general health and damage boosts that come with increased levels, the player can also gather crafting materials in order to upgrade some other aspects of their gear, ranging from the quiver – to hold more arrows – to a breastplate – to decrease damage and increase health. These crafting projects involve collecting lots of bits of metal, wood, and animal hides, but unlike in “Odyssey,” only hides can be found ‘out in nature,’ so acquiring metal and wood means the player must attack shipping convoys – typically three guys on mounts or a trireme, one of whom drops a good amount of crafting materials when killed – in order to get enough.

I didn’t really find the perk tree to be all that interesting in “Origins” compared to “Odyssey,” and some major perks weren’t included (such as completely negating fall damage by rolling). I also didn’t find the crafting system, nor most of the ‘tools’ (things like sleep darts and firebombs) to be particularly useful. Even the blacksmithing system in “Origins,” while it does have the essential ability to upgrade weapons to the player’s current level for a reasonable amount of gold, feels limited, because that’s really the only reason to ever talk to a blacksmith… aside from selling all the crappy common and rare weapons that are scattered EVERYWHERE, since legendary weapons are the only ones with good perks.

While it’s a bit more rough-around-the-edges than “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” (as should be expected for a preceding game in a series), contains an unfortunate amount of anachronistic Wokeness, and explores perhaps the least interesting time in the 2000-year history of Ancient Egypt, “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” is still an engaging, semi-educational, and breathtakingly large historical sandbox to play-around in. I heartily recommend it to sandbox fans, history buffs, and really anyone who enjoys getting lost in a dynamic digital world.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5



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