Developer: Ubisoft Bordeaux
Platforms: Playstation 4, PC, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X (Reviewed)
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $49.99 USD – Available Here $79.95 AUD – Available Here
With every release the Assassin’s Creed series has evolved and grown. Since it debuted back in 2007 with the core focus being to climb large buildings, sneak through areas, and stealthily assassinate a target the franchise has seen countless enhancements to its stealth, parkour, combat, and even offering countless hours of side-activities including being a pirate with some of the best naval combat around.
That being said, back in 2017 with the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins Ubisoft took the series in an entirely new direction by offering massive open worlds and expanding on its RPG mechanics to the point that the last two entries, Odyssey and Valhalla, were staggeringly huge titles that were both impressive but also felt like a noticeable departure from what the series is known for. Now, Ubisoft is looking to return to its roots by telling a story of a familiar character’s origins in the form of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, but does this return to basics still make the game fun?
Set prior to the events that happen in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and serving as a prequel to that game, players will take on the role of the familiar Basim Ibn Ishaq as he is living in the city of Baghdad as a young street thief. Despite being able to get by thanks to his skills as a thief, Basim wants more for his life and, after completing a simple mission for the Hidden Ones, he wants to prove he can be one too. Despite the Hidden One’s leader, Roshan, telling him that she doesn’t need his help, Basim takes ono the dangerous task of infiltrating Baghdad’s palace only to trigger incredibly drastic consequences that see him fleeing the city and joining the order of the Hidden Ones.
After learning the ways of the Hidden Ones and finally getting initiated as a full member, the group learns that Baghdad has fallen into dire straits over their time away from the city. Members of the Order of the Ancients have made their way into the top of Baghdad’s government and are using its people for their own nefarious ends and it is up to Basim and his fellow Hidden Ones to track them down and snuff them out, perhaps finding out their plans along the way. However, nothing is as easy as it seems with old friends reappearing in Basim’s life as well as a strange force seemingly always at the back of his mind.
After learning the ways of the Hidden Ones and finally getting initiated as a full member, the group learns that Baghdad has fallen into dire straits over their time away from the city. Members of the Order of the Ancients have made their way into the top of Baghdad’s government and are using its people for their own nefarious ends and it is up to Basim and his fellow Hidden Ones to track them down and snuff them out, perhaps finding out the reason they are there at the same time.
As for the storyline itself, players will be in for a fairly straightforward one that starts strong and offers some great twists near the end as players uncover the secrets behind what the Order is searching for and how it pertains to the Hidden Ones. The title focuses on giving players investigations focused around learning more about their target, uncovering their location and who they actually are, before setting out and assassinating them. Basim himself is a charismatic enough protagonist and he is far more interesting than most of the rest of the cast that makes up the storyline thanks in part to both his relevance to the grander tale as well as his nightmares. The supporting cast is unfortunately a bit too simplistic in nature and, even given the game’s shorter runtime, manage to be mostly unremarkable since so many characters appear and then disappear without much relevancy outside of the player’s current investigation. This becomes quite apparent especially in the middle of the storyline where players will find themselves taking down numerous targets in a row, with at least the option of doing them in any order, without much in the way of actual development as the story slows to a crawl.
While Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a prequel to Valhalla, it tells an almost entirely standalone storyline, meaning that those who may never have played or finished Valhalla won’t feel like they are missing out on much. That being said, since the continuation of Basim’s story and major revelations about his character happen in Valhalla, those who haven’t will need to if they wish to see his story continue.
One of the biggest aspects about Assassin’s Creed Mirage is ironically the fact that it is a far more stripped down entry in the franchise. As mentioned before, Basim must be a bit of a detective as he must take part in “Investigations” to track down his targets throughout the, significantly smaller in comparison to recent entries, city of Baghdad. These come off as basic missions with simple objectives that reveal clues that, once collected, point towards a target that must be assassinated using the game’s heavy focus on making sure stealth is once again king. Of course, this tighter focus on tracking down leads and assassinations doesn’t mean that there still isn’t plenty of side-content to do in Baghdad, only this time it isn’t nearly as daunting as recent titles, offering a fair share of collectables and side-quests that are entirely optional but often feel a bit more worthwhile as a result. These rewards often include upgrading materials, costumes and equipment, and often Tokens, a new useful currency that can be exchanged for assistance with certain matters.
Now, with stealth being king once again players will find that Basim’s signature hidden blade is once again an instant kill attack on any target, be they an assassination target or a simple guard. Players do not need to worry about stats, levels, or equipment when it comes to assassinations, simply sneak up on an enemy and instantly kill them like in the original games in the franchise. Players can even make use of a new “Assassin Focus” gauge to target a number of enemies at once, triggering a series of takedowns on unsuspecting targets in a series of chain-assassinations that feel incredibly overpowered, especially since players can combine them with their own tools. Basim’s tools range from the standard throwing knives and smoke bombs to noise makers that cause distractions and more. Combine this with the fact that players can still make use of Eagle Vision and Enkidu, Basim’s helpful eagle ally, to mark any guards patrolling an area and even revealing unique treasures and entrances eventually, and players can plan out a smooth assassination plan if they so want, or go in blind and trust their combat instincts.
Direct combat in Assassin’s Creed Mirage is scaled back heavily compared to recent entries as Basim can only make use of his primary sword and parrying dagger. Properly timed parries can leave enemies open for instant kills and counter attacks but players will need to be careful, Basim can’t take many hits and enemies don’t flinch when struck normally. This can lead to a bit of a stand-off at times, especially when more enemies gather, as players wait for an opponent to attack to properly parry their blow and take them out. Of course, tools help in this regard as well, especially against armored opponents, though it would certainly be nice if there was a t least a little bit more enemy variety as, unfortunately there are incredibly few types players will encounter throughout the game. One thing that is nice about the game’s combat system as well is that it is localized. This means that if players are caught but eliminate enemies fast enough, it doesn’t alert an entire compound to their presence, unless an alarm bell is rung or horn is blown of course.
There still are some extremely light RPG mechanics in Assassin’s Creed Mirage as players will gain skill points as they progress through the story, with various little abilities able to be unlocked with them though none feel like major additions to the core gameplay, offering little impact outside of a few more helpful skills, but also allowing players to reset their skills whenever they want. Along these same lines players can obtain gear that can provide certain bonuses such as quieter assassinations that can be improved upon with upgrade material that, similarly, only offers minor boosts to defense or attack. This can lead to nearly all of the RPG elements feeling a bit inconsequential as a result and feeling more like holdovers from previous entries.
Anytime players do something illegal, be it killing guards, opening chests or containers that don’t belong to them, or pick-pocketing with a quick and easy mini-game, they will gain notoriety. This gauge comes with three tiers that see the people of Baghdad grow increasingly unhelpful as it fills, calling guards on sight and even bringing a “dangerous” but easily dispatched hunter at max level. Players can tear down wanted posters like in the classic entries to lower their level of make use of Tokens to immediately remove it. Alongside money and upgrade materials, players will obtain Tokens from quests, chests, and pick-pocketing that can then be used to hire groups for assistance. This can be hiring a bard to remove the player’s notoriety entirely, spending a merchant token to lower the prices for a bit or open a locked chest, or even using a power token to convince a group of mercenaries to fight and cause a distraction. These Tokens do give players extra options to work with but feel a bit half baked, especially since they are apparently meant to be hard to come by but players will find themselves quickly drowning in them through standard gameplay. Plus, while Tokens can be used to open up different routes to assassination targets, they are rarely as interesting as finding one yourself or making use of another opportunity.
The parkour and climbing mechanics in Assassin’s Creed Mirage are mostly what players have come to expect from the franchise, though it does seem that Basim can struggle to move around certain objects at times and often refuse to jump/climb to an obvious looking handhold. This can lead to some less than fluid movement through the city of Baghdad, which in and of itself offers a wide variety of buildings to climb but also nothing nearly as impressive looking as what was found in nearly every other entry in the series. In fact, even though players can travel outside of Baghdad through the surrounding area, most locations feel like they lack a certain impact and even the numerous Viewpoints that players can climb and “synchronize” with all have a similar look unless they happen to be in the wild. That isn’t to say that there aren’t impressive looking sights to explore throughout the game, they just don’t quite reach the heights of most other entries when it comes to locations to climb and explore.
Audio & Visuals
Despite not offering perhaps some of the most ridiculous architecture to traverse, Baghdad is a rather impressively designed looking city to travel through with plenty of intricate details throughout. The character models are handled well enough except for their faces which can feel a bit rough looking at times, especially when playing on Performance mode to make sure the game never stuttered. Quality mode does improve the character models but does see a dip in performance, so players will likely prefer smooth gameplay rather than a bit of extra detail, though it is unfortunate that it comes at a notable sacrifice.
As for the voicework, the title features an impressive cast of voice actors and a surprisingly large amount of Arabic worked into the English dialogue, making sure to offer a more immersive feeling experience to the game’s dub considering the setting. Similarly the soundtrack features a great collection of background music that fits the setting nicely.
Going back to basics can be a challenge for a franchise that has grown to such a scale like Assassin’s Creed but Ubisoft has successfully managed to strip away a lot of the bloat from recent entries and still offer a solid entry in the franchise with Assassin’s Creed Mirage. Players will find a satisfying story that struggles to keep itself afloat halfway through but finishes strong while offering great stealth gameplay and solid enough combat as well as a few less than stellar mechanics that feel like holdovers from Valhalla.
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