Assassin's Creed Mirage Proves the Once-Great Franchise Is Beyond Repair
Inverse Score: 5/10
Running along the circular wall that surrounds the inner city of 9th-century Baghdad, I take down every guard in my path, one after another, in an endless stream of parkour and murder. After several minutes of this mindless action, I wonder if I’ve done a complete loop of the wall and if I could just keep this going forever.
The entire experience of playing Assassin’s Creed Mirage feels a lot like this small anecdote of my time in the walls of the Round City. The franchise itself is right back where it started in 2007, with a return to roots that revisits what fans love (assassin intrigue in an ancient city). But the core loop of Mirage is an endless treadmill of missions so frictionless you can basically turn your brain off.
While the details found at every turn during Mirage’s roughly 15-hour story demonstrate a high level of polish and care from the developers at Ubisoft Bordeaux, these parts are greater than the whole. In looking back to the origins of the franchise, Assassin’s Creed demonstrates how much creativity has been lost in pursuit of designing a video game to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Something Old, Something New
In the six years since Assassin’s Creed threw out the franchise’s roots of stealth and parkour in favor of open-world RPG grandeur in 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, a vocal part of the fanbase keeps asking Ubisoft to bring back the old style. After 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla reached a new level of exhaustion — our review called it “another bloated thrill ride for the series” — Mirage is designed specifically for fans who miss the good old days.
That means if you have played an Assassin’s Creed game prior to Origins, Mirage’s controls and gameplay will feel so familiar that muscle memory will take over without needing to learn the ropes. Parkour and stealth take center stage as players don the pointed hood of protagonist Basim Ibn Is’haq.
Stealth gets the biggest upgrade over the more recent titles by reinstating a handful of features from the franchise’s early days. These include the ability to blend into crowds and tools like smoke bombs and noisemakers. In one of Mirage’s best realizations of the fantasy of being an assassin, some missions give Basim the opportunity to disguise himself and sneak into areas. Though in the main quest, I can count the times this was an option on one hand, underutilizing one of the most satisfying mechanics in the game.
Assassination missions tie all of these systems together to give players a sandbox of possibilities. Listen in on a conversation and you might learn a secret way into a well-guarded area. Or you could knock out a servant and take their disguise to get up close and personal with your target. These missions highlight the best of what Mirage can be by encouraging player freedom in how the goal is reached.
The weaker aspects of the game are holdovers from Valhalla, its immediate predecessor. Mirage has a gear system that lets Basim equip different outfits and weapons with stats that increase stealth, damage, etc. In the lean product that is Mirage, this gear system has no meaningful purpose, as demonstrated by my ability to complete the game with no issues despite not touching the gear screen once.
Outside of stealth, Mirage’s combat is a tiresome Souls-lite affair that requires blocking and parrying but with incredibly forgiving windows that drain encounters of complexity or danger. Three difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, and Hard) allow players to slightly customize the experience by tweaking things such as enemy damage in combat and detection speed when attempting stealth. Still, the overall challenge is most disappointing when Mirage’s final confrontation occurs, not in the form of a climactic assassination mission, but a boring face-to-face fight.
Mirage accomplishes its goal of recreating the feeling of early Assassin’s Creed titles but quickly reminds players that the open-world design of the last three entries was made to escape the tedium of a decade of repetitive design. Six years is not enough time to make it feel fresh again.
The story and setting equally seek to evoke nostalgia in the player. In the same vein as early titles in the franchise, Mirage forgoes a massive open world in favor of focusing the action on a smaller, more centralized location. For Mirage, that’s 9th-century Baghdad.
Baghdad is the most impressive part of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, as the city’s details make it a joy to explore. Forgive the cliché, but Baghdad is its own character. Every detail in its streets, buildings, and citizens is crafted with a palpable love for work. The game’s bazaar is a great example of this. As the center of Baghdad’s bustling international trade, the bazaar is full of different languages spoken, different clothing worn, and intricate goods in every stall.
Basim’s mission in Baghdad to assassinate a handful of members from the Order of the Ancients (a returning antagonist organization) is, in many ways, a vehicle for the game to show off how good the city’s many districts look. Mechanically and narratively, though, hunting down the Ancients is less satisfying. The task occurs in two stages. First, Basim completes a series of investigative quests that give him clues to the identity of a specific Ancient. Second, Basim infiltrates where the Ancient is hiding and assassinates them.
The investigation stage sounds neat in theory, but in practice, the ability to naturally discover clues is lacking, instead culminating in just another case of going to a quest marker and completing a short task. Infiltration is more satisfying, acting as the game’s biggest set piece. Yet these falter at the end, with the assassinations themselves typically railroading the player into one option to accomplish the goal.
Basim himself becomes one of the most underwhelming aspects of the game. Mirage acts as an origin story for Basim, whom players encounter in Valhalla as a very different man. The intrigue of seeing how he becomes the character we know in Valhalla is an intriguing premise, but one that Mirage never becomes interested in. Instead, Basim is just a vessel for the player to control. What narrative beats do occur lack depth or originality and are easy to see coming.
Despite the lack of an interesting story, the performances in Mirage are a delight, especially if players opt for the Arabic dub — which you really should! Lee Majdoub does an admirable job as the English voice for Basim, but Eyad Nassar’s standout performance in the Arabic dub breathes new life into the character.
What Comes Next?
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is not a bad game. During my time with it, I experienced no crashes and little to no bugs. The gameplay loop plays as intended and the story gets where it’s going in a relatively short time compared to other modern titles that easily stretch past 50 hours. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is — in the truest sense of the word — an average game.
If you were to ask someone who doesn’t play video games to describe a video game, Mirage likely comes close to fitting that bill. That’s because it fits neatly into the AAA third-person action game that dominates the space. Games that offer a tried-and-true formula. Games that sand down rough edges from entry to entry in pursuit of the most generally appealing title with as little friction to the player as possible. The type of game that, like Mirage, traces its lineage back to the original Assassin’s Creed.
Yet in 2007, Assassin’s Creed was a radical experiment. It was the product of a team of developers led by Patrice Désilets and Jade Raymond, who had a new creative vision. In the 16 years since the original title, the industry at large has latched onto the original’s vision and milked it dry to the point that comparing a game to Assassin’s Creed is an insult that indicates repetitive and chore-like design.
This is not a problem of developers lacking creativity, but of companies like Ubisoft not giving developers the freedom they need. Game development is not easy, as the seemingly endless reports of layoffs and attrition can attest to. The developers at Ubisoft Bordeaux are clearly passionate about their work, but that passion is found in the individual pieces of Mirage that allow for creativity within the confines of the larger product.
The smoothed-down experience of Assassin’s Creed Mirage is not even a video game as a toy, it is a video game as a fidget spinner. A mindless activity that washes over the player. Assassin’s Creed Mirage wants to return to its roots without understanding that giving developers creative freedom to do something new is what made the franchise great in the first place. They deserve the same chance to make something new that the developers of the first game had. The only way to make the next Assassin’s Creed is to not make Assassin’s Creed at all.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage releases on October 5 for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.