Ruins leave a lot to the imagination. Surviving thousands of years through untold wars and water damage is a feat for any building, but time takes its toll. Even our most recognizable landmarks are but a shell of their former selves. Video games often give us the chance to immerse ourselves in unreachable worlds. Is there a game that lets us know what it would be like to explore an ancient historical icon? Maybe even kill a guy while we’re there?
Yes and yes. Assassin’s Creed Origins from Ubisoft is such a game. Set in Egypt during the rise of the great Cleopatra, Origins takes us to this legendary setting with more depth and breadth than any game ever has, and it even managed to revitalize a stale franchise along the way.
Origins is, as the name suggests, an origin story for the franchise. This prequel tale uncovers the roots of the Brotherhood of Assassins by putting players in the hidden-blade-wielding hands of Bayek of Silwa in the year 48 B.C.E. Similar to most heroes in the franchise, Bayek is out for revenge. His son was murdered by a shadowy cabal of Egypt’s power players, so Bayek forms a group of assassins called the Hidden Ones to deliver justice.
It’s also anchored to those famous Assassin’s Creed historical cameos. Cleopatra is your biggest ally, dispensing missions and rewards. You’ll square off against villainous pharaoh Ptolemy XIII, a bratty teenage ruler and Cleopatra’s rival, and cross paths with Julius Caesar.
The real cameo, of course, is the painstakingly detailed reimagining of Alexandria. The seat of Egyptian power and influence, Alexandria comes to life in ways that no other media has ever captured. Obviously, there are detailed buildings and temples. Assassins have to climb something, right? Many a history teacher has used the in-game Discovery mode to walk along its streets without any of the pesky gameplay or narrative getting in the way.
Beyond that are the details found in how the world conducts itself. There are real-life dramas unfolding that seem insignificant from a mainline video game perspective but are steeped in history. One Reddit thread details how an exchange among priests lamenting a shortage of mummified cats was a real, literal thing that happened during a time when mummified cats were like the NFTs of the afterlife.
What good is a brilliantly recreated ancient wonder of the world without some action? Origins has plenty. And, more importantly, it introduced some new ideas to a franchise that had already seen nine mainline games and 10 secondary titles released by this point. Origins turned away from action/adventure into RPG and the series benefited greatly. Its subsequent titles, AC: Odyssey and AC: Valhalla, followed its lead and found tremendous success, too.
These RPG elements meant players had more freedom to explore the gorgeous map than in previous titles, which locked areas depending on where players were in the story or how they had explored the map. It's populated with some of the best side quests in the series, including some ship combat for any AC: Black Flag enthusiasts. It’s a game where discovery feels organic more often than it feels linear. It drives your curiosity in ways previous titles didn’t. Who wouldn’t want to climb the Great Pyramids of Giza or pick the Sphinx’s nose?
Assassin’s Creed Origins is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. It’s also out now on Game Pass.