In the same year that the first iPhone was released and Prince played "Purple Rain" at a halftime show in which it literally rained, another part of the culture was changed forever: the first Assassin's Creed was released, to mixed reviews.

Not everyone loved Ubisoft's approach to secrecy and action, but it was widely accepted that this game was on the right track. In the more than 15 years since, its many sequels have traded secrecy for something much bigger and more extravagant, but have lost sight of the true spirit with which they began. 

A little about Assassin's Creed Mirage

Assassin's Creed Mirage takes important and imperfect steps to return to its roots, and while that means it doesn't do anything in particular that hasn't been done before, the focus on and commitment to fast-paced missions and intensely stealthy exploration fulfills a need that RPG-based entries have failed to meet. It may not be the most ambitious game, but it restores hope that there is still room for a version of Assassin's Creed that we haven't seen in almost a decade.

Secrecy reigns once again in Assassin's Creed. Mirage completely eliminates the experience and level system for your character, meaning that every enemy is just one hidden blade away from death if you play your cards right. Most areas offer plenty of ways to remain hidden, and the returning eagle watch option helps you check all the angles before deciding on your next move. It was refreshing to approach a situation and have to weigh up my options based on its many moving parts, rather than just considering whether the loot is worth the senseless slaughter that will follow. 

Fortresses, such as high-security prisons and coastal fortresses, often feature many guards with staggered patrols and overlapping lines of sight. Especially at the beginning, the threat of fighting several enemies at once is so daunting that the use of shadows, precise timing and the environment is a necessity in order to progress towards well-defended objectives. More than in games prior to Origins, I had to make vigorous use of precariously hung supplies or conveniently placed spice bags to cause enough chaos to achieve my objectives.

Assassin's Creed Mirage Game Review by IGN

That said, it's not one of the games that had DLC. Having played all the DLC expansions for Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I admit that I never once thought: "I'd like to know the origin story of Basim", the mysterious friend/enchanter of Evior and Layla Hassan. Now, I've put almost 20 hours into learning his story, as he takes the lead role in Mirage, and the story hasn't really changed my mind about that. Basim's origins as a clever thief with a noble heart turned vengeful killer feels like the most fast-paced story of the Hidden Ones in the series. 

Before the blood of his murdered friends has even dried, he's falling into piles of hay and cutting off his own finger. He's a fairly ordinary man, largely pleasant and affable in his interpersonal relationships, and always chooses what's right without too much conflict. He's decent, if not very interesting most of the time, and in the end I still wondered how this guy became the scheming traitor we met years ago.

That said, Basim's story is much shorter and more linear than recent games inspired by The Witcher 3, and in my opinion, the adventure is better that way. Your main tasks begin on the investigation board, a web of clues and evidence that all point to the main targets.

Solving smaller issues, such as identifying a local rebel leader or stopping a series of kidnappings, will often lead you to bigger revelations, which in turn will take you higher and higher up the hierarchy, until you have the chance to once again confront the great conspiracy that is causing all this chaos. 

I'll admit that the investigation framework makes things seem more open-ended than they really are, because you can tackle the tasks in any order you prefer, although almost all of them are compulsory. But breaking up the stories into small chunks that keep expectations clear and concise does wonders for the pace of a game like this.

Basim's story is more focused, but compared to the other games in the series, it's rather weak

The ploy that leads you into the world of murder - revenge plus a call to a higher purpose - has been done before and in a more captivating way in previous games. Except perhaps for the last four hours or so, your quest to track down the members of the villainous Order of the Ancients is fairly basic and predictable. 

Each of them and their subordinates is firmly, almost cartoonishly evil, without nuance, and while it's not offensive to make the object of their ruthless but justifiable murders so simple, it's still a little disappointing that we don't have another major villain as complex as Haytham Kenway or as crazy as Rodrigo Borgia.

The same goes for Basim's allies, who are all various shades of "conspirators, but for the good" that you've seen throughout the Assassin's Creed series. With the exception of Basim's own master, Roshan, played masterfully by the distinctive, smoky voice of Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mirage's supporting cast is anything but adequate, both as characters and in their performances.

See also: Soul Hackers 2 game review; understand the gameplay

October 4th, 2023