Since it’s first entry debuted back in the early days of the PS3/X360 era, the Assassin’s Creed series has become a household franchise and a series we can pretty consistently seegrow every couple of years. While the series has spanned over 30 games so far if including the mainline entries and spin-off titles, not every entry has been consistently great and many of the latest mainline games have started to drift in a direction that is considered fairly different to where the series’ roots began. But now with the latest entry, Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the team at Ubisoft Bordeaux have taken the franchise back to it’s roots, both mechanically and thematically to provide an experience that honours the past but has brought it to a modern era and was able to remind me why I fell in love with the series all those years ago when I played it for the first time.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage takes place in 861 AD and is set in the city of Baghdad. The game sees us playing as Basim Ibn Ishaq, a character that players of AC Valhalla may be familiar with, but this game is set many decades before the events of Valhalla and further details Basim’s history, his assassin upbringing and further details the events that may have lead him to be the way we experience him in Valhalla. Although this game was originally envisioned as a DLC expansion for Valhalla that continued to grow in scope, just know this game is completely enjoyable and able to be followed from beginning to end without having played through any other Assassin’s Creed game. This is the prequel story for Basim, but doesn’t require any real knowledge going in, but there are certainly plenty of Easter eggs and nods to concepts from other games that series veterans are sure to pick up on and appreciate.
Unlike the last few Assassin’s Creed entries which shifted focus to being a character driven RPG set in large sprawling open worlds, Mirage offers a much tighter, refined and focused Assassin’s Creed experience that plays a lot more like the classic Assassins Creed titles of the franchise’s early years. Baghdad itself is broken into 4 main districts that you’ll travel in and out of as you complete the adventure and is packed with plenty of things to see and do and Ubisoft Bordeaux’s depiction of the world is gorgeous and features many different biomes that really pop on screen. A lot of the marketing material has primarily focussed on the golden sandstone look of the main towns, but this game has so much more to see and surprised me numerous times with the kinds of areas on offer.
When we begin the game, Basim is far from the capable assassin he’ll end up being at the end of it. In fact, he’s not an assassin yet at all. But after some early game hijinks leads to the death of a royal figure and Basim in the possession of an item that is sought after by the Order of the Ancients, he finds himself now a target of the Order which results in many in his village being slaughtered. Basim attracts the attention of Roshan, a well trained member of The Hidden Ones and manages to spend some time training as an assassin and learning their way of life. Meanwhile, it’s learned that members of the Order have worked their way into levels of power within Baghdad, oppressing the locals in an attempt to locate additional powerful ancient artefacts and further rise in power. Kicking off a revenge plot and numerous linked investigations to uncover the identities of the masked enemies and killing them off to restore order to the districts of Baghdad.
It doesn’t take long for the main plot to be established, and I really liked the focussed approach this game offered. You know right up what the end goal is and that helps you feel like you always have a real sense of progression and allows the game to feel far better paced than the last couple of games in the Assassin’s Creed series. The main storyline is is built upon gathering leads, pulling together various clues to ultimately solve the sub quests in each of the districts that make up the overall main quest. The mission types themselves are also quite diverse, which helps in keeping the gameplay fresh and interesting over the roughly 20 hour experience and most of all, I really enjoyed the return to stealth based gameplay, with many of the missions encouraging it.
There’s also quite a decent amount of side activities to complete too which are also varied in nature and come with their own sub objectives to provide a further layer of challenge and uniqueness that are found on the contract boards in each of the assassin headquarters in each city you visit. I liked that these missions weren’t just all copy and paste versions of the same quest but with a different target. They range from assassinations, escorting missions, object heists, among other things and typically come with sub objectives that either have to be met, or if met can grant better rewards. Outside of the side missions, there are also plenty of collectibles of varying types scattered across Baghdad for you do discover, locate and collect. And clearing the map of these often lead to pretty interesting things to see and do and was often a welcome distraction from the main quest as I had a really enjoyable time clearing the collectable markers off the map compass.
Even though the game is focussed on being silent, efficient and getting the job done, you’re inevitably going to fight some enemies and engage in the combat portion of Mirage. Combat does have the faster pace that’s been the staple in the newer entries. With Basim having the ability to attack, parry, dodge out of the way of unblockable attacks, utilise side tools such as blow darts, smoke bombs and throwing knives. Mixing up all of the tools in the arsenal becomes critical at times to successfully get out alive, especially when some situations go sideways.
Basim is quickly able to become overwhelmed in combat and swarmed by enemies and I quickly found out that it’s pretty much always a better option to stay sneaky and avoid combat entirely, or use your time in the shadows to thin the herd of enemies because going in. As jumping into areas with swords swinging will often see you quickly overwhelmed and results in an experience that will be far more difficult overall, I don’t doubt that it can be done, and some people may want to play it that way, but I was far more immersed in the game when I was trying to play it as silently as I could.
Mirage does feature a pretty cool new feature called Assassin Focus that allow you to quickly and silently take down multiple enemies in a flashy fashion by spending your focus bars which can be refilled the more assassin kills you get. It does kind of break the immersion if you want to play the game as an assassin sim as it is essentially a supernatural ability but man, I did find it fun to use, and it’s a completely optional feature.
Throughout the game we get to see Basim’s journey from street rat kid to trained and capable assassin, and Mirage’s customisation options let you have your say in that growth. You’re able to enhance his capabilities via the various upgradable skill trees, tool and gear upgrades. The equipment management like the game itself has also become more streamlined in Mirage. You’re able to select Basim’s outfit/armour, a sword and a dagger, each of which is able to be upgraded and enhanced as you progress further throughout the game at one of the various blacksmith’s you’ll come across. This helps just about each piece of gear feel relevant even in the later stages in the game and most of the higher rarity items do come with their own set of passive perks and abilities. Thankfully though, Mirage does include a transmog feature that can have an outfit or weapon take the appearance of another while maintaining it’s original stats and perks, giving you that sense of customisation freedom to have the abilities you want, alongside the look that you want.
It’s been great to play an AC game that feels like a classic entry. It’s more focussed and streamlined and brought back a lot of nostalgic feelings even though this is obviously a brand new game. I loved how diverse and vibrant the world itself it and even how reactive the sand is as Basim travels through it. I also loved that the iconic hidden blade is feels like an important tool again, but more importantly, loved that enemies don’t feel like damage sponges anymore, which was one core issue I had with Valhalla. I think it’s also important to point out that the while this game doesn’t contain my most favourite that the series has to offer, the performances themselves, especially those of Basim and Roshan really did help me get invested in those characters.
While I did really enjoy most of what Mirage has to offer, there were a few minor gripes that I couldn’t help but call out. Basim’s movement at times is pretty frustrating, something that’s been called out in other AC entries. I often found myself having him run, jump or climb to exactly where I wanted him to go and often lead to me jumping to places I didn’t intend. His movement overall does also feel quite heavy and stiff. I wasn’t sure at first if this was something the game was doing intentionally to further sell how inexperienced he was, especially at the start of the game, but it never really improved by a great deal.
It’s also apparent at times that there are things holding the game back from feeling like a cutting edge gaming experience. There are times where character models, facial animations and lip sync look quite dated, especially in contrast to other games that have just recently released. It’s clear that some things may have been held back in the attempt to have this game launch as a cross-gen experience. I would love to see where this series goes when it can commit to being a fully next-gen experience, as the world design and art direction are definitely there, but character models and moving and hiding in foliage don’t meet the bar the rest of the game sets.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage brings back the feel of a classic Assassin’s Creed game thanks to its more focussed gameplay experience and the way the game plays out narratively. The returned focus of stealth based gameplay let’s you embody the mind of an assassin and the varied mission types allow you to put all of your skills to the test and achieve the outcome in the way you best see fit. As mentioned in the review, the game does still fall into the pitfalls featured in some previous entries with it’s heavy feeling parkour and inconsistent character models, but I did really enjoy my gameplay experience of Mirage overall. I’m most curious to see what will be on offer in the next game in the series and am really hoping for a full commitment to current gen platforms to really push the series and the hardware to it’s limits.
A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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