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A desert paradise — The Art of Assassin’s Creed Origins review

Like most of the titles in the Assassin’s Creed universe, the real-world locations are as much a character of the game as the title’s protagonist.  Bringing France, colonial America, England, and the Holy Land to life gave us a world that most players recognize, but few places are as full of mystery and wonder as that of ancient Egypt.  Assassin’s Creed Origins tells the story of the birth of the Assassins, as well as the rise of the Templar Order.  Recently we’ve gotten our hands on The Art of Assassin’s Creed Origins, in which the development team showcases just how it brought the game to life in all of its 4K glory.

The sense of scale makes an unforgettable impression.

Kicking things off is a an excellent forward from Raphaël Lacoste, Brand Art Director for the Assassin’s Creed franchise.  You might know Lacoste’s work as far back as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the original Assassin’s Creed, and Prince of Persia: Two Thrones.  He also did concept art for Terminator Salvation, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Death Race, Immortals, Repo Men, and Jupiter Ascending.  To say that he understands how to craft compelling worlds both modern, futuristic, and ancient is clearly a bit of an understatement.  In his forward he talks extensively about the evolution of the art in the series, as well as how Egypt’s iconic landscape and its recognizable landmarks create a compelling and mysterious world to explore.

The ancient world of Egypt would have been a sight to behold.

The book, like the game, kicks off in Siwa – the home of protagonist Bayek.  In this first chapter, a whopping 15 pages are devoted to the many looks of Bayek, his eagle Senu, and some of the numerous weapons he’ll wield in his pursuit of justice.  This first chapter is also one of my favorite aspects of the entire book as it showcases the many looks the team tried on to set the overall tone for Bayek.  Inspired by snakes and reptiles, the Artist Jeff Simpson showcases some amazing looks that are sure to inspire some hardcore cosplay.  One of the pieces even shows the Legendary Cobra garb set with its fang-like extensions hanging from the back, and the scales from the cowl.  I’m still enjoying the RPG portion of the game, frantically hoping to get anything approaching the awesome Hercules Lion hat, or the Anubis-like helm.

The 3D animators had a hard day with this particular garb.

A group of mysterious masked men are to blame for much of the strife in and around Bayek’s life.  Each named for an Egyptian iconic animal — The Ibis and The Crocodile, as examples, these foes represent the movers behind the veil that will eventually shape the foundation of the Templar Order.  Martin Deschambault contributes some amazing concept artwork to close out the chapter, giving us a look at the 3D and paintover work, as well as how the team unearths the hidden beauty in every scene.  Lacoste remarks on how rare it is to see the artwork nearly match the final product, and I have to agree — it’s remarkable.

I want this helm. Like, in real life, please.

When you think of Egypt, one of the things you’ll imagine is deserts.  It has been reported that it takes over three hours to cover the expansive landscape of the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins, but the developers didn’t take the lazy path and simply fill in large swaths with dunes.  Deschambault’s excellent landscape work continues, focusing less on the dunes and sand, and more on the red rock formations, outcroppings, caves, and hideouts that serve as respite from the blazing desert sun.  I had never seen the white and black desert, but Deschambault provides a somewhat alien landscape as he brings this biome to life.  As the game also features a full day and night cycle, he also had to give us a look at these same spaces in all manner of light as the sun’s rays ebb and flow.  On page 50 he also gives us a striking reminder of just how insignificant we are in the face of nature’s awesome power with a two page spread of a massive sand storm bearing down on several riders, fleeing to escape the flaying and blistering sands.

Beautiful and dangerous vistas await you.

One of the areas that Origins brings to life is one that few people know or remember from their history books — ancient Egypt has more than a few moments in its history where the Roman army either fully or partially occupied their cities.  It created a blend of two worlds, architecturally and culturally, that would import massive creatures like war elephants to Egyptian shores.  It creates a striking image as Bayek’s hulking frame is dwarfed by the massive African elephant that stands before him.

Alexandria is one of the most iconic cities of the ancient world, sporting not only the massive Library of Alexandria (the first public governmental library in history), and the Pharos of Alexandria – a massive lighthouse that, legends say, could be seen from over 35 miles away — over double what even a modern lighthouse can achieve.  This city also served as a seat of power shared by both Grecian and Egyptian leadership including easily the most famous, Cleopatra.  It’s represented in the game, and in this book, as an occasionally jarring juxtaposition of both ancient Roman and Egyptian architectures.

A beautiful juxtaposition.

The remainder of the third chapter is devoted to Aya, Bayek’s equally-as-tough wife and partner-in-adversity, boy-king of Egypt Theos Philopator Ptolemy XIII, the merciless Philakitai (Ptolemaic guards that will absolutely kill you in most engagements), as well as some other characters players will encounter in the story arc.  Some of these would be real spoilers, so I’ll refrain from naming them, but suffice it to say that they are equally as important to both the game, and to real-world history.

These guys? Not your friends.

Midway through the book is a three-panel fold-out that embodies the sort of late-day iconic sunset you might see in Egypt.  The hot sun begins to hide behind the monolithic Great Pyramids as crumbling pillared structures brace the foreground.  Simple gatherers fill jugs from the Nile as birds break from the rushes of the swift-moving river.  It encapsulates my likely-romanticized idea of Egypt, as well as the tone the art team set for this game.  It’s a real treat amidst what can only be described as an embarrassment of visual riches.

Chapter IV focuses on the most iconic river of Egypt — the Nile and its surrounding areas. It’s in this chapter that Lacoste talks a lot about how the team re-built some of these places as they have long since collapsed into the sand in the real world.  Ubisoft had to recreate these cities and landmarks, while balancing the gameplay aspects of making it into a fun and interesting world that is still historically accurate.  Pencil sketches and full-color representation of the port of Kanopos, Thonis, and Letopolis (from artist Jean-Claude Golvin) give way to full-page spreads and biographies for some of the secondary characters Bayek will encounter, including close friend Phoxidas, and the ever-helpful Taharqa.  The team used Orientalist paintings as reference, explains Daniel Atanasov, making each character unique, but also as accurate to the time as they could.

Many pencil sketch diagrams are present here to build this world.

My favorite chapter of the book is likely to be your favorite chapter too.  The fifth chapter focuses on The Great Pyramid of Giza — one of the most recognizable of the seven wonders of the world.  This massive structure, flanked by two slightly smaller pyramids, stands a staggering 481 feet (or it did at this time – erosion has cut nearly 25 feet off of its height in the real world), making it roughly 44 stories tall.  Built in 2580 BC, the Pyramid of Giza and its smaller brothers are likely the first things you think of when you imagine Egypt.  In fact, there are actually eight pyramids in this area, all represented (and filled with side missions) in the game.  A great deal of fascinating history is explained in this chapter of the book, followed by fantastic artwork from Art Director Eddie Bennun, and Artists Martin Deschambault, Ivan Koritarev, Daniel Atanasov, Gilles Beloeil, and Brand Art Director Raphaël Lacoste.  A three-panel fold-out of the city of Memphis, followed by a two page view of the port with the legendary White Walls of Memphis (massive limestone structures purported to have stories-tall hieroglyphics honoring the Gods and Pharaohs of the day) looming large over the city.

The second half of this fifth chapter is spoiler-laden territory.  It covers some of the powerful women Bayek will partner with or encounter in the game, as well as a fantastic full page look at The Lizard – one of the foes Bayek will encounter in Origins.  Ubisoft has started doing Cosplay Guides for characters (Bayek and Aya kick things off), and I’m hoping that Artist Jeff Simpson’s portrayal of The Lizard gets the same treatment.

A closer look at your masked foe.

Closing out this chapter is a nod to the optional and free content that just launched — Trial of the Gods.  These endgame fights are Animus glitches, allowing Bayek to square off against the Gods themselves.  At the time of writing, the fight is against Anubis, but this two page artwork from Martin Deschambault tells us that Sobek, the Crocodile God, is waiting in the wings for his chance to strike.

The next few chapters give us a look at the naval battles, the area of Faiyum, and the famed Krocodilopolis — a massive gladiatorial arena built to honor Sobek – the crocodile God.  Artist Jean-Claude Golvin provides an excellent structured blueprint of what the city likely looked like, giving way to Beloeil’s beautiful representation of the arena itself.  While little of this city remains in modern times, this structure housed powerful gladiators who all get a partial or full page profile, including backstory and a look at their signature weapons.

The Phylakes are roaming boss battles waiting to surprise you.

As has been the case in every one of these Art of Assassin’s Creed books, the last few chapters are best kept for after you’ve completed the game.  They discuss the modern day areas, as well as the inevitable “Whaaaaaa?!” connections to the first civilization elements.  I won’t get into the specifics here, for obvious reasons, but this short final chapter does provide some cool looks at the massively-vertical eroded-yet-futuristic structures that make up the crazy portion of the game.

For those about to die, we salute you!

I have just one minor complaint with Titan’s efforts here, and it’s something that could have been fixed with a small adjustment.  Throughout the book, the team has placed backgrounds behind the text.  There are portions of the book where the text is somewhat hard to read as a large white erosion crack obscures the words.  It’s not indecipherable — you can figure out the context, and often the word itself, but a simple background box around the text would have solved this problem easily.

95

Excellent

The Art of Assassin's Creed Origins

Review Guidelines

At 208 pages, this hardbound book provides a comprehensive and breathtaking look at the world Ubisoft has brought to life. Containing incredible concept art, and gorgeous finished pieces, The Art of Assassin’s Creed Origins is a must-have for anyone who carries the same love for Ancient Egypt as I do, or any fan of the most recent game. It’s a beautiful companion that give backstory to the living world of Bayek the Medjay.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).

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