To understand where the Assassins came from, we have to go back. Back to the very beginning. In Assassin’s Creed Origins, that’s precisely what we’ll be doing. Playing as Beyek of Siwa, the last of the Medjay (a sort of “sheriff”). I got to try out a half hour of gameplay not seen on the show floor or during the wrap-up event after Ubisoft.

Beginning in Faiyum, a region in southern Egypt, I galloped our horse towards the nearby town of Philoteresis. It was here I noted the first improvement in ACO’s package – the “Follow road” command. My horse set on a gallop, I was able to take in the gorgeous 4K textured environment. As I entered the dusty town, I noticed that it was very squat and short – a real change from the usual massive vertical structures of Assassin’s Creed. Talking with a team member, they said it was a real challenge, but there were plenty of larger structures (e.g. pyramids) to climb. The shorter buildings made them focus more on what it means to be a good assassin, and not just a good climber.

As I rounded a corner near the river, I spotted a priest punishing a boy for some infraction. Approaching, I saw the priest continue to smack him in the back of the head as he shrieked that he serves Sobek (the ancient God of the crocodiles), but the priest insisted that he stole two gold Sobeks from Krokodolopolis (what would later become the city of Faiyum). Rather than allow the boy to be beaten, I agreed to find out if he was telling the truth, promising to recover them if he was.

Making my way to the Oktereis Blockade near the water’s edge, I saw my two objectives, but I’d need to use Senu, my eagle, to help survey the area. Rather than just a pulse that highlights objects in the environment, in Origins, the functionality is more literal. Bayek can see through his faithful companion’s eyes, flying him around and allowing him to spot foes and objects of interest. As I surveyed two nearby triremes (large Egyptian ships), I spotted that one Sobek was sitting on a throne on the stern of the ship, but the second was sitting at the bottom of the river, surrounded by crocodiles and hippos. It was here that the ACO team member informed me that the animal behavior is now procedural, meaning those same two pair of creatures square off and fight over territory, as evidenced by one bloody and floating croc near my objective.

With my area scouted, I snapped back to Bayek and dove into the water. Rather than assaulting the ship loudly, khopesh in hand, or using my bow to pick off the guards, I swam under the murky water and emerged near the back of the boat. Carefully climbing the side, I executed and disposed of one nearby guard and recovered the first Sobek. Slipping quietly back into the water, I swam down to a trireme wreck near the bottom of the river and used my Eagle Pulse to highlight the treasures below. Digging through the wreckage, I found a short spear, some money, and other crafting materials. Recovering the second Sobek, I carefully dodged a nearby hippo and caught a ride on a boat passing by.

Returning to the priest, I provided the proof of the young acolyte’s innocence, but this false priest began to show his true colors. Striking the young acolyte in the back of the head with the golden statue, he insulted us. Returning his wrath, I insulted him back, and he called two guards. Dropping two smoke pellets, I quickly dispatched the two guards, but in the battle, our cowardly priest had fled. Picking up the young priest and freeing him, I sent him home with his word that he would not become one of these false priests himself.

The situation resolved, it was time to take stock of my haul. In Assassin’s Creed Origins, players will be able to once again craft their weapons and armor. The spear I recovered was wildly inferior to my bronze khopesh, but it gave me a glimpse into the weapon and armor system.
Each weapon piece has a level, and some have attribute bonuses and other effects. You will need leather, wood, stone, gems, and other materials to craft armor at the leatherworker or forge. While this was locked out for the demo, it should prove a fun distraction for folks who enjoy maxing out their characters.

As I had collected enough experience to gain a level, I got to see the new levelling system. Split into Master Hunter (ranged), Master Warrior (combat), and Master Seer (tool use), the landscape of skills is pretty extensive, creating interesting paths to match your playstyle.

Back on the mission, I took on the second objective available in the demo. Riding to a distant farm, I found that it had been burnt to the ground. As I dismounted, I met Zahra, a hot-tempered farmer intent on taking her revenge on the hordes that burned her farm, but first, she wanted to warn her Greek neighbors. It was here that I found out that each NPC now has an agenda – they go to work, they visit the market, and more, so you’ll often have to time your visit or use the new meditation system to transition time if they are currently out and about.

Riding to nearby Dionysias, Zahra and I discovered that the farmer had been taken to a nearby ruin serving as a bandit’s hideout, held by a man named the Son of Ra – their leader. Quietly approaching the ruins, I used stealth to approach and quietly assassinate nearby guards by whistling and pulling them down as they approached to investigate. Using my climbing skills, I entered the second story and took out the lone remaining guard with a carefully timed strike to the throat. Shouldering the farmer, I quietly retraced our steps and ended the mission and the demo.

The second half of the demo focused on an optional side area – the Gladiator Arena. Bayek will have an opportunity to participate in the arena, earning coins and fame, though the team was quick to zip their mouths when I asked what sort of rewards we could expect.

This mission was split into two waves with three archetypes of warriors – soldiers, archers, and brutes. The first wave featured a massive gladiator with an oversized axe, a crossbowman, and a swordsman. Around the environment were whirling and moving blades, threatening anyone who had the unfortunate luck of backing into them – I had to use them to my advantage, as well as the revamped combat controls.

To help with the revamped combat, the team has rebuilt the control mechanics for Assassin’s Creed to make them more accessible. Now you’ll use the left bumper to lock, X to dodge, right bumper to do a light attack, and right trigger to perform a heavy strike. The B button blocks with an a medium-sized buckler, but to limited effect depending on enemy weapons.

The second round of fighters were two spearmen with tower shields and another brutish thug. Taking them out led to the culmination of my scrap – a fight with a boss named The Slaver. The Slaver is another hulking beast armed with a barbed trident. Should he close distance and get you locked in that trident, there’s a good chance he’ll hurl you across the room, through those whirling blades, and knocked flat on your face without so much as a grunt. This blind rage is also his undoing. Using the environment, I pushed him to charge me through the path of the whirling blades and used my heavy strikes to take him out while he was stunned. The Slaver bested, the game presented me the option to be merciful. I gave a brief pause, considered how a man would get the name “The Slaver,” and put him to death immediately. There’s no telling if my actions will have any impact on the overall story arc, but the world is a little cleaner without him in it.

I was surprised by all of the small improvements in Assassin’s Creed Origins. It felt like they had not only returned to the past in history, but also returned to their roots in terms of focus. The narrative I experienced was tight, and so was the combat. Given that this is the same team that worked on Assassin’s Creed Black Flag four years ago, it’s exciting to see this team back at the helm once again. The best news is that we won’t have long to wait before we can unleash our hidden blades on the slave masters of Egypt – Assassin’s Creed Origins ships on PC, Xbox One, Xbox One X, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 4 Pro on October 27th, 2017.