February 29, 2024

Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft’s wildly popular history-hopping series of open-world action games, has long been the jewel in publisher’s crown. From its humble, but promising beginnings and its glorious and genre-defining leap, to its eventual dismal decline, Assassins Creed’s 15-year run has seen the series — once known for its distinct narrative depth — spread wide and thin. After the pinnacle of its critically acclaimed and fan-favourite Ezio saga, which followed the life and times of master assassin Ezio Auditore, Assassin’s Creed started feeling the pressures of its yearly release cycle and changing trends and tastes within the industry. The quality of subsequent titles dipped drastically. Buggy and misfiring releases led to a crisis of faith and identity and, for better or worse, Assassin’s Creed transformed into what we see today — an interminable open-world RPG, seemingly designed to maximise playtimes and retain players through never-ending content additions, DLCs, and repetitive checklist chores spread across massive maps.

Increasingly, there have been fewer and fewer assassins in an Assassins Creed game. And while the recent titles in the series have done well commercially, there is a growing clamour among loyalists for the franchise to return to its roots. Old-time fans of the series want an Assassin’s Creed game with a smaller scope and increased focus on what made the early games stand out. Ubisoft’s answer is Assassin’s Creed Mirage — a leaner, stealthier, and shorter Assassin’s Creed game, which attempts to recapture the essence of its ancestors.

Mirage started off as a DLC for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and soon became its own thing, with a cinematic reveal trailer in September last year promising a classical approach. Last month’s PlayStation Showcase gave us a look of its gameplay, and now, Ubisoft Forward, the publisher’s in-house showcase held late Monday, dives deeper into the next Assassin’s Creed. Members of the press were invited for an early look at the planned Assassin’s Creed showcase ahead of the event, which now provides first proper details about the narrative, gameplay and design aspects of Mirage.

The game follows the story of Basim Ibn Ishq, first seen as a crucial supporting character in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, charting his origins as a common street thief in 9th-century Baghdad, his introduction to the Brotherhood and the ways of the assassins under his mentor Roshan, and his transformation into a master assassin.

“Our goal was to pay homage to old Assassin’s Creed games,” developers say in the game showcase, detailing the design philosophy driving the title. There is, of course, an increased focus on stealth mechanics, a departure from recent action-heavy titles that encouraged open combat. The last three AC games also saw free-flowing parkour, a cornerstone feature of the series, considerably diluted as the game worlds became more expansive. Free-running now receives special treatment in Assassin’s Creed Mirage with new animations and mechanics enabling smooth traversal through the rooftops of Baghdad.

The game showcase begins with a more story-focussed trailer, which dives into Basim’s conflicting emotions about the path of the Hidden Ones and what it means to be truly free. Remember the creed? “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” Basim is also haunted by nightmarish vision, which may hold the key to larger truths he is yet to discover.

We are then launched into the first raw gameplay walkthrough from an early section of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, as we see Basim parkour his way to his next assassination target, holed up inside a heavily secured fortress. You can now sit on a bench in the game and fast forward time to your liking; nighttime would likely provide more cover during a mission. Just like in previous games, Basim can scope out the area with the aid of his eagle — this time, however, enemies can also notice your avian companion, and can shoot and injure your scout, discouraging overuse.

Basim then blends in with the moving crowd, sneaks past some guards and takes out others standing in his way — standard Assassin’s Creed fare. Once he infiltrates the base and has his target in his view, we see him utilise a new special ability that lets you mark targets and execute a simultaneous multiple-kill — very reminiscent of the mark-and-execute mechanic in Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell games. Basim then assassinates his main target and evades capture with the help of some smoke bombs and social stealth.

We also got a more detailed look at two other games in the 2023 AC lineup at the Assassin’s Creed segment of the Ubisoft Forward event. Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR, already confirmed for late 2023, got a detailed pre-rendered trailer, showing off first-person VR parkour and combat. In it, you get to relive the memories of three assassins from the series — Kassandra (from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey), Connor Kenway (from Assassin’s Creed III) and franchise icon Ezio Auditore.

Assassin’s Creed Codename Jade, the upcoming mobile AC title, also received a lengthy gameplay trailer at the showcase. The game, built on Unreal Engine, follows the format of recent open-world RPG titles in the series and is set during the times of the Qin dynasty in China. Developers said the ambitious mobile game, which will be available on both iOS and Android, will be open for public beta starting June 12.

There are, of course, other AC games in the works, but the event focussed on the titles coming out this year, with bulk of the attention going to the next mainline game in series. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is very much a reality now — just a few months away from its October 12 release. From the gameplay snippet shown, Mirage seems to be walking the same road that the first game and the Ezio trilogy built. But in its atavistic approach, there is a lingering risk of playing it safe. AC fans clearly want an old-school Assassin’s Creed game, but Ubisoft’s next bet must also bring its own new ideas.


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