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Assassin's Creed Origins Hands-On impressions: The long-running franchise attempts to leap into the RPG genre

I've never been much of a fan of the Assassin's Creed franchise. The open-world collectathon formula may work for some, but for me personally, it's never quite clicked. However, when Ubisoft revealed Assassin's Creed Origins and hinted it would be influenced by titles like The Witcher, I couldn't help but think they were onto something special. After going hands-on with the game at E3 this week, I can confirm the brotherhood of assassins is taking more than just a couple cues from the RPG genre.

The demo opened on horseback, and I was given free rein to explore ancient Egypt in all its glory. This isn't the sort of setting you often see in games, so despite the demo being timed, I couldn't help but just stand and take in the massive sand dunes and rivers. There was a warm, welcoming glow to the environments that made it a place I wanted to explore. Not only that, but the overworld map wasn't drenched with various icons telling me exactly where to go and what to do. Those sort of markers were still there for sure, but there wasn't an overabundance of them and the presentation was more relaxed than your typical Assassin's Creed game.

Not long into the demo, I received my first quest. It involved a young man being publicly shamed for apparently stealing priceless idols. The guards that captured him insisted he stole the idols, while he claimed the missing idols were lost overboard at sea. So I set out to find the truth and jumped aboard a riverboat to investigate the area where the young man claimed the idols went overboard. 

One of the big new features in the game is the ability to summon your pet hawk to survey the surrounding landscape. In this case, I used the hawk to scout out a fleet of ships on the river that were huddled around where the aforementioned idols were supposed to be. After I marked a few key targets, I came in on a boat of my own and disposed of a few armed soldiers.

Combat in Assassin's Creed Origins is where I felt the influence from RPGs like Witcher 3 almost immediately. The pace was less about me waiting for an enemy to attack and countering with a single button press and more about using the right weapon and combat stance depending on the different enemy types. If you're facing someone with a single sword, better bust out your sword and shield; and if they're on horseback, the bow should be good for dealing with the rider. In this game, both the player character and the enemies have levels just like any other RPG. If a foe is a few levels above you, they'll be able to soak up more damage than they would if you were both the same level.

It seems a bit too redundant to mention the bit about levels, but you have to remember this series hasn't really had them before. Leveling here actually makes your character stronger and gives you ability points to spend in a skill tree. In addition to that, you can find weapons and gear in this that's based on rarity. For example, a yellow bow is rarer and has better stats than a blue bow. Again, a bit redundant if you play lots of RPGs, but these are the sort of aspects fairly unique to the series.

After getting accustomed to these mechanics, I boarded the aforementioned ships and dealt with the soldiers aboard. It turns out the idols were in fact lost on the bottom of the river, and I promptly brought them back to clear the young man's name.

What's most interesting about all these added RPG elements in Assassin's Creed Origins is they don't totally dilute the formula to the point where it's unrecognizable. If you've played these games, there's still plenty of towers to climb and sync with. What is refreshing is just how much the RPG elements added to the game. Again, I'm not really a fan of this series, but I came away from this demo really happy about what I played. Come release, I think a lot of naysayers will have to eat crow as well. Either way, I can't wait to play the final game when it releases on October 27.

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