Assassin’s Creed Origins finally gets collectables right

By Aaron Potter, Monday, 27 November 2017 07:52 GMT

If you’re a dedicated Assassin’s Creed player from way back, you’ll no doubt have taken a certain stance with regards to how Origins does things differently.

Gone are the days when your overly-cautious hooded hero would keep his feet glued to the floor, surrounded by an onslaught of enemy guards, requiring you to patiently wait for a strike in order to counter an attack. It’s instead replaced with a revitalised combat system that’s more akin to (you’ve guessed it) Dark Souls. Consisting of blocks, dodges, as well as parries, the revised approach offers players improved control over the traditional swordplay action, now with added variety.

The result is a more involved combat system that give fights more weight than what we’re used to seeing in your typical Assassin’s Creed outing – a marquee refinement when compared to the slog encounters you’d actively go out of your way to avoid in previous titles. A similar grind that has also been overhauled in Assassin’s Creed Origins, albeit without much mention or praise, is how the game handles arbitrary collectables. Long story short: it doesn’t.

Undeniably, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood should still be considered this series’ worst offender, with its absurd number of pointless pickups by way of treasure chests, Borgia flags, glyphs, and those infamous feathers. I couldn’t tell you how pleased I was when I eventually loaded up Assassin’s Creed Origins, opened up the map, and failed to see a single feather, sea shanty, or helix glitch in sight.

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When you have a world that’s as open, detailed, and alluring as the ones Ubisoft frequently creates, it’s understandable to want to give players as many excuses as possible to roam around and explore them. Who could forget scaling Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral, leaping through Rome’s Colosseum, or zip-lining London’s very own Big Ben? The problem comes from the fact that in doing this, most open world games struggle to find a way to pull you through naturally, outside of compulsory story objectives. They all too often rely on a littered environment, filled to the brim with meaningless trinkets in the effort to entice.

It soon becomes clear that Origins, for all its grandeur and scope, represents a reformed Ubisoft willing to ever so subtly break away from the tower-filled, collectable-driven template that it had previously been the pioneer of. This lack of arbitrary collectibles is refreshing to say the least, but also serves to align more with the overwhelming sense of freedom Assassin’s Creed games have promised, but failed to deliver players for over a decade now.

Origins’ decision to substantially curtail the onslaught of useless items means that you’re no longer exploring out of sheer obligation, but rather due to your own sense of curiosity. Many times while venturing though the swirling dunes as Bayek, Egypt’s last protector, do I find myself distracted in a good way, taking part in various unscripted events to discover something previously unknown to me.

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I might see a fight between street urchins and guards and seek to aid them or protect a local settlement from some rampant wildlife that’s gone wild. At my most curious, I frequently find myself plunging into the depths of the famed pyramids themselves to see what’s hidden underneath.

It all comes down to the fact that Assassin’s Creed Origins is easily able to stimulate players within its admittedly obtuse world without the need to plague you with monotonous busywork. I take solace in knowing that Bayek of Siwa will never step within a 5ft-radius of a feather, other than when he sets his trusty eagle Senu up in the air to scope out an enemy stronghold.

Treasure chests, while present, are entirely optional but recommended, often gracing you with generous goodies that serve to further drive the new Destiny-esque loot system. Unlike their unbearable appearance in Unity however, chests are something you should be running towards rather than away from. The gear found inside them makes toppling enemies less daunting and we now have a pseudo-collectable that isn’t intrusive or world-breaking, yet affably adds to Origins’ key thrust of exploration and discovery.

While some might argue that assigning awards to collectibles merely amplifies the issue they’ve created for so long, it helps that Origins gives the weapons you unearth an instant use – at least for a little bit at your present level. Papyrus puzzles (mysteries embedded throughout the game) require a surprising amount of thought. And whereas prior Assassin’s Creeds had you trek across its increasingly expanding map in search of feathers to no end, anything that even resembles a collectible here adds value to your progression by making you a better assassin.

If you need further proof that Assassin’s Creed Origins marks a Ubisoft attempting to steer its tentpole franchise away from the usual checklist-fest of old, to instead propel you onward, simply take note of the absent mini-map. What at first was unthinkable, and maybe not even possible, extraordinarily works in tandem with the removal of deadweight collectables to set a benchmark for how open world games should possibly consider populating their environments going forward.

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Already this year we’ve seen other open worlds games take a scanter approach to tedious trinkets, with the likes of Zelda: Breath of the Wild making item-gathering core to the gameplay loop, but giving each one an appreciated use. Yet while Nintendo’s fantastical landscape manages to avoid constantly overflowing you with pointless objects due to the need to constantly consume them, it’s collapsed landscapes lack the rich detail found in an Assassin’s Creed.

Still, for every Breath of the Wild there’s also a Horizon Zero Dawn, and though enamouring and immersive, the post-apocalyptic setting finds itself rife with a glut of metal flowers, ancient vessels, and Banuk artefacts that do little than to add minor lore amongst walls of text. Assassin’s Creed Origins nonetheless acts as a nice middle-ground between these two extremes, walking a fine line to give players a meaningful justification to explore the world of their own accord.

Like the mysterious artefacts members of the assassin order have a frequent habit of uncovering, collectibles in today’s gaming climate are, in many ways, relics of a bygone era. What once could be thought of as valued assets that encouraged the act of exploring a game’s finer and more intricate nooks and crannies are often little more than a grind. Assassin’s Creed Origins remedies this trap alongside a wealth of other formula-breaking enhancements, by cutting out the noise and encouraging curiosity, rather than artificially implementing it.

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