I’ve been away from Ubisoft’s stealthy stab ’em up for over a decade now. Perhaps it’s fitting I come back when the marketing claims the series is returning to it’s roots. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is certainly a return of sorts. A middle-Eastern setting certainly harkens back to the 2007 original but years of hindsight and ideas has made this feel more modern and complete. Whilst not quite being up to the series’ high points, Assassin’s Creed Mirage does deliver some enjoyable stealth and traversal.
The story puts you in the shoes of Basim, an Iraqi thief who desperately tries to court the attentions of the Hidden Ones. They’re assassins in all but name with the familiar iconography, clothing and missing middle fingers. Tragedy strikes early on and, eventually, Basim is allowed to be inducted into the secretive organisation. It’s a good time to join with them engaged in faction warfare against The Order. They’re up to nefarious business and spend the bulk of proceedings playing the bad guys.
The tone is very serious. Basim is nowhere near as cavalier as previous leads. Roshan leads the Hidden Ones with her gravel voice delivering plenty of authoritative menace. Other than that, Basim has Nehal, a childhood friend occasionally intervene in the story. It’s hard to really see a bond between the two as, as soon as Basim gets his robes, she’s relegated to side content. Their relationship is kept purposely vague and I don’t think that helps the narrative much.
As a whole, the story sets up Basim as an important character but none of that hit me with great weight. He’s young but already very driven in what he wants to accomplish. Meanwhile The Order scheme but rarely feel like their villainy is directly shown beyond a few scuffles. I read about it more in notes and letters.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage features a more linear sense of progression. Whilst there is side stuff to collect, the focus is on the game’s central conflict. Basim is tasked with eliminating the five members of The Order that look to threaten the Hidden Ones. Despite the straight-forward premise, there is some opportunities to diverge. An investigation board highlights the major targets and some light sleuthing can be participated in.
What this usually entails is getting to a highlighted area on the map and looking for points of interest. The game offers plenty of hints but Basim’s vision can quickly point these out. As can Enkidu, Basim’s pet eagle. When objectives aren’t immediately obvious, she can be a good way to sniff those out. She can also highlight optional things and fill out the map with any other titbits. Having a literal birds-eye view helps when a perspective at ground level just won’t cut it. Basim’s range can’t compete with hers so it’s a good way to scout areas and tag enemies.
The city itself is a mix of narrow alleyways and rooftops to traverse. It doesn’t have the same verticality of a Venice or Florence but there are some domed spectacles to clamber upon. These offer tremendous views and really shows off the game’s polish. As usual, mobility is pretty good and outrunning pursuers always feels like something you’ll have the upper hand with.
Outside of the main cities, patches of desert and farmland fill out the rest of the map. It’s difficult to judge where it sits in terms of scale but the populated cities feel compact and concentrated around the central area of the map. The outskirts can feel pretty barren and, whilst there are landmarks, the story rarely takes you into those locales.
Stealth remains pretty fun. Eagle vision means your mostly aware of your immediate surroundings. There’s ample opportunities to hide and stalk prey. Whilst playing as a pacifist is probably obtainable, I often preferred to thin the opposition numbers down with some fairly cheesy assassinations. Long grass, bushes and enticing people into a quick murder will always satisfy. Whistling can lure them from crowds and I genuinely enjoyed thinking about how to plot from one spot to the next.
When they say Assassin’s Creed is going back to it’s roots, this is the feeling I very much had in mind. It’s very reminiscent of the first game with the main assassinations having a preparation associated with them. Eavesdropping can uncover a weakness in security or a new opportunity to sneak into a building. It does present a small degree of choice in your approach, although some hits are very rigid in their design.
Still, I’ll take this sense of variation. There’s a build to each target that slowly unravels their location, their associates and can shed light on The Order’s larger intentions. Combat benefits greatly from a very quick upgrade ramp. You have a handful of tricks and traps to deploy in a fight and the main path with unlock those sharpish. You need the options for a couple of specific enemies and situations but you can largely outrun trouble. Just be prepared to stumble in the chaos as the game decides which handhold it thinks you’re focusing on.
When it comes time to engage in swordplay, you have basic slashes that can whittle the fodder down. You also have a parry which can be followed up with a counter for a quick kill. As such, I spent most encounters looking for those openings. There are moves that you simply cannot counter but they can be rolled away from. In a crowd, it can be tricky to manage attacks from multiple angles but I felt there was a always an escape option.
It looks occasionally stunning. Basim’s animated well and climbing feels smooth. Townspeople can move pretty robotically but the major players are, at least facially, on point. Sand is kicked up under foot and there’s plenty of life to each town you enter. There’s expansive vistas to observe although it did take me a while to appreciate Assassin’s Creed Mirage‘s visuals. There’s a certain level of quality I just take for granted.
Music takes on a traditional Arabic motif which lands well enough without really hitting high notes. Voice acting fares very well with the main cast performing precisely as intended. Supplementary characters also sound fine although there’s a couple of foreigner archetypes that sound like they’re somewhat contemporary.
I wouldn’t call this a triumphant return but it is refreshing to see an Assassins Creed where the scope is reigned in a little. Progression feels very direct and it keeps the momentum going throughout the story. It’s a shame there isn’t more spice to the narrative but the detailed city is fun to clamber around. Stealth remains pretty comfy but moving from kill to kill is smooth and the game certainly has plenty of polish.
+ Linear progression really helps keep the pace up.
+ Investigations did give me a sense of picking my own path
+ Movement remains enjoyable and mostly smooth.
- The narrative isn't very gripping.
- Combat can devolve into parrying and counter-attacking.
- Outside of the big cities, locations can feel a little empty.