Games publishers face a terrible temptation to relentlessly milk franchises that catch the public imagination and, for a while, it looked as though that fate had befallen Assassin's Creed.

But Ubisoft, sensibly, opted to give its hugely popular time-travelling action-adventure franchise a sabbatical in 2016. The fruit of that decision is Assassin's Creed: Origins, which surely turns out to be the best Assassin's Creed game yet.

Since it tells an origins story, the game goes further back in time than any of its predecessors: to Egypt in 48BC. Ptolemy is on the throne, having ousted his sister Cleopatra, and Egypt, accordingly, is suffering under an oppressive yoke.

You take the controls of Bayek, from the backwater of Siwa, who is the last example of what is known as a Medjay – a sort of Ancient Egyptian sheriff.

Bayek has had a run-in with a mysterious masked group called The Order of Ancients, who murdered his son and, he learns, are responsible for Egypt's oppression, so he vows to assassinate their leaders one by one.

At times, you also play his wife Aya, one of Cleopatra's most trusted lieutenants, as the famous Egyptian pharaoh-queen attempts to regain the throne from her weak-willed brother.

Bayek and Aya are pretty decent characters: the latter kicks major ass (although she tends to dip into and out of the story) and while Bayek is rather given to portentous pronouncements, the rage which fuels him at first subsides to a more measured approach as the plot unfolds.

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And the storyline is great, although it packs all manner of twists in during its later stages and finally succumbs to the temptation to emulate the clichéd Egyptian mysticism of the likes of The Mummy. In typical Assassin's Creed fashion, historical figures like Pompey and Julius Caesar have cameos.

But the real star of the game is its open world, which is absolutely massive, surprisingly believable and thoroughly irresistible.

For amateur Egyptologists, it's a dream come true, with the Pyramids and ancient sites mostly unblemished by the passage of time, Alexandria in all its pomp (with its legendary library and Alexander The Great's long-lost tomb present and correct) and vast amounts of ground to explore.

The environment is lush and varied, and teeming with wildlife – which you can hunt, Far Cry-style, in order to upgrade various items of your armour and kit.

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As you level up, you can even acquire a skill which lets you tame animals, which will follow you around – that is great fun, as hippos and crocodiles abound.

Origins is also notable for being absolutely rammed with side-missions, which are hugely impressive. Plenty have a peripheral bearing on the main story – or at least characters you meet during the course of it – and they all manage to be memorable. They often involve investigation in order to identify characters for assassination – there's quite a lot of tomb-raiding to be done – and you encounter plenty of forts and bandit hideouts which you must decide whether to stealth your way into or take on in a more combat-heavy manner.

Combat-heavy is much more of an option in Origins than in previous Assassin's Creed games, since Ubisoft has comprehensively revamped the combat engine.

As Bayek levels up and acquires ever more devastating weaponry (he can, for example, carry two bows – one of which can be of a type that fires three arrows and effectively operates like a shotgun), he morphs into a combat-machine. To such an extent that the storyline features a stint in the gladiatorial arena (to which you can return whenever you fancy).



Bayek has an adrenaline meter which lets him launch special attacks that often equate to one-hit kills, and he must fight tactically against higher-level enemies who have good shield skills, employing a useful dodge and striking when an adversary is exposed.

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Bayek has an adrenaline meter which lets him launch special attacks that often equate to one-hit kills, and he must fight tactically against higher-level enemies who have good shield skills, employing a useful dodge and striking when an adversary is exposed.

Assassin's Creed staples like sleep darts, poison darts and firebombs can also be employed. And Origin's sword-fighting engine is as good as any we've come across in a game.

You also find plenty of diverting non-core gameplay, such as chariot racing and sea battles. As usual for the series, there are some modern-day sequences, too, which aren't brilliant but at least provide some context.

And there are plenty of mini-boss and boss battles, mainly against legendary, higher-level fighters. Although at one point, participation in a seer's gloriously bonkers ritual leads to a hallucinogen-induced dream-trip that sees Bayek taking on a giant sea-snake with arrows made from light.



Shoehorning a boss-battle into a dream sequence shows the fun that Ubisoft clearly had in making Assassin's Creed: Origins and, that, ultimately, is what elevates the game towards the realms of greatness. Just imagine having Ancient Egypt rendered with impeccable visuals, and packed with all things that you'd ever want to do there, at the controls of a character with devastating skills. That's exactly what Assassin's Creed: Origins provides.

Plus, it's a very meaty game indeed. There's no way you'll finish the main story in less than 30 hours, partly due to its structure: chunks of storyline take place in particular localities, and after each chunk, you must level up via side-missions in order to move onto the next episode of the main story. It's a tribute to the richness of Origins' open-world that you never feel as though you're having to grind. And there's loads still to do once you finish the main story.

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Shoehorning a boss-battle into a dream sequence shows the fun that Ubisoft clearly had in making Assassin's Creed: Origins and, that, ultimately, is what elevates the game towards the realms of greatness. Just imagine having Ancient Egypt rendered with impeccable visuals, and packed with all things that you'd ever want to do there, at the controls of a character with devastating skills. That's exactly what Assassin's Creed: Origins provides.

Plus, it's a very meaty game indeed. There's no way you'll finish the main story in less than 30 hours, partly due to its structure: chunks of storyline take place in particular localities, and after each chunk, you must level up via side-missions in order to move onto the next episode of the main story. It's a tribute to the richness of Origins' open-world that you never feel as though you're having to grind. And there's loads still to do once you finish the main story.

Verdict

Giving Assassin's Creed an extra year's development time may be the best decision Ubisoft has ever made. It has given the franchise the space to rediscover the sheer quality on which its early reputation was based.

Assassin's Creed Origins is action-packed, often intelligent, full of intrigue – and works well as an origins story, explaining the birth of The Brotherhood of Assassins and their eternal fight against the shadowy forces of the establishment.

Plus, Origins takes open-world design to the next level, meaning that as winter 2017 draws in, the opportunity to immerse yourself in the beautiful but harsh environment of Ancient Egypt is hugely appealing. 

If you thought you had been falling out of love with the Assassin's Creed games, Origins will restore your faith. It's sublime.