Hello, and welcome to the Assassin’s Creed historical world tour bus. If you look out of the left window you can catch a glimpse of the American Revolution, while out on the right that’s French Revolutionary fighter Arno Dorian. No, his eyes aren’t always like that. Oh, and over there you can just see the smoking chimneys of Victorian London and twin hooded Assassins Jacob and Evie Frye. Wave to the nice gang members, folks and maybe make sure your valuables are secured. What’s that up ahead in the mists of rumour? Looks like a pyramid to me. And does the sphinx still have its nose?
Ok, I’m scrapping the time travelling coach analogy – even if it does have a stylish eagle sprayed on the side – but you get the idea.
Assassin’s Creed just loves flicking through the history books and stabbing a hidden blade where it wants to stop off for some free running. Now that it’s been confirmed that Assassin’s Creed will be skipping a year as predicted, it makes the other rumour of an Ancient Egyptian setting feel a hell of a lot more like fact. As Ubisoft said on the announcement blog post, “We’re taking this year to evolve the game mechanics and to make sure we’re delivering on the promise of Assassin’s Creed offering unique and memorable gameplay experiences that make history everyone’s playground.” But what does this actually mean for the series? Let’s take a leap of faith into (not-so) wild conjecture.
First off, what’s interesting to note is that the Egyptian setting would see the Creed swing from the most modern outing to date in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate to, literally, the most ancient. Everything that was added to Jacob and Evie’s London adventures to embrace the modern age can be happily removed. The rope launcher, trains, and the not-insignificant addition of proper guns are key toys in London’s playground. To go back to the land of canopic jars (mmmm, organs) and pyramid building – obelisky business – means that will all disappear and the focus can return to the series’ roots of hiding in plain sight.
Ubi likes to talk about the Creed having three main ‘pillars’ so to speak. Combat, navigation and stealth. With each addition to the series, each of these is given an update or switch around. Unity added the intuitive, free-run up and down mechanic, while Syndicate brought in the welcome addition of automatically snapping to cover. These were significant changes for the series, and Egypt, by rights, should up the stealth factor once more via a period-enforced focus on physical abilities rather than gadgets. Related to that focus, a new combat upgrade would be welcome. Plus when it comes to navigation, there’s no need to ditch the carriages from Syndicate either. Horses were necessary day to day and an Egyptian war chariot looks like an excellent way to travel.
This time period makes even Altair’s adventures during the Third Crusade look positively post-modern. Ancient Egypt is considered as the mathematically wrong sounding period between 3100BC to 332BC, so the scope here is vast. The below teasery screen – taken from an email conversation between two Abstergo agents in Assassin’s Creed Black Flag – shows two pyramids. One complete and one looking like it’s in the process of being built. The pyramids that make up the Giza complex were built surprisingly early in the period between 2560-2540BC and given Ubi’s delight in its worlds, NPCs constructing pyramids in the background would be a neat touch for some ancient atmosphere.
We’re also talking a period in Assassin history that’s entirely unwritten in terms of lore. The Assassins and the Templars always exist in some form – think of them as the eternal Batman and Joker – but this is a period where the Assassin order as we know it now isn’t even a thing. In fact, we’re closer to when the First Civilisation – or Those Who Came Before – did their ‘creating humans’ thing than we’ve ever been. There is lore of Assassins in the Roman Empire using hidden blades and eradicating those with Templar-like ideals, but we’re a long way away from the reforming of the Brotherhood in the 12th century. Don’t worry though, the Roman Empire Assassin in graphic novel Aquilus has a hood, so hopefully our new hero – or heroes – will start the trend in Egypt.
This all means the story should be completely unmarred by either real history or existing Assassin’s lore, and is thus full of potential when it comes to setting up a new maguffin to hunt down. Know many famous Ancient Egyptian faces? No, seeing Night At The Museum doesn’t count. The further into the future the series has come, the harder it has been for true freedom in terms of a story for its Assassins. Both Unity and Syndicate managed to steer around their respective Revolutions – French and Industrial – to create a plot full of famous faces, but Ubi is now free to construct its own fantasy of ancient Egypt. Plus, there’s a clear checklist of must-do activities which tie in nicely to previous games in the series.
The architecture of ancient Egypt is a synchronisation hunter’s paradise. The Great Pyramid Of Giza, for instance, was the tallest manmade structure for a mere 3800 years, so consider a leap of faith off that as a given (with scaffolding because otherwise, ouch). And yes, you’ll probably find yourself clambering up the Sphinx at some point too. Much more interestingly however is what’s inside these pyramids. I’ve got one word for you; tombs. We haven’t seen them since Assassin’s Creed 2 but these self contained puzzle rooms were a nice addition at the time to a world that already felt like it was positively overspilling with stabby content. Add in some Eagle Vision, hieroglyphs and the now standard free-run up and down controls, and Egypt could hold some puzzle rooms that might just be able to rival Lara.
Consider too that this is rumoured to be from the teams who constructed your favourite pirate simulator, Black Flag. That was the last time the series delivered a true seamless Witcher-style open world. Both Syndicate and Unity might have enormous maps, but they are self-contained cities. Go too far across one road at the edge of the map and you’re in unstable memory-ville. Black Flag, on the other hand, sees Edward Kenway leaping aboard the Jackdaw and taking to the seemingly endless horizons of the Caribbean.
Transfer this to Egypt and switch out for the ships of the desert – watch out, they spit – and the open world potential is tantalising. Think desert mirages and distant ancient Egyptian cities, and you have a game rich in possibilities. Add some spinning aerial shots around pyramids and never-before visited cities, and Egypt makes for a intriguing next step for the series. Oh, and just so you know, I’m calling The Mummy related DLC pack right now.