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Assassin’s Creed Mirage review – back to the old ways

Assassin’s Creed Mirage review – back to the old ways
Assassin’s Creed Mirage – back to basics (Picture: Ubisoft)

Ubisoft uses the very first Assassin’s Creed as inspiration for a game that is purposefully short on bloat and role-playing complications.

Released 16 years ago, the first Assassin’s Creed told the original story of the Order of Assassins. It was set in the Middle East, in the 11th century, but you played a modern era protagonist using a digital MacGuffin to inhabit the life of one of those ancient hitmen. It’s fair to say it was a bit rough around the edges, but the franchise has evolved and learnt new tricks over the decade and a half since then.

In that time the games have also expanded, with the most recent outing, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla , offering completists the best part of 150 hours of stealthy neck-stabbing, before reaching its finale. And that’s without its DLC . Mirage is a much more compact affair, clocking in at under 30 hours. It also sees a return to the cradle of civilisation, being set in 9th century Baghdad, its story arc set even earlier in the formation of the Order of Assassins than the original game.

So early, in fact, that they hadn’t even come up with a name yet, settling for calling themselves the Hidden Ones, although their pointy-hooded robes will at least be familiar. Mirage also completely drops the modern day interludes, which were always the games’ low points, eliciting groans of derision when you were forced to spend dull minutes wandering around offices or exploring a 21st century building site without so much as a sharpened pencil, let alone the tools of a master assassin.

Your arch-nemeses, the Templars, are equally embryonic, calling themselves the Order of the Ancients. As usual, they’re in the process of finding parts to build an infernal supernatural machine, that hero Basim needs to put a stop to, pronto. If you recognise that name, it’s because he was last seen in Eivor’s camp in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, with this instalment telling his origin story.

In a departure from the standard formula, Basim is a kind of early detective, his missions framed as investigations where he’ll hunt for clues and evidence, before quietly bumping off anyone he discovers is connected to the Order of the Ancients. He eventually ends up looking for their head honcho, but in a mechanic last seen in Ubisoft stablemate Ghost Recon , he needs to find and eliminate all their lieutenants to unmask the real villain.

Another shift is a renewed interest in pickpocketing. Assassin’s Creed’s heroes have always been a bit light fingered, but in Mirage you’ll need to rob countless passers-by to acquire both money and the tokens you need to bribe merchants and officials. Amongst other things, they’ll earn you discounts in shops and reduce your wanted level, which slowly ratchets up as you commit crimes witnessed by the city’s guards and residents.

As in past outings, the setting is the game’s unsung hero, with old Baghdad looking jaw dropping as you gaze at it from a series of vantage points, which tradition dictates unlock portions of the map and act as fast travel points. Even at street level its bustling bazaars, gardens, and palaces – replete with glistening blue domes and climbable minarets – offer innumerable parkour routes and things to hide behind, making it a conducive place to explore and generally run amok.

Much else has been streamlined in the name of brevity, and an attempt to recall the original game more than the role-playing style sequels. Gone are the sprawling upgrade paths, replaced with three compact ability trees to unlock with skill points that are awarded for successful completion of main and side quests. These also unlock new tools, adding smoke bombs, traps and blowdarts to Basim’s sword, dagger, and throwing knives. They also let you improve his abilities, although none is particularly game-changing.

That’s partly because, from a few hours in, he already feels over-powered compared with the relatively modest threats you encounter. Using stealth, Basim can comfortably end the lives of dozens of guards, without even raising an alarm if you’re careful. Once you unlock smoke bombs even alert, heavily armoured guards are transformed into temporarily defenceless assassination targets.

Although the whole of Baghdad’s Round City, and its surrounding districts and countryside, have been lovingly modelled for the game, and come with the kind of recondite historical detail for which the franchise is justly famed, you’ll still find venues being reused across different missions. That’s mitigated by changes in guard patterns and events that change which areas you can access, but it’s still very noticeable.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage – the landscapes are beautiful (Picture: Ubisoft)

Even though there were no bugs at all in our play through, you’ll still notice the return of some rough edges. Traders gesture bizarrely as you’re talking to them, facial animation is sub-Starfield, and watching camels run is a case study in unintended comedy. It’s almost as though its art department completed the masterful beauty of old Baghdad, then packed up and went home before they finished the people and animals.

There are positives to the back-to-basics approach though. The end of an alarm no longer erases guards’ memories – now, if they spot you on the way back to their normal patrol routes, they’ll immediately give chase even though the alert is over. The voice acting is also very good, with special mention going to the inimitable Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays OG assassin, Roshan.

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There are some cracking missions too, with the game at its strongest when you’re methodically picking off entire prisons, palaces or libraries full of armed guards, in search of clues and eventually assassination targets. And if you’ve got a job, or worse, children, having a less bloated game that you actually stand a chance of finishing is a welcome change of pace.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a return to the franchise’s roots, both in scale and its Islamic Golden Age setting. It may not be as polished as Valhalla, but it is more accessible for time-strapped players, and once again makes the most of its setting by supplying an impromptu history lesson to go with all the simulated knife crime.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage review summary In Short: Assassin’s Creed gets back-to-basics with a shorter, more focused – if slightly less polished -campaign, and a return to an impossibly beautiful looking early-era Middle East.
Pros: It’s an Assassin’s Creed game you can complete whilst also having a life. Baghdad looks stunning and missions offer a decent amount of variety.
Cons: Zero innovation. Not as refined as recent instalments and at default difficulty the hero becomes an unassailable killing machine within the first few hours.
Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC Price: £44.99 Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Bordeaux Release Date: 5th October 2023 Age Rating: 18

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