DLC Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins The Hidden Ones

Yeah it’s quite good. It’s more AC Origins; sidequests, assasinations, treasure, stone circles, just in a microcosm. So if you’re into that, snap it up. Cheers.

Ahem.

The first story DLC for AC Origins is upon us, ostensibly showing the titular Hidden Ones developing into the Assassins. I say ostensibly because that part of the story is only touched upon; there isn’t much story at all really, it’s just Bayek taking out Roman lieutenants to smoke out their boss, in the Sinai region. Along the way he decides that the Assassiden Ones shouldn’t kill civilians, which they didn’t anyway, and crucially does not come up with that stupid “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” motto that’s hung around as welcome as a bin bag you forgot to put out. It’s set four years after the end of the main story, a change made seemingly just to facilitate the reappearance of the Scarab’s son, last seen as a child but now somehow a young man who looks just like his father. Aya also makes a return with a cool new outfit, but adds very little to the overall plot, and it all ends on a “Yep, good work gang, I’m away” note that makes the whole thing seem like a wasted opportunity. Bayek has an Assassin Outfit now though, so that’s cool. Not as cool as the Egyptian Hedj I wore as my own impromptu Assassin’s robes, but still.

Gameplay wise there’s nothing new; as I briefly outlined above it’s just more AC Origins, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Bayek’s still a great protagonist I enjoy playing as, the balance of stealth, ranged kills and solid combat still works a treat and exploring tombs and the like is still satisfying. The DLC also raises the level cap by five, and all the sidequests give you massive amounts of XP, and there are two new Phylakes under a different name and who are much easier to kill.

I’m at a slight impasse with The Hidden Ones. I’ve realised that I prefer Bayek as a Medjay, travelling Egypt helping people, and that the more rigid framework of the Assassin Brotherhood does not suit him nearly as well, at least in my opinion. So I enjoyed the lack of any solid, meaningful progress for said Brotherhood in this DLC, but at the same time that’s what it bills itself as, and as such is a wasted opportunity. If you’re specifically interested in the development of the Assassin Order you won’t get much from this at all, but if all you want is more AC Origins then this delivers. It’s just not a whole lot for the price, and that’s the main thing holding it back regardless of your views on the story.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Stranded in Banality – Thoughts on Metal Gear Survive


I suppose this piece was inevitable really, much like the game itself. Following the departure of Kojima and Konami’s threat disguised as reassurance that it’ll keep the series going, Metal Gear Survive was announced. Konami’s big plan for keeping an iconic, long-running series going now that its creator has fled the company? Zombies. Turns out when Mother Base was destroyed at the end of Ground Zeroes Big Boss, Miller and co flying off in the Miserycopter were, as it turns out, mere seconds away from being sucked into a wormhole and thrown into an alternate reality in which everything is the same but there are zombies. Not that the undead and the supernatural are entirely new to this series; MGS3 had The Sorrow, and Phantom Pain had enemies that were for all intents and purposes zombies, but their mere presence isn’t really the issue. The issue is how safe and depressingly inevitable it all is. Like it or loath it Metal Gear Solid has been something truly special all these years, and Konami’s bold new step post-Kojima is to chuck a load of no-name MSF soldiers into a desert full of zombies and crafting (because of course there’s crafting), the go-to way to “mix things up” from 2010. I’m not even angry about it, I’m just weary about the whole thing. But at least it’s not another Pachinko machine.

I have, at the time of writing, had some hands-on time with it via the beta, and it’s done nothing to change my mind. Admittedly the game is clearly designed with co-op in mind, because playing it single player is an uphill battle on roller skates. The beta only shows off “Salvage Missions”, in which you dig for energy (the use of which I am currently unaware of) and protect the digger from waves of zombies, using weapons, blockades and turrets to keep them at bay. Unfortunately I never had the materials necessary for anything other than wooden or metal mesh fences, which can barely hold themselves together. Actually playing the game feels familiar with the old MGSV control scheme (with a few completely superfluous changes to layout) feeling as good as it ever did. The downside is that what Phantom Pain did best, stealth and infiltration, has been stripped out; in the first mission (the only one I could play without being ganked by high level zombies) there’s one enemy to stealth kill on the way there, a few to clear out then it’s right on to horde mode. MGSV’s controls are fine for a fight but it’s not what they were designed for, and to shift the focus completely to action does it no favours at all. Fortunately trailers have shown what appear to be excursions into occupied territory with the aim of rescuing people and recovering resources/equipment, and those look like they might be quite fun. The most recent trailer also shows off some rather involved attacks with outlandish melee weapons (no CQC though, which just seems strange) and a story; the scene shown involves a mass MSF funeral, and some unseen figure apparently being “key to all this”.

In all honesty I don’t think the game looks bad, just like a wasted opportunity. Had they made a game about MSF struggling to deal with the destruction of Mother Base and the disappearance of Big Boss, then coming together to form Diamond Dogs, that would have been fine. I personally don’t need to see that story, but I would have looked forward to that game more than this one; I just think throwing in zombies and alternate dimensions seems like a knee jerk reaction to a problem Konami themselves have created by choosing to make more Metal Gear games. Anyway, I’ll be getting it for review, so I’ll have more to say then. In the meantime while I’m not looking forward to it, I do think it’ll at least be harmless, and given who I’m dealing with that’s something at least.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review


Assassin’s Creed is a series I love more than it deserves, I feel. Sure, some of them are excellent, but Ubisoft pushes what love those instalments generate and stretches it thin with yearly releases hampered by little innovation or even change, and peppered with glitches. II, Black Flag and Rogue were revolutionary for the series as a whole. Everything else was a holding pattern with varied results; a pair of Frye Twins here, a cool old man Ezio there keeping me invested. Syndicate was the peak of that run of AC games; glitchy, largely uninspired gameplay, historical figures crammed with largely embarrassing results, and a futile insistence that the future part of the story line will eventually be worth paying attention to. I enjoyed it for the most part, but even I knew it was time for a change; for the series to take some time off, regroup and come back strong. So here we are with the fruit borne from exactly that: Assassin’s Creed’s Origins, the best the series has been in years.

As the name implies, this is chronologically the first game in the series, taking events all the way back to 48BCE, Egypt. Cleopatra’s brother is doing a pretty awful job of running the country, she’s in exile and looking for a chance to take the throne, and the Greeks are in charge, to the detriment of Egyptians. Caesar’s Rome is at the door, and things are in turmoil. In the middle of all this is Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay who has sworn to hunt down and murder every member of The Order of Ancients, a masked and highly malevolent group who are responsible for the death of his Son Khemu. As a Medjay Bayek is a sort of Detective trained in hand-to-hand combat, archery and freerunning. He does a lot of killing soldiers and rescuing kidnapped civilians, but there’s also a fair bit of looking for clues, fighting off rogue animals and just generally being helpful. Helping him in his endeavour is his equally lethal wife Aya, who is currently in the Cleopatra’s service, and whom the player controls a few times for weirdly out of place ship combat. The game’s plot never really gets any more complex than that setup: Bayek travels from town to town in a frankly enormous open world, then towards the end the story gets more involved and the whole “origin of the Assassin Brotherhood” thing takes the forefront. This part of the story is a lot weaker than everything that came before it; its political intrigue and reveals fall flat, and having ended on a bittersweet but touching note, the game keeps going for another half an hour or so and then ends again in inferior fashion. The plot is strongest when it follows Bayek cutting a murderous but noble path through a beautiful, well-crafted Ancient Egypt. This is the first Assassin’s Creed game to actually inspire me to do further reading and research into the era it depicts. Rather than use its time period and culture as a backdrop and excuse to dump a load of historical characters in Bayek’s path, it ingrains those things into the story. The Duat, the Field of Reeds, the Ka, Sobek, Anubis, Sekhmet and Osiris; these things are not merely paid lip service, they are key parts of Bayek’s story. They weave a different spin on the traditional revenge narrative; yes, Bayek is on a hunt for those responsible for Khemu’s death, but not merely to take an eye for an eye. His journey is motivated by a burning desire to help his Son’s soul move on to the Egyptian afterlife, something he feels cannot happen with Khemu’s killer drawing breath. Bayek is a true believer in the Egyptian Pantheon, and it factors into his role of Medjay; he is as man steeped in the culture and belief of Ancient Egypt, and willing to shed blood and risk his own life in the aid of his country and its people. It was this, alongside their general level of quality, that made it so easy to pick up and complete side missions. Role into a town to inquire about the next Target, find five or six people in trouble, offer help. Sidequests are short and snacky, and usually involve finding and killing people and/or rescuing a prisoner. Mini versions of the base infiltration and assassination stuff you get up to hunting The Order of Ancients.

Gameplay wise, this is the new benchmark for the series, although it does have issues. Freerunning and stealth haven’t really changed, which is fine; they got those both sorted in Unity, with just a few niggles that have been ironed out. Being spotted by an enemy doesn’t alert anyone else, there’s a clear threat indicator, and the freerunning is now controlled with one button press and the left stick. The biggest change is to the combat, and equipment. It’s a “Division”-style RPG now, in which the player and enemies have levels, attacking them makes numbers fly out of their heads and if an enemy is more than two levels higher than you the game recommends giving them a wide berth. Combat places no emphasis on parries (though they are present, but only offer a slight advantage), instead Bayek’s combat style is looking for/creating an opening and then battering enemies into submission. Bows play a large part in both stealth and combat, with different types available: a regular bow that can be charged, a sniper bow aimed in first person, a rapid-fire light bow and a sort of shotgun bow which fires several arrows at once. Giving Bayek the edge is his Eagle Senu, whose eyes Bayek can see through for reconnaissance purposes. Basically, she’s the way you mark enemies in traditional Ubisoft style, and finds objectives once you’re within a certain range. All of this works really well, for the most part; stealth bolstered by Bayek’s ranged options and dealing with any raised alarms with an upgradeable, scaling range of melee weapons is a good mix that deals with most situations. Issues arise primarily if you venture into missions beyond that two level range; they’re possible, but difficult. The problem is that while normally fine, the checkpoints can sometimes place you back at the start of a huge, gruelling battle you barely managed to scrape through, only to be cut down by a random goon who just so happened to be passing on horseback. Also the hidden blade can only be used on unaware enemies, and if the enemy is too high level it doesn’t kill them. Now, this makes sense if taken purely in the context of an RPG, but it is rather stupid to stab and only wound someone with a blade that will outright kill the man standing right next to him. That’s it for my issues though; for the most part it’s an enjoyable open world game with good stealth and combat.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is the best the series has been in years. Having slowly degraded into a factory assembly line open world title with a new coat of paint each year, the time off did it the world of good. Rather than just have a big city populated by people to stab and historical figures embarrassingly crammed in regardless of whether or not they fit, Origins presents a beautifully designed, excellently crafted Ancient Egypt, a very human, character based story steeped in the culture and trappings of the time and a very noble, likeable protagonist. This is what Assassin’s Creed needs to be going forward; a series where each game is given the care, attention and time it needs to just be an all-round enjoyable experience. Plus you can climb a Pyramid and slide back down the other side. It’s ace.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Game of the Year 2017

Much like last year, 2017 was a good year for games. Once again it’s a list of five, in order from bottom to top. I played a lot of good games this year, and it was a little tricky to narrow it down to five. First though, honourable mentions:

Honourable Mention #1: The Evil Within 2
The original Evil Within had a few good ideas, but they were ruined by an avalanche of terrible gameplay mechanics, design choices, and those few good ideas being run into the ground. It was, for the most part, total shite. Imagine my surprise when its sequel turned out to be a solidly made horror action game that ironed out most of its predecessor’s flaws. Its story was engaging, its characters actually had something for a player to work with, and its gameplay was no longer a frustrating, punishing mess. This is the game the original should have been, and while not as good as a certain game in the top five, it is an enjoyable horror game, and one of the biggest surprises of 2017 for me.

Honourable Mention #2: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Yeah, I know. I know it’s that standard musou gameplay of cutting down literally hundreds of enemies, to the point where they offer no real threat, in large, sparse environments. But you know what? I got a real kick out of it; I wanted a game where I got to play as Guts, cutting down soldiers and demons, and now and then fight a villain from the manga, and that’s exactly what I got. It’s really quite good actually; it follows the plot of the manga surprisingly closely and makes the most of the musou trappings to do so, playing as Guts feels good, and some of the boss fights are genuinely great, particularly the fight with Zodd on the Hill of Swords. There were better games released this year, but I personally had a really good time with this, so I had to at least give it a mention. Title’s still stupid though.

5: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

In a year when saying how shit Nazis are somehow became just one side of a debate instead of the accepted truth, a new Wolfenstein was more than welcome. As I said in my review it felt like a combination of two games: an epilogue to The New Order, and its sequel, The New Colossus. The former is a dark, sombre tale of a man racing towards death, falling apart at the seams and doing as much damage to the Reich as he can with the time he has. The latter is a pulpy, over the top tale of slaughter and revolution, and the two halves combine to form a game that alongside DOOM represents the current gold standard for first person shooters. It takes risks, it gives the player room to explore and get to know the characters and their plights, and it layers it all on a bedrock of slaughtering Nazis. The only things holding it back from a higher spot are its short length and the slightly jarring shift in tone between the two halves, but neither of those aspects stop it from being one of the best games I played this year.

4: Yakuza Kiwami

Two words: Majima Everywhere. Sure, it’s a remake, and Yakuza 0 did wonderful work for everyone’s favourite snake skin-clad mad cyclops, these points I cannot deny. But Kiryu’s story in 0 is generally weak and largely superfluous; existing primarily to bring two important characters together. It also causes some issues for the original game, and as a prequel to Kiryu’s story it doesn’t really add anything. Had it just been Majima, it’d be on this list with no questions asked, but as it stands I prefer Kiwami. Its story is tight, focused and the central conflict between Kiryu and ex-best friend Niskiyama is solid. In particular how the game treats Nishiki as a foreboding presence, looming in the background with power and influence of an unknown extent before you finally confront him. The style system carried over from 0 is still great, as are the new finishers, and the graphical overhaul is lovely. But it’s Majima that steals the show, expending time, effort, money and the manpower of seemingly his entire family purely to restore Kiryu to his former Dragon of Dojima greatness. Goro Majima truly is a beautiful gift, and he must be cherished.

3: Mass Effect Andromeda
People give Andromeda a bad rap, in my opinion. I’ve seen people treat the game as a complete and utter failure; a disaster of epic proportions from which the series can never return, and I don’t get that at all. I genuinely loved Andromeda, for the most part; its new crew were all delightful (particularly best girl Vetra, pictured above) and its story of unified races expanding into the unknown, teaming up with the Andromeda natives to save their new home was great. The combat was pretty much the same as it always is in this series; functional but not particularly exciting, though that was helped by the new boost jetpack thing built into protagonist Ryder’s suit. But it really came down to the crew of the Tempest, who I enjoyed spending time with at the expense of everything else in the game. Much like Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, mentioned above, I got what I wanted, and that was enough for me to really enjoy the game. I wanted more Mass Effect with new characters, I got just that, and I will happily defend this game and its place on this list. It has its issues, namely that terrible sudoku minigame, but I really enjoyed Andromeda and I am hungry for a sequel.

2: Resident Evil 7 Biohazard

Ah Resident Evil. Just when I thought the series was long overdue either a reboot or being taken out back and shot, RESIDENT EVII. BIOHAZARD (Or if you’re in Japan, BIOHA7.ARD RESIDENT EVIL) as the box art insists it’s called comes along and singlehandedly saves the entire series. Simultaneously fresh and classic, Resi 7 brought back a big scary house full of puzzles, bizarre locking mechanisms and prowling monsters, but switched to a first person view and focused the events on a family of nigh-invulnerable swamp folk. The humour’s back, it’s genuinely creepy again, and it’s so nice to play a horror game that puts so much stock in good environment design, both mechanically and aesthetically. The only downside to the main story is its weak third act, in which the player is forced to run around a grounded boat while plot happens, then loses all their weapons and has to run around it again looking for a way back out. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but those first three-quarters of negotiating the Baker estate and fending off southern-fried horrors are so impeccably paced and designed that anything of even slightly inferior quality sticks out like a sore thumb. The Baker family are characters that will stick with me, and Resident Evil 7 will too, both on its own merits as a masterful survival horror and as the exact thing this series needed, coming out of nowhere to save the day in a way I never saw coming. It absolutely deserves a spot on this list, and for a long time it was number one. Were it not for what’s coming next, it would win hands down, but as it stands it gets a well deserved silver medal.

1: Persona 5

As far as I’m concerned, it could only be one game. Resi 7 had the top spot comfortably until I played through this absolute juggernaut, a game that’s a serious contender for my new favourite, and certainly one of them at least. I’ve already written a lot about this game and why I love it so much, so I’ll try to keep this brief: Persona 5 is a sublime mix of style and substance, as rewarding to play as it is beautiful to look at and listen to. 2017 had a lot of excellent videogames throughout its duration, but none of them resonated with me, engrossed me and gave me the level of sheer enjoyment as Persona 5. Whatever you’re doing, whether it be breaking into fortress-esque physical manifestations of people’s minds, maintaining the game’s “Social Links” with the protagonist’s friends or just attending school, everything is given the same care and attention, and every moment of the game is a gem. That’s why Persona 5 is my game of the year, and why it’s a game I’m really glad I took a chance on.

Well that’s 2017 all wrapped up in a NEAT LITTLE PACKAGE. As I said it was a great year for games, and narrowing down this list was hard, even factoring in honourable mentions. 2018’s looking good from where I’m sitting; Red Dead 2, Persona 3 and 5 Dancing games, Far Cry 5 and Yakuza 6 are all on the way. I’ll get to them all throughout the year, but next on my list is Assassin’s Creed Origins, which will be up soon.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18