I’ve had a problem for months now, maybe even years – a total lack of drive to play video games.
Now, that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed gaming, nor that there haven’t been games I thought were incredible, but I’ve not wanted to play them for very long. The most significant games for me in the last couple of years have been story-driven, 10-15 hour campaigns. I pick up a new game, I power through its story until completion and then I stop. If that isn’t my last interaction with the game then I am often plagued by an urge to go back and play it again on X difficulty or to unlock Y equipment. I turn on my console, start up the game, and within 10 minutes the urge is gone and I walk away.
This all-too familiar scenario played out during my experience with Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Then one day, something happened. The cycle broke.
I picked up Origins on day one, and began plowing through the main story, fascinated by a setting I fell in love with as a child, overwhelmed by next-level visuals and endeared by the depth and versatility of the characters. By the time I had become fatigued of the game, around 15 hours in, I hadn’t even completed the core story mode. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the story or that the game had an inherent flaw that pushed me away, I had simply just had enough.
After what must have been a month I decided to return to the game, fully aware of how disappointed I was by the fact I had failed to complete an Assassin’s Creed game I loved so much, for no comprehensible reason. I have always loved Assassin’s Creed, the franchise, the world, all of it – yet I felt like I had failed it. I went back to the game out of a peculiar and pressuring sense of duty, I felt like I owed it to the game and its developers to finish the story, get the very basic meat out of this incredible work of game design, and then that would be the end. I could walk away from it now knowing that whilst I would had done the bare minimum, I would at least have ticked the main box.
But during that final 5-10 hours of main story, something happened. As I became held back by the level requirements and forced to grind to be able to do the next story mission, I started getting involved in side quests more than any game I have ever played. Initially, this was out of necessity to level up, but as time went on I started to realise how much detail and thought had gone into this game. How each side mission actually meant something. How each character Bayek interacted with had a story to tell and a (fictional) life to lead. A life that that Bayek had enriched simply by trying to be a good man. It comes to something when a fictional character in a video game can teach us so much about ourselves and our own reality.
Once I started thinking about the world I was experiencing that was so very different, yet recognisable from our own in this way, I started to appreciate the wider environment for what it was too. The barren sands and ruined structures I had spent hours traipsing across in search of my next story objective marker I now recognised as locations with meaning, with history.
Tens, maybe hundreds of question marks on my compass had been ignored on my travels, prioritised lower than the gold quest marker with the knowingly empty promise to myself that I would go back and revisit them. Now these question marks had become my new fascination. Some were more basic than others, offering new loot to find or an enemy camp to clear, but for every one of these markers came two that had stories behind them. A location that meant something to someone, a murder to investigate, a forgotten place to explore or a personal lesson for Bayek – a man who despite being so experienced in life, still had so much to learn.
Being as I am, with my whole world involving and surrounded by games, my next curiosity naturally came when my growing attention to the details of Origins began to notice mechanics and functionality in the game that I hadn’t fully appreciated. Dropped weapons sinking in the sand, Bayek’s limp after taking a hard fall, the different footstep sounds when you change outfits, the heat haze on the desert horizon – these minor yet impressive touches are what makes these games all the more believable.
Noticing these details prompted me to seek the counsel of the internet, in case I had missed anything else, and I was stunned as to how much had gone unnoticed. The eyes of your mount perfectly reflect what is in front of them if you zoom in close enough. The seawater disperses blood, soaks clothes and discolours stone. Getting shot in the leg can make Bayek trip up. Vultures will feed on dead corpses in the desert. Hieroglyphs you see in the game have actual meaning.
Now of course you wouldn’t expect to necessarily notice all these details as conscious observations, and therein lies the beauty. These deliberate inclusions add so much to the experience so believably that that they just gel into the world without drawing attention to themselves.
When I play this game now, around 45 hours deep into Assassin’s Creed: Origins, I don’t play the game for completion, to tick boxes and level up. Each foray into this beautiful realisation of Ancient Egypt is one of discovery, to learn new things about an era long passed, and one of appreciation, for the technology we have and the people who use it to create experiences like this.
Thank you, Ubisoft, for an Assassin’s Creed game without Assassins, and an experience that made me want to play video games again.