I think we can all agree that the original Assassin’s Creed was a cultural milestone. The adventures of Altair, the gorgeous vistas, the heart-pounding stealth, they’re all someone’s late 2000s fantasy. As with any seasoned IP, the Assassin’s Creed games have since branched out- we’ve gone to Italy, America, France, and even traded our secret arm knives for battleaxes and spears. While those games were fun in their own right, it makes sense that many players would yearn for a return to basics.
Enter, Assassin’s Creed Mirage. This game feels like your friend who returns from abroad a changed person, but retaining all their best qualities. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is this- not content to be a shallow “look we’re back in the original setting” victory lap, but rather a game that feels more like a celebration of the Assassin’s Creed series’ roots.
Back To Sneaking And It Feels So Good
The big selling point of Assassin’s Creed Mirage is the return to stealth-based combat. I don’t get to say this often- but I can relate to Basim, the main character, in that I too am not great at direct confrontation. The game really wants you to play him as a true Hidden One- that means no berserker charging or big brawls.
If you try to engage guards in the open, you’re in for a bad time- Basim’s actions cost stamina, meaning he can only dodge around so much before he becomes intimately acquainted with a guard’s weapon. The few times I tried to be violent became fast-tracks to the death screen- suffice to say, I got the hint.
Still, Ubisoft has made sure that the stealth combat is incredibly fun- I’m an especially huge fan of the Assassin’s Focus, which lets you chain kills. It takes out a lot of my biggest gripes with stealth gameplay- which is the incredible bloodlust that overcomes you when the game instead wants you to wait. It’s not like you can use it all the time- you fill up the Focus bar with regular stealth kills. But as I run around palace halls and the like, there’s always that one moment where it might be much faster to just have Basim chain his kills to get to the next area.
One of the biggest problems the stealth genre faces is always “well how many ways can you solve this problem then?”. Thankfully, Mirage answers this question with “Well, a fair amount”. You never really feel like you’re shoehorned into any one way of doing things, and the multitude of ways you do them are so much more than front-door vs back-door: rather than risk causing a commotion, I just hired a dude to cause a commotion for me, letting me slip in undetected.
It also meshes well with the parkour system- Baghdad is such a fun city to traverse, with a lot of focus on climbing tall structures. The control scheme works really well, and running along rooftops feels like the quintessential Assassin’s Creed experience.
Chaos In The Streets
It’s not just about doing missions, either. Like previous Assassin’s Creed titles, you’re free to roam the streets, pickpocketing guards and starting fights. It’s all culminated in what I’m surprised wasn’t really in previous titles- a Notoriety System, with different levels of aggression depending on the chaos you’re causing. There’s also pickpocketing, which adds a pretty fun minigame element to the game that ends with the cops called on you when you screw up.
There’s more to it than just summoning guards to you when you’re naughty, however- at a high enough notoriety level even ordinary citizens will turn into snitches- tattling on you to the nearest guard. At it’s peak though, you’ll have full-on mercenaries after you, and they’re not to be messed with. Hunting down wanted posters or bribing a certain NPC will help take the heat off you- but prevention is the best cure and you’ll want to just keep to the shadows to save yourself the embarrassment of being sniped while you try to steal someone’s wallet.
As someone with open world fatigue, I love how much more focused Assassin’s Creed Mirage is compared to previous titles. It’s not huge and sprawling like Valhalla was, but yet it’s still open in a way that feels good. There’s plenty of secrets to be found, like upgrade recipes to build better gear for Basim, but not in such a way that it feels like you’re in yet another loot grinder, doing dungeon after dungeon for gear that you can just throw away if it’s not got the right stats.
One way it does improve on the old Assassin’s Creed formula, however, is the return of the skill tree. Similar to Valhalla there are multiple skill trees at your disposal, all complementing different playstyles. Rather than needing to grind skill points via wanton murder, though, you get them by completing quests. As much as I don’t care for the RPG side, having one tied to quests rather than grinding fights is definitely the most palatable way to do it- I wanna be living my best life as Basim, not playing GTA Abbasiyah.
Like I said at the top of this, it’s incredibly refreshing to have Assassin’s Creed Mirage return to its stealth-action roots. Baghdad is a great setting for the game, lovingly created in ways the original Assassin’s Creed could have only dreamed of all those years ago. Running around stabbing people in the back or blowdarting them is also way more fun when it’s the primary mode of combat for the game- you can really feel the effects of the extra effort they put into cleaning up stealth rather than worrying about direct combat having to feel up to par with it.
Admittedly, going from Valhalla’s “For everyone” approach to Mirage’s “For stealth lovers” flavor is going to be jarring- some of us simply can’t contain our violent urges and getting punished for it is going to be about as fun as being sniped by a rooftop guard.
But after years of the series pushing for this “everyone has a way to play” approach I’m glad to see the series start to specialize again. It’s a testament to how much higher the highs can be with a more focused direction. It reminds me of those earlier entries, how it felt running around stabbing guards but with all the fleshed out competence that modern Ubisoft can afford.
Game reviewed on PS5. Review copy provided by Ubisoft
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Assassin's Creed Mirage
- A great stealth system
- Beautiful and authentic rendering of Baghdad
- An RPG system that rewards gameplay, not grinding
- If you're here from the action era of the AC series, you may feel frustrated
Assassin's Creed Mirage