Video Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Mirage
Behold, the city of Baghdad.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 16 years since Ubisoft launched its first Assassin’s Creed game back in November of 2007. It wasn’t perfect, but we enjoyed the idea, the excellent graphics, and the feeling of clambering through Jerusalem and Damascus. Over the years, the series has changed and morphed into something that often rarely resembled the original. Perhaps feeling it had strayed too far from its roots, Ubisoft is scaling back the open world concept and rededicating the focus to stealth with Assassin’s Creed Mirage.
Series veterans will immediately feel at home with the controls, particularly in terms of moving through the world as you climb, scramble, and jump across rooftops. As ever, there are some legacy issues where you can get stuck climbing something you had no intention of climbing or jump off something to take some fall damage, but it mostly works effectively.
Combat feels different, and it’s designed to dissuade you from taking on too many enemies at once since they don’t take turns attacking you, and it’s very possible to get overwhelmed when a third or fourth foe joins the fray. It’s pretty straightforward as yellow attacks can be blocked while red can only be dodged, though the timing can be a bit tricky. Larger enemies can only be damaged from behind, too. Unlike recent games, however, there are no levels to worry about, so any enemy can be confronted at any point.
Visually, Mirage is a good looking game, though not a showpiece. The synchronizing of viewpoints, a staple of the series since the beginning, doesn’t pack the same wow factor as it used to. Paring down the world does make it feel more lived in, though, which is nice. Voice acting is fine for what it is, but there aren’t any memorable performances. In fairness, that has more to do with a lack of interesting character development — and that goes for both sides of the aisle with neither the heroes or villains being compelling. They just sort of exist.
Set in ninth century Baghdad, Mirage tells the story of Basim Ibn Ishaq, who made a previous appearance in Valhalla. When the curtain lifts, Basim is a street urchin, stealing to survive in the small city of Anbar. He aspires to join the Hidden Ones, which leads him and his friend Nehal to sneak into the Caliph’s palace to procure an artifact wanted by the Hidden Ones (and the Ancients). While swiping the item, Nehal kills the Caliph, forcing Basim to flee the city with the help of the assassin Roshan, who guides him to a fortress to train.
These events set the story in motion, but most of the game takes place once a fully trained Basim ventures to Baghdad where he learns that the Order has five agents in place that are using their influence to effectively rule the city. Their identities are unknown, however, so you’ll need to investigate, completing objectives until you’re able to identify them, at which point the Hidden Ones will send you to assassinate them.
In terms of structure, it’s a decent system, bringing back some of the earlier games’ objectives like following targets or eavesdropping to get information. The primary assassin missions play out almost like boss fights, requiring you to infiltrate a larger structure and make your way through a heavy enemy presence to reach the target. Within that you’ll be presented with various ways to make your approach that can lean more heavily on stealth or action, depending on how you want to proceed.
It’s far more streamlined than recent Assassin’s Creed games, though it does offer some incentive to explore and branch out beyond the main storyline. There are chests to open that contain exclusive weapons and armour, viewpoints to unlock, books and artifacts to find, and even a limited number of side stories (albeit brief ones). How much of that you decide to pursue will determine how long you spend in Mirage, which can be comfortably completed in less than 20 hours.
As noted, leveling has been removed, so there’s no incentive to engage in pointless combat, especially since loot is no longer a thing, either. While you can find a handful of different swords and outfits with unique abilities, none of them are dropped by defeated foes. Upgrading them and your selection of tools (e.g., throwing knives and smoke bombs) is done by collecting raw materials that can be bought from merchants or found in chests. Bottom line, if you found the open-world structure of the likes of Valhalla and Odyssey to be overwhelming, you’re likely to appreciate these changes.
If you wanted to call Assassin’s Creed Mirage a return to form for the series, you wouldn’t be wrong. It absolutely feels like a departure from the recent titles and a callback to where things began over a decade ago. That doesn’t mean it hits all its marks, though. The characters and story fail to add an emotional connection, and without that, the satisfaction of assassinating a target feels muted. Long-time fans of the series should still enjoy it, however.