Everything old is new again! That’s…that’s a saying, right? We’ll go with it. I think the point is that sometimes old treasure gets dredged up, has a new coat of paint slapped on top of it and ends up presented as something new. That might sound bad, but it can definitely work; look at the revival of turn-based, pixel-focused JRPGs, for instance.
Now Ubisoft’s long-running Assassin’s Creed series is giving that a shot as well, leaving behind the massive open-worlds of Origins and Odyssey, and Valhalla with Assassin’s Creed Mirage, bringing back old-school gameplay and adding some newfangled flair.
It’s not easy being a thief on the streets, but it helps if you’re good at it. That’s what Basim, the star of a gang of rough kids in ancient Anbar and a fan favorite character from Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, thinks about the situation, at least. With those kind of skills it might be possible to step up and claim a better life..but Icarus tells us what happens when people get a little too close to the sun. Without getting into it too much, one of Basim’s jobs goes bad and, for his own safety, he ends up joining the Hidden Ones, the ancient predecessors to today’s Assassins. We follow Basim as he takes the fight to the Order in true sneaking-and-stabbing fashion, hitting up the city of Baghdad.
It really is true sneaking-and-stabbing fashion, too, since Mirage takes a step away from recent AC entries’ push toward an action-RPG experience. When you assassinate somebody in Mirage, you can feel pretty confident they’re going to die without needing to switch on an option in a cheat menu to make that happen. It’s simultaneously a nice throwback and a little bizarre after three games of number-crunching madness.
Mirage’s simplification extends to most aspects of the experience. Gear offers perks rather than stats, collectibles are present but not omnipresent and Assassin tools are more straightforward throwing knives and smoke bombs rather than godly runic powers or some such. Mirage ends up having more in common with Hitman than Darksiders, a stealth playground where success is based on creating and exploiting opportunities rather than farming up the best gear. Victory comes from understanding the environment and opposition and making them work for you.
In other words, Mirage is a lot like AC1 and 2. It’s also got more than a little in common with the Batman: Arkham games. Basim’s adventures are all about digging up leads and acting on them, after all, so there’s a little more investigation and a little less village-raiding and church-plundering compared to something like Valhalla. Missions play out like mysteries with each hint falling into place and building up to a big heist, typically an assassination sandbox where you’re free to approach the mission as you please.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly terrible about the previous AC trilogy. YouTubian pearl-clutching about an overabundance of content aside, these were entirely acceptable games that allowed for a variety of gameplay styles. By contrast, Mirage succeeds by playing particularly hard toward stealth. Basim’s a capable fighter, but he’s going to struggle against huge groups, so you’re encouraged to thin the crowd and avoid open conflict if at all possible. Luring out a target and taking them out in cinematic fashion is as satisfying, if not more so, than wading through the bodies to reach them.
While the gameplay might be spicy and fresh, the classic AC focus on gorgeous graphics remains present and accounted for in Mirage. The deserts and streets of Baghdad look as great as you’ve come to expect. Toss this baby on a nice PC and enjoy the show. Likewise, sound and voice acting are top notch, with Basim (voiced by Lee Majdoub) himself serving as a great example of an unlikable chode of a character that grows more likable as you spend more time with him.
It’s always a gamble when a series makes sweeping changes, and we’ve seen that twice in very recent memory with Assassin’s Creed as it shifted to the new paradigm, but Assassin’s Creed Mirage returns the series back to its more stealthy fundamentals. It’s also nice when that gamble pays off and we end up with two enjoyable flavors of game. Even dedicated fans of the action-RPG trappings of recent Assassin’s Creed games would do well to check out Mirage – it’s a great example of how the classics still hit just as hard.