There’s no denying that Assassin’s Creed Origins was a huge hit with a lot of people at this year’s E3. After taking a short break from the series, Ubisoft took in the problems of past iterations to create a new, original story that goes all the way back to the origin of the assassin’s brotherhood in ancient Egypt.
We were so intrigued with the game’s inspired lands, amazing characters, and interesting gameplay that we had to sit down with Assassin’s Creed Origin’s Lead Director Ashraf Ismail to dig into the sand and uncover as many secrets as we could.
Assassin’s Creed Origins seems to be a fresh start for the franchise in a lot of ways. New controls, and mechanics are just the start. What was the idea behind going against the formula that was previously there compared what it is now?
We started this project three and a half years ago, so it was right after Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag. When we finished Black Flag we started this game, and in the early days the questions we were asking ourselves was “what kind of experience do we want, what kind of game do we want to make?” We were making an Assassin’s Creed game. So we wanted to make something that was authentically Assassin’s Creed, but the experience was drastically different. The experience of Assassin’s Creed has been reinvented. What that means is, when we talk about experience we’re talking about world structure, narrative structure and gameplay.
When we talk about authentic Assassin’s Creed, this is the idea that let us to the birth of the brotherhood. So this group that we know from Assassin’s Creed 1, this group has lasted for 2000 years in our lore. What is the origin of that group, how was it so powerful that it gave birth to this group of people. To tell the story we needed an epic setting, a time period — what happened in the world that cause this. So we knew it was going to be before the original obviously. It’s been a dream of ours to do Egypt — ancient Egypt, specifically. We started looking at ancient Egypt right away, it’s sort of made sense somehow. And when we look to Egypt, there’s 3000 years of history. And we look at different time periods: what we found is the further back you go, the closer to the building of the pyramids, the issue was the rest of Egypt was quite empty. So what we landed on was 49 B.C.E. which is at the time of Cleopatra’s ascension to the throne.
What we felt was this was an amazing time, because it already has centuries of grandeur and accomplishment baked into it. There’s a lot of stuff for us to play with. There’s a lot of mysticism and fantasy. Those elements of ancient Egypt are still alive. Having said that, it’s at the beginning of its demise.The idea is when this old world and the new world clash out of of this crucible, is where the brotherhood comes to be. It felt like a natural epic tale that was well mixed with the setting. We wanted to make sure that it’s not just any story that could have been told in any setting. The story of the birth needed to be told in this time, in this location for a major region. So we worked hard to learn all those elements.
"Bayek is our protagonist. The thing with Bayek is that he is a magi, which is an ancient line of warriors who were efficient warriors, efficient fighters."
Is this going to be the beginning of a new continuing series like the original – possibly a trilogy? Or is it going to be a single story like what followed after Assassin’s Creed 3 with Black Flag, Unity, and Syndicate?
For now, we have just announced the game. Our goal is focused on shipping, telling the story of the birth of the origin of the brotherhood, and telling our protagonist’s story.
What can you tell us about the protagonist, how does he differ from Ezio, Altair, or even Arno?
Bayek is our protagonist. The thing with Bayek is that he is a Magi, which is an ancient line of warriors who were efficient efficient fighters. They knew how to fight different styles. But they were also compassionate to the people of Egypt. They help the people of Egypt, the people of Egypt came to them for their help. Bayek himself, he has sympathy and compassion for Egyptians, but he’s weary of outsiders. He believes in the rituals, and the police structures of ancient Egypt. But he holds onto the ghost of the past.
The idea of Bayek is that he is the physical embodiment of ancient Egypt. In the story that we’re telling here: if he represents ancient Egypt, what does he need to do or become when his world is dying, when the new world is coming, and to survive in this new world — what does he need to become? So this is the journey that we go on with Bayek, and it’s a journey that leads to the birth of the Brotherhood. He is a highly reactive person, is how I like to describe him.
When life is good it’s amazing, he’s happy, he laughs. But life is bad he’s highly reactive, highly emotional but he has compassion and sympathy for people. He’s also a protector. His capacity to fight is very powerful.
"We wanted players to be able to cat and mouse with the AI much more. As an example you have a torch. You can take out your torch, throw it, a guard will investigate. You can throw it into a haystack and create a big bonfire which will attract a lot of guards. "
How have the stealth aspects in Origins evolved from previous iterations in the genre?
Talk about convert a lot, but stealth has gone through a lot as well. First, one of the major ones I think will surprise people is that we’ve added a big action RPG element to the game. The reason we did this is that we wanted to support the different play styles that we know people like to play in Assassin’s Creed.
We now have a progression system that supports – if you want to be a warrior, great. You have abilities, you have equipment,, you have crafting. If you want to be a stealthy assassin you have abilities, you have equipment, you have crafting.
If you want to be a ranger with a bow, all of that is still good for you. You can mix and match, you can make the kind of hero you want. It’s really the players” choice. In terms of style, what that means is if you want to be that assassin, that’s able to get a one hit kill, you have to dedicate yourself to it. You have to craft it on ways. You have to get abilities that support you to do that. It’s not just sneak up behind the person. That’s in terms of damage. In terms of the actual mechanism of stealth, we’ve change the whole detection system, how it works.
We wanted players to be able to cat and mouse with the AI much more. As an example you have a torch. You can take out your torch, throw it, a guard will investigate. You can throw it into a haystack and create a big bonfire which will attract a lot of guards. The idea is that there is an organic blend to the environment, you can mess with the guards and allow the player to sneak in. We played around with all of that stuff.
What is the most defining factor of Assassin’s Creed Origins that you believe will appeal to both old and new fans?
I think the world of ancient Egypt itself is the most magnificent world we’ve ever built. I really hope I say that without any arrogance, I said that out of pride for our engineers, our artists. This was a big undertaking for us to be able to build this world. I’m not just talking about the physical aspect of it, I’m also talking about the lore aspect, how do we engrave the mysticism of the world, the mystery that is naturally embodied within when we think of ancient Egypt. How do we integrate that into the world and have it be meaningful to players, meaningful to the birth of the brotherhood.
We’ve worked very hard, that’s why we’ve taken three and a half years. Egypt itself, I think it’s magnificent, beautiful, it looks amazing in 4K. It’s an homage to our talented developers. But it’s also the stories, all the quests, all the characters your mate. There’s some really wonderful moments. I hope people get lost in the world, are in awe of what they discover. We fill the world with secrets and discoveries, and magical little moments.
We took a lot of pride building this world, it’s take us three years to build this world. I hope it will blow everyone out of the water, and that they’ll be lost in this world, in awe and grandeur.
Is Origins coming to Nintendo Switch?
We’re shipping on Xbox, Xbox One X, PS4, PS4 Pro, and PC. No Switch plans.