| Played on a PS5 and CLX Gaming PC |
When Ubisoft announced their upcoming AC projects and their focus shifting back to its core DNA, I had questions on whether or not they would adopt what made AC Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla so great. I reviewed Valhalla and gave it a 10 because to me it’s a forward pushing sequel that iterated in almost every facet of its core gameplay loop; a solid foundation for future projects to build upon. I still think that’s the case and believe that core identity AC originally had can flourish in their new approach. AC: Mirage tends to lean on certain strong points in that regard, while treading the line of completely eliminating everything they worked so hard in building with the newer versions of AC — doubling back to what it use to be up until Syndicate. To a lot of OG fans this is great news. However, during my 25hr plathrough, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of its dated gameplay philosophy that ultimately hindered my anticipation of this mainline sequel.
The story of Mirage revolves around Basim’s ascent within the ranks of The Hidden Ones, the early incarnation of the Assassin Brotherhood. His mission is to eradicate The Order, a clandestine group corrupting the heart of Baghdad, all while chasing down a mysterious Isu artifact. The pacing of the narrative aligns well with the traditional Assassin’s Creed storytelling seen before AC: Origins
Voice acting in Mirage varies from good to average; I’m not really a fan of the VO change for Basim from Valhalla’s Carlo Rota to Lee Majdoub — I can see why they may have made the change, but Carlo led such an iconic presence for the character that Lee just can’t seem keep up — he definitely did a commendable job, just not enough. Shohreh Aghdashloo makes a magnificent appearance as Roshan, Basim’s master and to me that’s the saving grace for the overall performance in Mirage. Dont get me wrong, the cast did a good job at being serviceable, but most of the time it was just above average. Ancient Baghdad comes alive with pedestrians engaging in conversations though, enhancing the overall immersion – the sheer number of characters on screen is reminiscent of AC Unity. There are repeated conversations across the city’s districts that can make exploring feel a bit monotonous, but nothing too jarring.
A special surprise for me was the inclusion of Alamut, a significant location for dedicated Assassin’s Creed fans, which adds an extra layer of excitement to the narrative. It connects the game to the broader lore of the series, sort of solidifying its connective nature.
One aspect that left me perplexed were some of the unusual decisions made by Basim during the campaign; when on assassination missions, he would share his name with seemingly dangerous looking individuals, or would leave key items alone for The Order to reclaim — it felt odd and counterintuitive to his role; at no point did he show that his character appeared to be naive. Coupled with the lack of modern-day story aspects outside the Animus. While I understand Ubisoft’s approach of having the players feel as if they are experiencing the Animus directly, the absence of a modern-day plotline is disappointing, to say the least. This omission detracts from the overall appeal of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage — I get it’s a ‘smaller’ scaled game, but it still feels odd.
Golden Age Resurfaced
Mirage brings players to the vibrant tapestry of the Golden Age of Islam. Set in Baghdad within the 19th century, the level of fidelity truly shines here. Despite the scarcity of historical records due to the Mongol invasion, the game’s meticulous research and attention to detail is thorough, offering players a pretty authentic dive — but this is expected given that the developers always put extra effort into realizing historical locations. Again, the inclusion of Alamut, even in its construction phase, is a testament to the developers commitment to weaving the Hidden Ones’ narrative into the broader historical context of the era.
I must preface that the reconstruction of ancient Baghdad is a triumph in world-building and storytelling. Each section of the round city boasts a distinctive ambiance and architecture, with a commendable effort to minimize asset reuse. This fosters a sense of immersion that’s equal parts deserving of the AAA name on a small package like Mirage. While there’s a noticeable recurring pattern in pedestrian behavioral algorithms across the districts, this doesn’t detract from the overall grandeur. Unlike some games, the seamless transition from the bustling city to the desert plains, complete with lush vegetation and oases creates a juxtaposition thats pretty captivating. While the map’s scope doesn’t quite match the expansiveness of Valhalla, it still dwarfs the size of any original Assassin’s Creed format by several miles.
I was pleased to find that exploring Mirage was just as thrilling as Valhalla or Odyssey. Thankfully, Mirage follows the standards set by these games. The per-object motion blur and decent use of ambient occlusion in lighting brings Baghdad to life — I would love to see Raytracing, especially Path Tracing, be implemented into the PC version. As it stands though, its great. The use of light penetrating certain fabrics and leaves lends a layer of depth to the environment that’s nice to explore in. Can’t say the same regarding character animations and models however — seems like the developers weakest point and something I hope gets worked on. It’s an odd thing to have their stiffness be ever present when surrounded by high quality graphical elements. Core plot moments are done well enough, its just the in-betweens. Basim’s model is just way off regarding his upper region — seems very cartoon-ish. Again, serviceable but not ground breaking for the franchise.
The gameplay in Assassin’s Creed: Mirage merges the core stealth mechanics of the original AC design with the smaller-scale RPG elements and exploration that have become staples in recent iterations of the series. This fusion is most evident in the incorporation of stats on armor and weapons, leveling gear, cosmetic transmogrification, and skill tree.
The skill tree plays a role in building your playstyle, however the real game-changer are the tools and gear stats. These additions to combat drastically alter the player’s approach, offering a level of customization that feels distinct. For example, blades can be imbued with elemental properties or the ability to corrode bodies, rendering them undetectable. Smoke bombs now have versatile applications, from healing the player to poisoning or causing enemies to forget they were ever seen. Gear becomes a pivotal factor in gameplay dynamics. Unique armor sets can stun nearby enemies after an air assassination or, after a set number of strikes, poison a foe and subsequently spread the poison to adjacent enemies upon their demise. My issue is the reliance on finding specific schematics to upgrade gear; it definitely hindered my progress to a slow grind on a already slow game. Vendors provide the means to replenish tools and upgrade existing gear, although the option to purchase entirely new equipment is nonexistent.
While Mirage still offers opportunities to uncover secrets related to the Isu, the depth of these discoveries is not as robust as one might hope. This aspect could have been further developed to enhance the game’s overall narrative depth. Mission structures remain true to the series’ late iterations with players receiving clues regarding the whereabouts of their targets, followed by investigations to narrow down their location and ultimately planning an assassination. The formulaic nature of these missions provides a reassuring consistency, ensuring that fans of the franchise will feel right at home.
Side missions, obtainable from the Hidden Ones’ hideout, add additonal and expected flavoring to the overall package — these missions derive from requests made by pedestrians and are often fetch quest/protect the target and/or obtain an item from some stronghold. Additionally, the Baghdad Stories component brings an element to your exploration, aiming to feel fluid and dynamic.
Accessibility options in Mirage are as robust as expected from the series. The ability to eliminate most on-screen icons provided me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the visual experience, eliminating any distractions.
Combat sees a significant step back, with timing taking a major hit. It’s very clear the focus is stealth as that mechanic works most of the time. But when you’re discovered and ready to defend yourself, the lock-on and R1 button is ready for you to Dark Souls your way through victory. However, there’s no ability to block attacks; you’re left with needing to parry and dodge while the enemy throws unblockables into the mix with no clear indication of what’s happening next. So you can imagine how it plays out when surrounded.
Doesn’t help that enemies can not get stunned when attacked, so they will often hit you in the middle of yours. Remember when I mentioned animation issues? Especially true in combat — Basim often attacks like a second after input, which disrupts the flow often. With no way to change fighting styles with different weapons, the overall combat just feels minimal. Subsequently, there are no consequences of getting caught aside from Notariety — plot has zero effect on target outcomes. It’s designed to feel like the player can have the freedom of approach, but when everything but stealth doesn’t function right, the game can ultimately feel unpolished.
REVIEW SCORE: 7.5/10
AC: Mirage attempt to return the franchise to its core while trying to maintain what the late iteration does so well is commendable — exploring Baghdad and taking down The Order is fun to do with Basim; there’s a decent amount of things to do, however the lack of any modern-day plot points and minimal Isu aspects makes the overall package feel smaller than it is.