Going into Assassin’s Creed Mirage I was excited to play a new AC game. We went from Ubisoft pumping these games out on an almost annual basis to the studio milking Valhalla through DLC packs, expansions and a so-called “live-service” approach. While this worked in Ubisoft’s favour making Valhalla the most successful game in the series, I don’t think fans would have wanted the same rinse-and-repeat experience given how time-consuming the past three games have been. Dare I say “The Assassin’s Creed series invented open-world fatigue“.
Ubisoft was well aware of the concerns surrounding the Assassin’s Creed series and wanted to take things back to their roots. Enter Assassin’s Creed Mirage – a smaller, simpler game that has traded large rolling hills and a large list of side quests for a dense city and a focused story. It works. Assassin’s Creed Mirage feels like it has taken the best of Valhalla, Odyssey and Origins and merged it with the same pacing and scale from the original few games.
This has resulted in an enjoyable action game that is not only approachable but also feels much more rewarding. Instead of a large map littered with a few points of interest here and there, we have Baghdad which is a condensed city with a few outer areas to explore. These areas are divided into different districts and each plays host to a number of simple collectables to find, one or two optional quests to work through and some stores here and there.
What made Assassin’s Creed Mirage so much more enjoyable was how it flowed. I found that even while undergoing the main quests and investigations in an area, I was able to tick off my list of side objectives without specifically paying attention to it. By the time I completed the game, I only had a handful of things to go back and do. It was not only a relief to see this list complete but I was also content with the time and effort I put into the game. There was no sinking feeling that I missed out on so much content because I wanted to move on to something new.
This is a feeling Assassin’s Creed has failed to deliver for a number of years now. As these games grew in scale, I could not help but feel everything was a bit more watered-down. Combat became tedious, exploration lacked excitement and the worlds started blending into each other. Mirage, on the other hand, shines thanks to its incredible pacing and world design. Nothing ever felt overly done.
Even the general gameplay such as tools and the skill tree felt like it was “enough”. I had a handful of skills, they made a difference and I invested a bit of time unlocking and mastering them. Sure, it put me into a box and the freedom of creating a truly RPG Master Assassin was lacking, but I play this series for the lore, parkour, stealth and assassinations. Creating my own dual-wielding axe Viking who can decimate an entire village in a few minutes isn’t really living the “assassin fantasy”. So again, I enjoyed how much simpler things are in Mirage.
One thing I especially loved in Assassin’s Creed Mirage was how its quests played out. Instead of a confusing quest list with tabs and other nonsense, Mirage adopts a spiderweb diagram-like investigation board. This board isn’t anything new and follows a similar approach seen in the Order Hunts from previous games. However, all quests are added here.
These are displayed in a circular format and linked to “people” which either come in the form of targets to kill or main characters who are assigned the quest. The outer circle then links objectives to the quest. Many of these come in the form of hunting down clues which in turn, unmask the target. Once a target has been unmasked and essentially killed, another diagram appears through another revelation made while undergoing the quest.
I know it is just a simple quest tree but I enjoyed the emphasis it put on investigating the happenings in the world around me. Of course, Assassin’s Creed Mirage follows Basim trying to take down the Order of the Ancients who have wormed their way into the various industries in Baghdad. This tree provided an excellent look at just how much corruption has taken place in the region. Be it by a slave trader who forced people to dig for treasures or a tax man who hiked the price of imported goods to fatten his own pocket.
Each Order member has their dirty hands in some function or another and Basim’s goal is to uncover how this happened, who else is responsible and basically just kill everyone who gets in his way. This gameplay approach follows other classic AC games but especially pays tribute to Syndicate and how London was gripped by evil people controlling how the city functioned. It is a familiar tale but it works given the overarching story of the series.
If you’re worried about catching up on the story before Assassin’s Creed Mirage, you don’t have to be. Ubisoft has tackled Basim’s story with enough room to expand the future and shed light on the past. Do you need to know what happened in Valhalla? I would say it helps a lot to understand Basim and will give you some insight into his motives but it isn’t vital at all. Assassin’s Creed Mirage felt like I was being introduced to a new character and most of the time, exploring their growth and journey to become the Master Assassin.
The game does an excellent job with this thanks to its prequel chapter but the real juice takes place throughout the game and even in the later story arcs. Of course, while Basim’s journey is important, Assassin’s Creed Mirage also focuses on the city and its narrative. For the most part, this is done with confidence but there are issues I need to address. Some quests felt a bit rushed and if anything, shallow. While the game tries to deliver strong lead roles for these Order members, it didn’t expand on these enough to make me hate these people. Other games have definitely done a much better job.
In the end, I was just mindlessly killing the forgettable Order of the Ancients members and moving on with my life. I wanted a bit more here. I wanted to see and feel their grasp on the city. Sadly, other than a quick interaction and a note here and there explaining some nasty stuff related to their agenda, the game doesn’t push this enough. Honestly, the Order doesn’t feel as evil and powerful as in other Assassin’s Creed stories.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage has also brought back the Black Box Mission layout. This means that when taking down certain targets, Basim can find different ways to approach this. While none of these get as exciting and opportune as Syndicate’s brilliant layouts, it is nice to have them back. It gave me the freedom to enter compounds the way I wanted to, create diversions I felt were natural and of course, take down the target on my own terms.
I did expect a bit more here though. While these missions are definitely not as linear as Valhalla, they end up following the same steps over and over again. I could hire a band of mercenaries to fight the guards using a Favor Token, pick up a key and go in the back door or just charge right in and kill everyone. There wasn’t any real “assassin-y” stuff going on here. Most kills were just Basim shoving his blade into someone’s head. There’s no poisoning food, no dropping a chandelier on someone’s head, no anything really.
With that being said, general combat and exploration in Assassin’s Creed Mirage feel great. Sneaking around is smooth and taking enemies down has never been more nostalgic. This is mainly due to the simpler combat and gear system. Basim can only equip a sword and a dagger. He can also only equip one outfit. These items all have perks and special abilities. They can also be upgraded only a number of times using the only three materials in the game (thank the heavens).
Tools also helped a lot. Throwing Knives can be tossed at enemies for an instant kill. Armoured enemies are resistant to them but an upgrade let me penetrate this armour. There’s also the smoke bomb which makes for a fantastic exit strategy. I basically only used Throwing Knives and Smoke Bombs. However, there are noisemakers, blow darts and traps. All these can be upgraded and improved. The perk system let me also equip a certain effect to the tool which drastically changed how it functioned.
It is a lot simpler than anything we’ve seen in the series for the past few entries but it works. Taking down enemies hasn’t changed. I could draw them closer to a hay barrel and kill them. I could toss a Smoke Bomb into a group and take multiple enemies down at once. Again, a familiar checklist of stuff but it feels incredibly nostalgic.
Of course, Assassin’s Creed Mirage does come with the usual hiccups found in all previous games. Some parkour movements feel like they don’t work sometimes, enemy AI is just horrid and could result in them mindlessly falling from a ledge and climbing back up while hunting you down. There are also those wonky facial animations when talking to NPCs. Even some main quest characters were a bit rough.
It is nothing we haven’t experienced in the series but it does raise some concern. While Assassin’s Creed Mirage is an enjoyable game, it still hasn’t really evolved from a technical point of view. Unity still had a parkour system unmatched in the series but it has since been dumbed down. With multiple Assassin’s Creed games in development, how far is Ubisoft taking those games to push the experience to the next level? Or will those games just be Mirage set in a different era?
Assassin’s Creed Mirage doesn’t break boundaries from a technical point of view at all. Even visually, the game is a bit dated. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have a simpler, smaller and more focused Assassin’s Creed game. But that’s all this is. It doesn’t deliver anything remarkable. Even with a break of two years (or however long it takes to get the next game out), I hope Ubisoft is planning some reinvention somewhere down the line.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a good time. It won’t drain weeks away from your life which is great news. Its new feature list might be lacking, or if anything, nonexistent but the game captures the magic of why we fell in love with the series in the first place. There’s no doubt that if you want to replay a modern-day version of Assassin’s Creed 1, 2, Unity or Syndicate this is the game you should pick up.
This Assassin’s Creed Mirage review is based on a code provided to us by Ubisoft. The game launches on 5 October for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. It starts at R960
Assassin's Creed Mirage
Assassin’s Creed Mirage successfully takes players back to the earlier days of the series but that also means it comes with all the good and the bad. The game in no way reinvents the wheel and in fact, is a bit dated to that degree but it captures the magic that made the series so great in the first place.