After years of being more RPG-focused, many fans felt the series lost its identity. Assassin’s Creed Mirage looks to take the franchise back to its stealth roots, but is that too good to be true?
Game Name: Assassin’s Creed Mirage Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (Reviewed), PC Publisher(s): Ubisoft
Developer(s): Ubisoft Bordeaux
Release Date: October 5th 2023
DLC or Something More?
Mirage originally started life as a DLC expansion for Valhalla, which is vital to know because Valhalla’s events are crucial to the story that plays out in Mirage. In Mirage, you take the role of Basim, a street thief living in Anbar, a town near Baghdad, during the 9th century. The opening hours of the story are reminiscent of Aladdin, but it’s also a nice twist on the old Assassin’s Creed troupe of having to catch a thief during the prologue. After Basim and his friend Nehal have a robbery go wrong, Basim is rescued by Roshan, a Master Assassin of the Hidden Ones. From there, what plays out is a decent, if typical, Assassin’s story. That is until the end, when you will have no clue what is going on if you haven’t played Valhalla and know what becomes of Basim in that game, with Mirage acting as a prequel. Mirage is more than just a DLC and can be played without finishing Valhalla.
Thanks in part to the fantastic setting of Baghdad, which may be my favourite setting in the franchise so far. It has the nostalgia of the first game, but it’s so much more than a nostalgia act. The city felt alive more than in any Ubisoft game, with each district having a unique feel. From bustling markets to quiet libraries and more, I haven’t even mentioned the wilderness around Baghdad. It holds some interesting secrets in its deserts, jungles, and villages. I had a wonderful time exploring this beautiful world, but I hear you asking, “How’s the gameplay?”
The Creed Is Back!
Well, the creed is well and truly back! Almost immediately, you’ll notice that Mirage feels like a much smoother version of early Assassin’s Creed games. The parkour has returned to being more puzzle-like; you can’t just climb anything. For some, this will be a negative, but I always found it much more engaging, having to think about where I was moving two or three steps ahead. It is somewhat disappointing that it’s not as free-flowing as Unity, which had the best parkour by a mile, but it’s a massive step in the right direction. This change makes movement about more than just traversal. When you assassinate a target, you can’t just run away up a random wall. You need to think about where you’re going and how best to escape the area.
Master Of Stealth
Speaking of assassinations, I’m ecstatic to confirm that one-hit assassinations are back. Like the glory days, you can clear out a base with nothing but your trusty hidden blade. The game actively encourages you to play stealthily and gives you the tools to do so. Throwing Knives, Blow Darts, Smoke Bombs, and more will help you get your targets without anyone knowing you were even there. It’s a delight to play, though the AI isn’t the smartest! Even its Assassin Focus super-like ability that allows you to mark enemies and pull off a chain of assassinations in a split second doesn’t stop it from feeling more like Assassin’s Creed than the likes of Valhalla or Odyssey. Ubisoft has, however, learned some valuable lessons from those games to tweak the formula in Mirage.
Starting with combat, while not as deep as the RPG Creeds, it does take notes from the control schemes. With attacks being on the RB and being able to lock on with a click of the right stick. This control scheme helps make combat flow better than the early games. When it comes down to it, after well-timed parry using LB, you can instantly kill most enemies with a click of the right stick when prompted. Carefully, as you can easily get overwhelmed by more than a couple of guards, and not all can be attacked from the front. So, dodge around them with the X button and heal when needed by pressing down on the D-Pad. Ultimately, this game doesn’t want you in combat. That is made clear through its well-crafted design, with areas having multiple ways in and out and many hiding spots.
Mirage also learns what not to do from Valhalla. Gone is the never-ending tree of skills and stat buffs; three simplified skill trees are in their place. One focused on assassination abilities, another on tools, and the other on improving your trusted eagle Enkidu, whom you can use to mark enemies and find specific items. You may think, why are bird improvements or unlocking more tools hidden behind skills when they could be story moments? I think it is partly due to Mirage’s lack of leveling but wanting to retain a sense of constant progression. Again, it’s not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction for me as someone who found Valhalla’s skill tree overwhelming.
Alongside skills, you can upgrade outfits, weapons, and tools with the right resources. You get these resources by finding them in chests and completing contracts, like small side missions to assassinate someone or retrieve a specific item. Once you have enough resources, go to the tailor for outfit upgrades and the blacksmith for weapon upgrades. Each outfit and weapon has three levels, giving an increasingly strong buff, from less noise in stealth to healing after a kill. Remember that you have to pass specific points to get the scrolls for these upgrades. Tools are slightly different in that as long as you have the resources, you can upgrade them anytime at one of the bureaus. Each tool has three tiers with multiple augments available, but choose carefully, as you can only have one augment from each tier. For example, I often select extra capacity for my tier one upgrade, but I could have additional range or something else. My favourite upgrade was having my throwing knives make my foes disappear!
One fundamental change to gameplay is the addition of these faction tokens, which allow you to get help from the citizens of Baghdad in many different ways. Use merchant tokens to get discounted prices in shops, or ask a merchant to sneak you into a base. Power Tokens can be used to clear notoriety or just rip down wanted posters like the old days. You can use these Power Tokens to get rebels to help you attack a base. There are also scholar tokens, but the only use I found for these was getting information out of people. I used them far less often. Luckily, you can get tokens in chests or simply by pickpocketing people. You’ll never be short of them if you pick everyone’s pockets! They can also be rewards for different contract missions.
I mentioned it earlier, but the city of Baghdad and its surrounding areas are beautiful! They are so stunning that, unfortunately, the typical Ubisoft dead-eye NPCs stick out like a sore thumb. Main characters like Basim don’t escape issues either. In some scenes, they look fantastic; in others, the clothing and skin texture seem to have a LOD problem, but they never pop in later, leaving things blurry and muddy at times. This issue takes away from what I would say is one of the best-looking Assassin’s Creed worlds.
However, I can’t mention the characters without discussing two brilliant performances. Firstly, Lee Majdoub (Agent Stone in Sonic) knocks it out of the park as Basim. I could feel his pain at times, and I felt his internal conflict, his fear. Majdoub delivered it all expertly. Similarly, Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Expanse, Arcane) nails the wise, stoic mentor figure of Roshan. Every scene with her was captivating. These two stand out above every other performance. I’m not saying others were bad; these two were exceptional.
Music To My Ears
I’ve talked about the visuals and the acting, but the audio, particularly the score, impressed me the most. It makes some interesting tweaks to the iconic Assassin’s Creed sound and theme, which make it feel uniquely from the time period and the setting of Baghdad. Combined with great FX throughout the game, I felt like I was in the world multiple times; while playing, I would stop and listen to everything around me. Of course, hearing that iconic theme will always be music to my ears regardless.
Playing on Xbox Series X in Quality Mode, locked at 30fps, was flawless, and the 60fps mode was also a near-constant lock. I had no bugs during general gameplay. My only technical issue was the level of detail problem during some cutscenes.
For some players, Assassin’s Creed Mirage may feel like a step too far backward, but for me and many others… it’s a leap full of the heart and soul of the franchise. Its more streamlined systems, shorter run time, and focus on stealth are deeply refreshing. If you are a fan of traditional Assassin’s Creed and you’ve missed them in the last eight years. Mirage is absolute for you; dare I say, it’s a must-play. It’s just worth knowing that if you haven’t played Valhalla, you will get a bit lost and confused by certain aspects of the story here. I believe this is a return to form for a franchise that had lost its way and forgotten who it was.
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Assassin’s Creed Mirage Review - Too Good To Be True?
It may be too much of a step back for fans of the RPG-focused recent games. However, Assassin’s Creed Mirage delivers an experience that successfully takes the series back to its stealth roots, finding its heart and soul again, which makes it a must-play for any traditional Assassin’s Creed fans.
Condensed Run Time (Limited Bloat)
Parkour More Engaging
Tools Better Than Ever
Story is reliant on key knowledge of Valhalla to an extent
LOD issue in cutscenes
Combat Less Interesting
Assassin’s Creed Mirage Review - Too Good To Be True?