The hotly anticipated Assassin’s Creed Mirage is coming out very soon, promising a welcome return to the stealth-and-dagger gameplay of the series’ earlier entries. We had the chance a few weeks ago to play a few hours of the upcoming title ahead of its October 5 launch, which only got us more excited to experience the full release.
We were also invited to Mirage’s launch party in Sydney on September 28th, and given the opportunity to interview Narrative Director Sarah Beaulieu, who hails from Ubisoft Bordeaux. Sarah has a history of writing and doctoring scripts for stage and screen, entering the games industry in 2019 and working on Beyond Good & Evil 2 and a number of interactive VR projects before taking on Assassin’s Creed Mirage. We had a blast chatting to her about narrative structure, working with actors, and Shakespearean tragedy. The following is a summary of our conversation, edited for clarity of reading.
Mirage has been described as a bit of a return to the series’ roots, with more of a focus on the core “assassin experience” – can you tell us about what prompted that shift in direction, and how that might have impacted the storytelling?
Yes, absolutely. So maybe you know already, but Mirage started as a DLC for Valhalla. We wanted to take Eivor to the Middle East (that’s something that happened, Vikings did go to the Middle East!) and this was something that core fans really wanted to go back to. After a few weeks, we thought that going back there with a Viking sounded a bit… underwhelming. We talked with the core team about the fact that Basim came from Samarra, near Baghdad, and the idea came from here to pitch a standalone game to HQ. It was an opportunity for our team to lead our first standalone Assassin’s Creed title, and we thought: what if we went back to what we knew from the first game? Our team all played and knew the earlier games, so we wanted to revisit the mechanics and story of the time.
The more recent games (Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla) are open worlds, which makes it difficult to build narrative gates or develop characters. What we pitched with Mirage was a mixture of both worlds: you have Baghdad, which you can wander around in, but on the other hand the game’s beginning and ending are linear. You have a single evolution, a single character. We linked the mechanics of becoming an assassin to the mechanics, with Basim getting more and more skilful but also more haunted by his nightmares. Yes, there is choice within how you go about completing assassinations and in who who choose to target next, and you can jump between some narrative arcs, but the end of each arc is gated narratively in that you feel like you’re moving on as a character.
You begin the game playing as a character that is 17 years old, and as you play through Basim’s tragic tale he gets older and moves further towards his final fate, which you sense even as you explore the open city. In contrast to Valhalla, which is left open for you to keep playing for a long time, Mirage has a definitive ending.
When you went about telling a new story in a franchise like Assassin’s Creed which has decades of lore and history, did you find this restricting on your storytelling in any way? Or was it helpful to have something to build from?
I wouldn’t say it was restrictive, but it is very complex. It’s a challenge not to make mistakes because we know that fans will get any mistake! They find everything, it’s terrific. So we wanted to be careful to be accurate to both the series’ lore and to real-life history. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a game with lots of notes to the franchise in general – not just to the original game, but to titles across the series. We’ve got Easter eggs and references that I know most of the fans will get, and we needed to make sure that they made sense with the lore.
As well, I really wanted the game to be approachable for people who never played Assassin’s Creed. The key thing about the series is helping people learn about history and historical characters, so we worked closely with our team of historians at Ubisoft. We also engaged external experts to come and advise on specific topics – we’re tackling some complex subjects, such as slavery in 9th century Baghdad, so we needed to get an expert in to make sure we were as accurate as possible. So while we have our references, and Basim has his own existing role in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, we considered it very important to stay true to history where we could.
A significant part of the recent Assassin’s Creed titles for many gamers were the romantic relationships you could pursue. Tell me, can I kiss boys as Basim?
You actually can’t kiss anyone! That was something that was a choice from the beginning. Basim doesn’t know who he is and what he’s doing in this world, which is something very universal that I wanted to tackle. We didn’t have any room for romance, so you can’t kiss anybody, I’m sorry!
You do get this sensation of Basim as more of a lone-wolf, particularly as an assassin in the streets of 9th century Baghdad. The soundtrack in particular reinforces this – we chose not to translate every language that you hear, so you might hear snippets of Turkish or Arabic as you explore, and it all adds to this feeling of being a lonely assassin in a dense, busy city. You’ve got interactions with people in the city as part of the Tales of Baghdad, side stories and encounters that sometimes feature actual historical figures.
These build out the world more, since the story of Mirage is condensed and some characters from history wouldn’t always fit its tone. We had this idea that we’re creating a Shakespearean tragedy. Compared to something like Valhalla, which had a fair few moments of levity, Mirage tells a story with a darker, more sombre tone. As the player, you get the feeling that you’re driving Basim closer and closer to certain doom – which might not feel easy at times! It’s one of the things I love about writing for gaming, those experiences where you as the player have to make the difficult decision to move forward even though the story may be hard on a character you like. It’s what makes narrative in games so compelling.
I know it’s a big question, but do you have a proudest moment from the development of Assassin’s Creed Mirage that you’d like to share?
Yeah, I have a couple! What I like the most is working with actors in general, and in this particular case working with Lee Majdoub (voice of Basim) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (voice of Roshan). Hearing them doing their first live read in the recording booth was a very, very intense moment, because that’s when the characters really came to life. It’s a weird feeling – I don’t know if you’ve seen this very old Frankenstein movie? When you hear “it’s alive!” Yeah, it’s basically like that – something that just exists on paper suddenly take a form. Lee and Shohreh both did an incredible job.
It’s a bit of an emotional project for everybody – we had this responsibility to make it as authentic as possible. I’m not from the Middle East, but we have people on the team checking for authenticity in accents, scriptures. We really put ourselves in this project – there are a lot of personal stories coming into the game, and I’m proud of what we achieved as a team. The 9th century is something that people don’t really know about. We learned a lot, and we hope that players will learn a lot too.
The launch party for Assassin’s Creed Mirage was a spectacle. Impeccably dressed cosplayers roamed the venue, bringing a romantic and threatening presence in their wake. Atmospheric guitar music underscored conversations between fans and influencers, who could get snaps of themselves getting stabbed by assassins at a photo station. A storyteller told Tales of Baghdad all night among comfortable stools and cushions. Sarah was interviewed onstage after a new trailer played, reinforcing the intimate journey this game took with her and her team. She said that Basim as a character reflects so much of herself, and the team placed artifacts inside the game that had personal significance to their relationship with Basim’s story.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage launches on October 5th. We’re excited to see what unfolds in this love letter to a classic gaming franchise.
Ubisoft flew the journalist to Sydney for this interview.