Xbox One, PS4, PC, iOS, PS5, Xbox Series X
October 5, 2023
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has undergone quite the genre shift in the last decade. After a few years of middling releases from 2014 and 2015, the franchise rebirthed itself anew with new RPG mechanics, like levelling up with XP, sidequests in the triple digits, and large skill trees that allow you to customise your gameplay. The focus was shifted from stealth and more towards action adventure. The shift was massively successful, with the most recent games all receiving critical acclaim, but personally, I didn’t prefer this new genre. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is the first new game to break the trend to return to the franchise’s roots, and it does so with style and grace. Though there is room for some improvement, it’s a great chance to jump back into the franchise.
Set in 9th Century Baghdad — about ten years before he appears in the events of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — Assassin’s Creed Mirage follows the fledgling career of Basim Ibn Is’haq, the future leader of the Assassin bureau in Constantinople. The main story begins with Basim as a young street thief and shows how he is recruited into the Hidden Ones to investigate a ring of puppet masters who control Baghdad from the shadows. There is absolutely no content set in the modern-day; Mirage is purely a historical story to exposit a bit more about Basim and his origins.
All missions are designed with stealth in mind. Basim needs to pickpocket, backstab, hang off the side of buildings, and hide in many, many bushes to assassinate his targets. You can distract guards by paying for the services of mercenaries, merchants, or musicians, but you can get by without them if you want to go it alone. One new addition is an “investigation” tab, a conspiracy board-like screen that displays your current targets and their relationship to the bigger picture; it’s a nicer way to display your quests than a simple list. To identify your targets and fill out your board, you have to investigate actual clues out in the world, which feels more involved than in previous games. Basim has an eagle companion who can help him spot some clues, but not all, and it’s a little inconsistent with which clues can be spotted and which can’t.
“Those who prefer the old Assassin’s Creed games will find a lot to love about Mirage.”
Those who prefer the old Assassin’s Creed games will find a lot to love about Mirage. The map is big enough to be a joy to explore, but is not so big that it becomes tiresome, and the freerunning mechanics that allow Basim to parkour uninterrupted feel natural and easy. There are a smattering of sidequests and extra collectables, but not enough to bog you down with indecision.
The game focuses on the main story, without any multi-hour detours, and consists of Basim picking off a chain of underlings and investigating their connections to the larger members of the Order of the Ancients. The main story moves fairly quickly and takes about 20 hours to beat, with another 10 if you want to complete all sidequests. It’s totally serviceable and enjoyable, with enough intrigue and reveals to keep you engaged, though I wouldn’t call it mind-blowing.
You don’t need to have played Valhalla to enjoy this story, as it is completely unconnected to Basim’s actions in that game. It’s almost entirely a self-contained story, but that becomes a problem later on when Mirage hurriedly tries to connect Basim to his identity in the future. In its attempt to keep its story concise, I fear it may have over-corrected and rushed this important explanation. Those who have played Valhalla won’t learn much more than what they could have already surmised, and those who have not will simply have no answers at all. Basim himself is perfectly likable, if a bit mild for a protagonist. It’s hard to imagine Basim carrying multiple games like the iconic Ezio Auditore.
As always, Ubisoft has spared nothing when it comes to bringing the setting to life. Every inch of Baghdad is depicted in exquisite detail. Famous buildings like Bagdad’s House of Wisdom are rendered with perfect accuracy, and I even appreciate the wide open areas of desert or river deltas that have nothing otherwise to do but marvel at their beauty. The game includes warm tones of orange and yellow to convey the desert heat, but there are also inclusions of vibrant clues and greens.
History fans will be pleased to know that there are many historical sights to visit and learn about, which add mini history lessons to the game’s database that you can browse at your leisure to learn more about the history of Mesopotamian life in the 9th century.
An Assassin’s Creed of yore
The gameplay is pleasingly similar to Assassin’s Creed 2 – through – 3. You are free to explore where you wish, with no loading zones to speak of, and you can climb almost anything. There is no levelling up or XP, only skill points that are awarded for completing main story quests or select extra missions. These points are used to unlock a modest skill tree, all focusing on expanding your skills at exploration or stealth, refocussing away from melee combat. Even the combat is a throwback to AC 2, with a limited set of attacks that rely heavily on parrying attacks for opportunities for a one-hit KO. I don’t mind this, as if you get into a fight, it’s most often because you failed at stealth: it’s more or less a punishment for being caught. That being said, there were just one or two situations that annoyingly insisted on a fight, which seems to contradict this concept.
The main stealth missions most often involve infiltrating a house or palace with the goal of assassinating someone inside, which is exactly what you might expect. Everything works as it should, and the difficulty is not too punishing while maintaining a fair margin of challenge. However, it lacks the variety in scenarios and missions some previous games have offered. Where were the tailing missions, the “don’t be seen” missions, and the unique building layouts? Maybe it’s just rose-tinted glasses, but I seem to recall previous AC games having more on the menu. Mirage’s buildings and palaces share a bit too much in common to stand out from one another — the same entry and exit strategies, the same places to hide. The available side missions have a bit more variety, but it would have been nice to have them in the main storyline. Despite the lack of variety, the missions are put together solidly.
I was pleasantly surprised by Assassin’s Creed Mirage. It must have taken a lot of restraint to pull back from making enormous RPGs to offer a game with a fraction of the playtime and content on purpose, but the end result is simply a good Assassin’s Creed game. Ubisoft has proven that even after a decade, they are still good at the original Assassin’s Creed formula, and I am excited as hell to be back on the AC train.
- Return to classic Assassin's Creed 2-style stealth gameplay
- Historical detail is on point as always and looking incredible
- Decent amount of content that doesn't outstay its welcome
- Main story seems slightly rushed and doesn't explain much about Basim's identity
- Main missions could have used more scenario variety
Assassin’s Creed Mirage might be a smaller experience than the mammoths that have preceded it, but that doesn’t make it lesser. Clocking in at a decent 20-30 hours of streamlined gameplay and story, it’s a great return to form to the stealth-focused days of Altair and Ezio. While the main missions could have used more variety, it’s encouraging to see that Ubisoft hasn’t forgotten the franchise’s roots.