Gaming

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review: Steps back to leap forward

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After taking a year off from its annual release cycle, Assassin’s Creed is back. A newbie to the games swan dives into Assassin’s Creed Origins to see if the changes to the formula is enough to revitalize the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed is one of modern video games’ landmark series. It’s actually been a decade since the first game was released, which started off a hugely successful multimedia franchise spanning games, comics, novels, and even a Hollywood film.

Recent years haven’t been as kind to the brand, though. The annual releases on every platform eventually wore on critics and consumers, as review scores and sales dwindled after the peaks of the second and third main games. Ubisoft, the series creator, eventually gave Assassin’s Creed a one-year break before putting out this latest installment.

I mention all this because even as a games enthusiast, I went into Assassin’s Creed Origins having zero experience with the whole franchise.

Back to the beginning

For a series newbie, the setup is perfect. Origins basically tells how the Assassin Brotherhood, the secret organization that each protagonist from every game is part of, came to be. It takes place at the tail end of Ancient Egypt. The two pharaohs Ptolemy and Cleopatra are at odds over who should be the rightful ruler. Meanwhile, the threat of Roman imperial influence on the nation, spearheaded by Julius Caesar, hangs heavy over the embattled Egyptian monarchy.

Amid this political turmoil, you play as Bayek, the medjay of the province of Siwa, and the very last of Egypt’s ordained protectors. You are on a quest for revenge against a shadowy cabal planning on taking complete control of the country.

No other big budget game comes to mind that tackles this particular setting, so my interest was piqued, despite the rather messy intro. Fortunately, that interest blossomed into a mostly enjoyable 42-hour experience!

Gorgeous and gigantic

That enjoyment had a lot to do with how much I wanted to be in Origins‘ staggering simulation of Ancient Egypt. From the way sand blows in the desert winds to how sunlight gleams on the surface of the Nile; from the architectural apex of Greek and Egyptian antiquity in Alexandria to the fading beauty of Egypt’s capital Memphis; and from the artistic Hellenistic heights of Greco-Roman Cyrene to the ever-enduring mystery and majesty of the Pyramids of Giza, Origins renders it all in stunning fashion.

Even the depiction of life and culture in that age is impressive. Markets and ports bustle with merchants peddling wares and laborers working on galleys. Guards on horseback and chariots patrol cobblestone streets and escort traders across land and sea. A whole mountain village is dedicated to extracting salt for mummification, with the statue of Anubis, the jackal god of death, perched on a shrine overlooking the settlement.

So, even though I found the quests at the beginning to be worryingly banal, I sought them out just to learn more about the world. A good deal of them flesh out the overarching narrative, too, as they illustrate the villains’ tyranny manifesting in numerous, logical ways.

Likable leads

Bayek’s character shines through his interactions with the populace. I found that he could laugh at himself while still being fiercely passionate in his sense of justice and respect for tradition. Him being a father and a husband reflects on how good he is with kids and understanding of parents with family problems.

His relationship with his wife Aya is also refreshing. They are both extremely competent as warrior assassins and trust each other’s ability. While they share the goal of revenge, they each have distinct motivations that set their character arcs apart. Affection is something they don’t hesitate to show one another. They display moments of emotional vulnerability, but they deal with it maturely like you’d expect from a long-married, caring couple.

The rest of the cast doesn’t come close to this level of characterization, but this core pairing is solid enough that it made me want to see their story through to the end.

Gameplay is a grower

I’m grateful for being so drawn into the world and these two leads, as I wasn’t having a great time with Origins until I played way more of it. After unlocking more abilities, gaining more tools and weapons, and generally getting a hang of the mechanics, I eventually found the gameplay rewarding in itself.

While still having an action/stealth adventure foundation, Origins builds a light RPG structure a la Horizon Zero Dawn on top of it; you level up, get stronger, and gain access to more abilities. You can improve your gear with crafting materials you collect from hunting animals, dismantling equipment, or shopping at vendors. There’s a variety of weapons and shields with stats and unique perks, and they also have levels that determine their effectiveness.

Because Bayek’s capabilities are tied into hard numbers, I was frustrated on numerous occasions during fights and sneaking up on enemies that were just two or three levels higher than me in the early goings. I was still grasping the fundamentals of combat and stealth, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to get spotted while trying to sneak into a base, surrounded by multiple guards, and killed in the ensuing melee.

More demanding mechanics

The fighting system has been revamped, too. It’s reminiscent of Dark Souls in that you’re throwing measured strikes with your weapon while dodging or blocking incoming blows, and every button press has Bayek committing to whatever action you take. If you throw out a strong attack and miss, you will likely get punished with a counter-attack. There is no stamina to worry about though, with only slight pauses in between attack and defend animations to keep you from chaining infinite combos. You do have an “Overpower meter” that gradually fills up in combat. Once it’s full, it allows you to either do a powerful one-hit super move or speed up your every attack for a set amount of time, depending on what weapon you have equipped.

It’s not as tight and responsive as the Souls games, though. I struggled at the sluggishness of striking and the skittery enemy movements.

Going into a heavily guarded fort or bandit hideout, you have one major advantage. You can take control of Senu, Bayek’s trusty eagle companion, to fly over the map and mark locations of your quest objectives, enemies, treasure, and other items you can interact with. It’s critical prep work before entering hostile territory, but even then it didn’t feel like enough for me to confidently clear out encampments without alerting everyone in them.

But once I got comfortable with the controls and earned more abilities, the gameplay started to click with me.

Slow but satisfying surprise

Around eight hours and 15 levels in, I was better at sneaking past enemies and smarter at fighting them with fire bombs and warrior bows. 20 hours and 25 levels in, I was silently headshotting guards and slaying lions and crocodiles. 40 hours and 35 levels in, I was clearing out fortresses and palaces using sleep darts and poison traps and brutally executing entire garrisons with my assortment of legendary dual blades, spears, sickle swords, and staves.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is the perfect example of a lovingly crafted virtual world with a strong sense of place that is truly captivating, so much so that it carried me to discovering joy in seemingly simple systems. It’s a slow starter, for sure, but it turned out to be the biggest surprise for me so far in this year of stellar video games, and I’m glad I took the leap on Assassin’s Creed at the right time.

SEE ALSO: Middle-earth: Shadow of War review — System overload

[irp posts=”22808″ name=”Middle-earth: Shadow of War review — System overload”]

Gaming

Razer announces inaugural SEA Invitational 2020

Brought about by esports’ successful stint in the 2019 SEA Games

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Esports is seeing a steady rise in viewership as the COVID-19 pandemic kept everyone indoors. Gaming companies started rolling out their own versions of esports tournaments open to all players, whether amateur or professional. And after its successful stint in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Razer wants to take esports to even greater heights.

As such, the company announced its inaugural Southeast Asia Invitational 2020, an esports tournament for the best of the best. The tournament organizers hope to gather the best esports athletes across Southeast Asia to prepare them for the 31st SEA Games in Vietnam. It will feature a unique tournament format, and will kick festivities off on June 22, 2020.

The invitational will feature three popular esports titles, two of which were in the 2019 SEA Games lineup. Expect intense and hotly contested action as players take the field in games like PUBG Mobile, DOTA 2, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. All of these will be available for streaming on Team Razer’s social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

This tournament is also in partnership with Tier One Entertainment, supported by esports federations across the region. Those who wish to participate in the invitational should talk to their respective federations.

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Deals

New PS4 bundles, discounts on Days of Play 2020

Promo period is from June 3 to 16

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Photo by Fabian Albert on Unsplash

Sony PlayStation’s annual promo is back! Days of Play 2020 is here and it’s one of your best chances to snag a PlayStation 4 along with some fantastic titles from recent years.

From June 3, 2020 until June 16, 2020, customers can purchase the following hardware deals from PlayStation Authorized Dealers:

 

  • PS4 Slim (Model: CUH-2218AB01, 500GB HDD), comes with NBA2K20 and Gran Turismo Sport at promotional price of PHP 14,990 — SRP: PhP 19,990

  • PS4 MEGAPACK (Model: CUH-2218BB01, 1TB HDD) at promotional price of PhP 13,990 — SRP: PhP 17,990

  • PS4 Pro God Of War™ / The Last Of Us™ Remastered (Model: CUH-7218BB01, 1TB HDD) Bundle at promotional price of PHP 18,990 — SRP: PhP 24,990

  • PS4 DUALSHOCK 4 Wireless Controller at promotional price of PHP 1,990* — SRP: PhP 2,990)

A bunch of games are also discounted for the duration of the promo!

PS4 Software Title

Promotional Price (PhP)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,299
Death Stranding Standard Edition 2,095
Nioh 2 Standard Edition 2,095
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Standard Edition 1,955
Dreams Universe Standard Edition 1,495
Days Gone Standard Edition 1,495
God Of War™ HITS 765
The Last Of Us™ Remastered HITS 765
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™ HITS 765
Ratchet & Clank™ HITS 765

For more information visit this official Days of Play 2020 website.

SEE ALSO:
The Last of Us Part II official pricing and availability
Last of Us Part II has a Limited Edition PS4 Pro

 

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Computers

Microsoft Edge has a minigame you can play when offline

Surf’s up!

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Sometimes our Internet connection suddenly drops and we are lured to fall into a fit of rage. If you use Google Chrome, you must be familiar with the offline side-scroller game that has you avoiding obstacles as an 8-bit T-Rex. It turns out that Chrome’s offline minigame is so popular that Microsoft built its own for its Edge browser.

Just like Chrome, Microsoft Edge will suggest a minigame once you’re offline. Unlike Chrome though, there’s no visual indicator telling you that there’s some sort of a game that you can play to pass the time. The prompt for the minigame appears at the bottom of the error page. You have to click the button to toggle the minigame.

Edge’s minigame is actually much more sophisticated than Chrome’s. To begin the game, you press the spacebar and use the mouse or keyboard controls to guide the surfer safely across the open waters. There are a lot of obstacles on the way that you have to avoid. Once you hit an obstacle, you lose a life. Given that you have three lives in the game, you have more chances to score higher than Chrome’s dino game where you’re given only one life.

Of course, the game increases its difficulty by throwing more obstacles as you speed along. Later in the game, giant octopuses will try to catch up with your surfer. You can use various power-ups to outrun these obstacles. The game ends when you lose all of your three lives.

There are also three modes to choose from: “let’s surf”, “time trial”, and “zig-zag”. Each mode has its own mechanics, and the default one is set to “let’s surf”. Aside from choosing the modes, you can also choose from different surfers. Sadly, they don’t have any special abilities whatsoever.

If you’re eager to try out the minigame, you must update the Microsoft Edge to version 83. Once you go offline, you’ll see a prompt inviting you to play Microsoft’s new minigame. But if you’re really excited to play the game, you can type “edge://surf” in the address bar sans the quotation marks. From there, you can start playing the minigame if you fancy.

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