Mirage is a culmination of 6 years of massive franchise changes that feels like Ubisoft decided not to learn from.
Assassin's Creed is a franchise that has undergone a lot of change throughout the years. In the very first game where, if we can be honest through our nostalgia, we were shown a world where assassins travel between locations completing the same 3 tasks endlessly until fighting over a magic apple. From there the series exploded in to a rich world full of unique and interesting secrets to uncover. Assassins went from "go here, stab guy, go there, stab guy" to "go here, stab guy, uncover secrets of the universe, fight gods and aliens, and be home in time for supper".
With all of the changes the series has endured and the VAST amount of historical, mythological, and cultural ground Assassin's Creed has covered it's no surprise that every single change, every little nuance, sparks fierce debate among fans and critics. Even some entire installations of the franchise are looked upon... Less than fondly.
In 2017 we saw the biggest change to hit the Assassin's Creed series with the release of Assassin's Creed Origins. Ubisoft took the open world approach they first started playing with in Black Flag and expanded on it exponentially. As a long time fan these changes seemed silly to me at the time. I wanted stories of Assassins and Templars, not of Hidden Ones fighting gods. Admittedly I decided at the time I was done with the series after those changes. It wasn't until Assassin's Creed Odyssey that I decided to give the new game style a chance, and I was instantly hooked.
After playing the HELL out of Odyssey I went back and played Origins to see what I had missed. Of COURSE I also wasn't going to miss out on my favorite video game franchise going viking in Assassin's Creed Valhalla. So while I was originally skeptical of the new style of game I eventually fell in love. I came to understand that, OF COURSE, a franchise spanning 10+ YEARS would have to change, grow, and evolve. It's just silly to think we would just keep playing the old style "go here, stab a guy" games.
Just like everything in life though, we found with Valhalla that you can have too much of a good thing.
Valhalla was fun but the sheer scope of what Ubisoft tried to achieve was just so overwhelming. Everywhere you looked there was something else to do, another collectable to discover, yet another piece of gear that you needed to farm resources to upgrade. There was always something nagging at you and while the game was a mix of two of my absolute favorite things, I never even wound up finishing it because there was just so much that it all started to feel meaningless. My wife ended up picking up the game for the first time shortly after I walked away and I just watched her play to see how it all ended.
Which brings us to the latest installment of the Assassin's Creed Franchise, Mirage.
In Mirage we follow Basim, a simple street thief, on his journey to become a master assassin. The story is clean and simple, a return to what we came to know an expect in the classic installments of the franchise. It's a fun and entertaining step back from the expansive and overly-complicated direction Ubisoft has headed in over the last few years. With that said I'm going to vent my petty complaints.
Pickpocketing, looting, and vending
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the new game is the fact that for once in our lives we get a pickpocketing mechanic that actually feels worthwhile! In nearly every game I have ever played pickpocketing is just an annoying hassle that you have to grumble through doing occasionally to complete a quest. In Mirage though we are given a fun little timing-based mechanic that makes it fun to stalk through crowds looking for purses to cut. The rewards you are given are actually half way decent too so it feels like a worthwhile investment of your time to walk between quest locations nabbing up some extra loot on the way.
Unfortunately this silver lining comes with a particularly dull cloud.
Imagine this: You've spent some time pickpocketing and your bag is full of loot. You run to the nearest vendor and sell everything for a decent chunk of change. What are you going to spend your newfound wealth on? Well you're in luck dear Assassin, you can spend your vast fortune on treasures such as:
Throwing knives to refill your perpetually depleting supply
Health potions you'll need to pop damn near every time you take a decent hit
A cosmetic armor look
Dyes that can only be used on specific armors
Upgrade/Crafting supplies that you can buy at 1:1 making finding them in the world feel almost completely arbitrary
Trinkets! Oh, they don't give bonuses or anything. They're completely cosmetic and just dangle off your back.
The nice thing is you can always go to a vendor in another area of the city to... Nope, it looks like all of the vendors share inventory. So that's it. That's all you can buy.
Well at least you can still go out in to the world looking for exciting new adventures with places to explore, puzzles to solve, and treasures to loot!
This has been a major staple of the newer games and this time around Ubisoft realized that they were getting carried away... So they decided not to do anything.
When you synchronize with a new waypoint and see all of the bright golden beacons appear in the distance you immediately jump towards adventure and loot! Only to find that the "treasure" is just an upgrade schematic.
No more finding neat armors and weapons hidden throughout the world. Assassin's Creed Mirage comes with an astounding total of 6 outfits, 6 swords, and 6 daggers for you to find and use.
Whereas previous game versions overwhelmed players with options, sets, bonuses, and stats now Ubisoft has given us... 6. We can't even select a weapon that suits our play style, it's sword and dagger all day every day.
Armor no longer comes in individual pieces but is instead a single "outfit" which does one thing and one thing only. Each set has a single buff such as "emitting less noise during assassinations" or "reducing the impact of illegal actions on notoriety level" and upgrading them only increases the percentage of the buff's effectiveness.
Weapons are similarly lackluster with upgrades adding only a slight amount of damage. The sword/dagger combos are usually also designed to be utilized together so there's not much left to the player in determining how to outfit Basim for his adventures.
I will be first to say that I HATE overly-complicated skill trees. I hate them with a burning passion. I like nice simple skill trees with clear and succinct options. The skill tree in Assassin's Creed Valhalla drove me absolutely insane with the amount of pointless nodes and twisting branches all so they could perpetually feed you skill points like little pellets to keep your hamster brain happy. Just like everything else in Mirage, it seems like Ubisoft saw a problem and just decided to completely trim it down to a meaningless degree. There are still 3 skill trees that can be vaguely described as martial/assassination, stealth/tools, and bird. But each tree is 5 nodes deep with 3 offshoots of seemingly randomly placed importance/value. I always play as stealthy as possible but I'm crossing back and forth having to buy martial/tool abilities just to get to the stealth build I'm looking for. Levels? Nah we just have arbitrarily given skill points. Some you get for story progression, some you can just pick up missions to get. Because who doesn't love a skill point based progression system you can just do random side quests to unlock?
All of these complaints, and why none of them matter
Now that I've gone off about my biggest complaints about Mirage I just want to say that absolutely none of them matter.
Assassin's Creed Mirage is an utterly fantastic game that completely captures the feeling and charm of the original style games while incorporating features of the newer generations. With the franchise now closing in on it's 20th year and this being the 12th main game under their belt not every game is going to be a resounding success. However I'm confident in saying that Mirage feels like a step in the right direction. While the game feels a bit disappointing with the lacking quality of features we have come to expect from Ubisoft it is a SOLID installation in the franchise. It doesn't feel like a must-play by any means but it is absolutely reccomended for long-time fans or newcomers who just want some fun and simple rooty-tooty-stabby-looty. I'm excited to see where Ubisoft goes from here. I feel like if they take their time crafting the next game to have the feeling and heart of Mirage with a more fun and engaging loot system and world along the lines of Oddyssey the next installment could be the defining game of the new era the way Revelations was for it's era.
While Mirage didn't knock it out of the park they have definitely loaded up the bases and given themselves a shot at a grand slam with the next game.