NOTE- The following discussion involves story spoilers from Assassin’s Creed Origins, while the game has a lot more to offer than just its main quest-line, I’d advise you finished the game before reading.
In many ways, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a refinement of what has come before. The way the character moves, the weapon design and overall narrative are all iterations on versions from previous games, given a quick polish and repackaged as something that seems new. But underneath the game’s familiar facade is an undercurrent of new and bold steps towards a decidedly different Assassin’s Creed game. An RPG-inspired quest system along with combat which displays damage figures adds elements which were long overdue, the most glaring of which is the inclusion of a proper crouch button this time around. The new features don’t stop at gameplay however as the game is bolstered by a compelling narrative which despite containing giant snakes, reanimated pharaohs and an all seeing eagle companion, feels more grounded than ever. This roughly 40-hour campaign stars the most likeable assassin yet, Bayek of Siwa, a statement that will no doubt come off as blasphemy for fans of Ezio Auditore. The tale the game spins is an inherently sombre one of grief and revenge. Its two main casualties are directly tied to Bayek and his lover Aya, who is given the same amount of care and detail as the main protagonist.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is at its heart a tale of revenge. After his son is murdered, Bayek embarks on a path of blood and vengeance as he murders those responsible. From the outset, Bayek’s grief is palpable, real. He wears the names of his targets as ink on his flesh, a constant reminder of his sole reason for existing. This tragic loss not only serves as a plot point to give the character motivation, it directly changes the interactions and relationship of Aya and Bayek. The pair are deeply in love, that much is clear; more so than in almost any game I’ve ever played .I felt this in the way they talked, the way they held each other. There is a deep sadness here though as you realise that they are merely shells of the people they once were. After their loss they find comfort and passion in the bloodshed they are orchestrating, they get off on it even. The loss of a child is always a compelling starting point for a story but here it is especially impactful in the way that it bleeds into every aspect of the game.
Throughout the world there are stone circles which appear as icons on the map. Previous Assassin’s Creed games have always been filled with objectives, often to the game’s detriment, but Origins treats each icon with a level of care that ensures every single one is worth the player’s time. The stone circles are simple mini-games which task the player with finding constellations in the sky, this is all just to keep the player around while the real reason for being there is revealed. Each one is narrated by a conversation between Bayek and his now deceased son. The stories range from Bayek imparting wisdom about the stars to funny realisations that his Son is growing up faster than he would have liked. They act as an emotional gut punch which reminds the player exactly why they are doing the things they are doing. This feeling of purpose is complemented perfectly by the animation which closes these segments as Bayek slowly sits up and pockets a pebble from the stone circle having spent the whole night there reminiscing. Few games give you such a clear and personal motivation for the killing it demands of the player.
So much of the game’s emotional weight rests squarely on the fact that Bayek is just so damn likeable. The way he interacts with the characters around him, specifically children is always warm and protective. Several quests involve children going missing or simply getting too inquisitive for their own good. In these instances Bayek never scolds or lectures, instead offering understanding and sympathy. When children tell him they are 6 years old he responds with a friendly “wow, 6 years old huh?” humouring them while giving glimpses of his relationship with his Son. Bayek is a Medjay so serves the people of Egypt. No problem is too small for him as he dutifully tries to put the world to rights. His genuine belief in the Gods, while unsurprising given the time period, is also refreshing. He is respectful and honours the beliefs of everyone he meets and even believes himself to be the target of Osiris himself while being chased by an elephant. He’s charming, noble and caring above else, which makes his quest for revenge all the more interesting given how uncharacteristic it is of the soulful man we are constantly enamoured with.
Using revenge as a core tenant of a game’s narrative is nothing new of course, in fact it is one of the most prevalent plot devices used in the medium. What is different about Bayek’s tale in particular is just how futile it becomes, how empty it ends up leaving him feeling. The story takes many twists and turns, the only constant being Bayek’s prime goal. The blame is shifted constantly from one target to the next and it becomes clear after a while that nothing will fill the hole left in our protagonist’s heart. What is interesting however is how Bayek’s longing for closure evolves into something much larger and vital for the series. The loss of Bayek’s son is eventually one of the key events which leads to the formation of the Assassin’s Brotherhood as Bayek starts to realise that corruption at any level has the potential to result in loss and heartache.
Aya goes through a similar arc throughout the game. Initially, she directs her grief towards something more positive than revenge, towards supporting Cleopatra in building a brighter future. In every meeting she has with Bayek she attempts to put the past behind her, a direct contrast to Bayek who literally has it etched into his skin. Towards the end of the game though, Aya loses this outlet for her grief. This game brilliantly portrays the toll a loss such as this one can have on a relationship. Often, the couple will drift away as their grief manifests in different ways. In Origins Bayek serves as a constant reminder of everything Aya has lost, a look back into the life that she has left behind. Previous Assassin’s Creed games may have united the two at the end and sent them off into the future fighting side by side, not Origins. The pair’s differences are evident until the very end as they realise that they can never be together, not as they once were.
By the end of the game Bayek and Aya become the parents of the Creed, but never quite reunite as lovers. The narrative is by no means over, in fact I’m betting that the next Assassin’s Creed will be a direct sequel to Origins, but Bayek and Aya’s fate seems cloudy (even with the continuation that the DLC offers). Even so, with Origins likely being the first part of a larger story, the game manages to portray one of the greatest love stories in gaming yet. It pulls no punches at any point, especially when depicting the couple’s sexual side. The way it handles loss and grief by never letting the player forget the toll it is having on Bayek, is something new for the franchise and something which I was not expecting out of an Assassin’s Creed game.
I can give praise to AC Origins on many fronts, from its engaging open world to its fantastic mission structure but for me it is the narrative which sets it apart from other games of its type. I am looking forward to continuing Bayek’s adventure in the future and hope beyond hope that he and Aya can make it work. Honestly though, that’s just not how things go in real life, so why should it be any different here.