This year provided numerous blockbuster hits for consumers to enjoy. Subsequently, many count 2023 as a historical year for video game releases. Ubisoft throws its hat in the ring with a new entry from a staple franchise. Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is a love letter to the classic, stealth-focused games of old. However, this attempt to give heartwarming nostalgia may only be a brief moment of respite. Here are my thoughts.
The Story of Mirage
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage follows Basim, a young street rat from Baghdad. Previously, Basim made his debut to the franchise in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. This tale serves as a coming-of-age story from petty thief to master assassin.
Basim’s run-in with the Caliph of Baghdad, and a certain Isu artifact, causes the inciting incident for his new life. He is inducted into the Assassin order by Roshan to help take down Baghdad’s sect of the Order of Ancient. Subsequently, he learns the way of the assassin under her tutelage. However, his mind is continually haunted by nightmares of a Jinni. This plagues Basim throughout the story.
Basim himself is an earnest young man seeking to prove himself in the name of justice. Players see this play out from the beginning. Basim charges headfirst into situations without care and seeks to prove himself to the Hidden Ones. However, this proves to be his entire, one-dimensional personality.
A Lifeless Character
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage fails to develop Basim as a character or convince me why the audience should care. He seeks out masked scoundrels and stops the oppression of the innocents… and that is it. Consequently, I never really got a handle on how Basim lives as a character set apart from the eternal war between the Assassins and Templars. This does not seem to be a good argument to say that is the nature of his obsession, as it never really goes anywhere.
The ending to Assassin’s Creed: Mirage makes a poor attempt to connect this story thread to Basim’s evolution in Valhalla. This failure can be accredited to the rushed nature of the 13-15 hour experience in the final act. The story took a predictable turn with little pay-off, especially for players who have not completed Valhalla.
Basim’s epilogue in Mirage leaves players clueless and without any answers unless they go look up the information online. Subsequently, I found Basim’s character in the previous entry far more interesting. This can not possibly be the goal Ubisoft was hoping for in their attempt at an homage to older titles of the franchise.
Sneaking Through Mirage
Stealth is the focal point of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. Basim must work with the Hidden Ones and eliminate different leaders of the Order of Ancients. Subsequently, you have multiple tools and options at your disposal.
Similar to previous games, Players keep track of Order Members via an Investigation menu. Clues must be gathered before a head member of the Order is revealed. Afterward, you are tasked to infiltrate a high-profile area to kill your target and make your escape.
The game allows several ways to infiltrate a location. A companion eagle mechanic makes its return as players can use Basim’s eagle, Enkidu, to scout the area. This birds-eye view reveals enemies to tag, secret ways of entry, and opportunities. Opportunities range from recruiting mercenaries to distract guards, paying off a disgruntled servant for entry, or even joining a traveling merchant caravan.
Employing these tactics to reach your target undetected felt satisfying during the first half of my time with Mirage. I was fulfilling the Assassin fantasy. However, the cracks begin to show after multiple high-value assassinations. Opportunities themselves behave only as flavor choices in regard to the grand scheme of things. They offer a creative way to get into a stronghold… and nothing else. Truthfully, you could ignore any opportunities to employ help for every single one as the result is the same. They have no impact on the narrative or how the kill plays out.
This added bonus to stealth mechanics from the days of the original Assassin’s Creed is immersive and a welcome addition. However, I found it tiresome after hours spent running the same mission structure of the story and wished this addition had further merit. Especially when other changes to the stealth formula were nowhere to be found.
I felt part of the charm being marketed with Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is hinged on the nostalgia factor of the player. Many fans clamored for a more traditional style of game, free from the new-age, open-world RPG formula of modern titles. Yet, nostalgia can only carry a game so far. These stealth systems that made the games of the early 2000s great do not hold much weight in the current landscape of the industry without further innovation.
The act of assassinations and everything that goes into it is almost too familiar. On the other hand, titles like Assassin’s Creed: Origins innovated the genre with RPG elements and world-building through quests. Skill trees in those titles became more in-depth with each sequel. Consequently, it led to some of the most fun I have ever experienced in an Assassin’s Creed game. The three skill trees available to Basim definitely leave a lot to be desired.
These skill trees grant enhancements to Basim’s assassinations, tool capacity, and perception through Enkidu. However, Basim does not gain new abilities to improve his arsenal like Kassandra or Eivor. There is a neat “Ultra Instinct” ability similar to the “Wraith Takedowns” from Shadow of Mordor. Basim can execute a number of enemies in quick succession. Getting normal stealth kills will refill this ability’s meter. I would have loved to see more mechanics akin to this, it could have led to more evolving stealth gameplay. On the other hand, the rooftops you often find yourself traversing do lead to beautiful sights.
The Atmosphere of Mirage
Baghdad is the main setting of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. Ubisoft continues to shine with their meticulous attention to detail of history and cultures. Major historical markers like the Caliph’s Winter Palace stand tall and beautifully recreated within the game. There are a number of Codex pages available to discover. These offer more information about the history of a particular area.
Additionally, Baghdad’s major districts hold an immersive populace. Each district carries a distinct feel in terms of its role in the city’s structure and the type of people that live there. Subsequently, you can stop and watch as NPCs carry on their daily routine such as haggling with merchants, gossiping within a pleasure house, or conducting the religious practices of Islam. Every act is distinct and further shows Ubisoft’s open worlds are king in terms of immersion. The game is even fully localized in Arabic which is a nice touch.
Although, I did find myself growing tired of the sandy scenery and motifs halfway through my playtime. It all felt reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed: Origins despite being a different setting. The game could have benefited from another setting in addition to Baghdad to serve as a sandbox for Basim. I understand the goal of delivering a linear title packaged in nostalgia, yet once again I found myself wishing for a bit more variety.
Ride the Sands
The parkour routes within Baghdad are enjoyable. However, I found the flow to be clunky and awkward at times. I found Basim to inadvertently go in the wrong direction or become stuck more than once. Traversal felt slightly worse than Valhalla strangely enough, yet I cannot fathom the exact reason. Furthermore, parkour for the series has never captured the magical feel of Assassin’s Creed: Unity again. There is always hope it comes back in a future title.
On the other hand, music lovers should enjoy the change of pace with this setting. Assassin’s Creed: Mirage delivers a spectacular Middle Eastern track. I enjoyed the soundtrack, especially the bombastic new rendition of the Assassin theme for this title.
Lost to the Desert
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is an experience tailored to those who remember the early days of the franchise fondly. Yet, it relies on the coattails of its founding games without evolving what made them great. Furthermore, this lack of innovation harms your time exploring beautiful parts of its scenery.
Your time could be well spent when completing its story if Basim carried more weight and did not fall prey to a haphazard ending. Overall, the game is nothing more than a mediocre trip down memory lane while Ubisoft prepares for its next big entry.