Full disclosure – I (PERSONALLY) did not like the past three Assassin’s Creed games, despite being a massive fan of the series. I’m what I like to call an “Assassin’s Creed boomer” – I prefer the older games, the older protagonists, and the self-contained maps and systems that were in place. The older games, specifically the Ezio trilogy, were some of the finest gaming experiences of my life. Besides Ezio himself being (arguably) my favourite gaming protagonist of all time, I loved the other protagonists and the globe-trotting adventures we shared. I played through their pain, their motivation, their retribution, and above all – their allegiance to the Creed.
In the newer games, despite making some great additions to some of the systems in place (combat, RPG mechanics, climbing system, etc.), I was pretty turned off by their narrative directional change and the staggering size of their maps. While we were provided with some good protagonists (Bayek, Kassandra), their stories became less about the Creed and its philosophies (stealth, hidden among others, fight against the “evil” Knights Templar). They became watered down because of the sheer size of the games. Go-anywhere, do-anything can be good in some games, but it can disjoint the storyline if the rest of the game does not help keep it more focused on the story. Instead, we were treated with map size spectacle, a ton of grinding, many repetitive fetch quests, and a considerable amount of artificial, game bloating activities & icons on the maps, which is now known in the modern gaming era as “Ubisoft bloat.”
We Work In The Dark To Serve The Light
In my opinion, the older games used to have maps built around the game/narrative; the maps were complimentary to enhance your playthrough of the story, which always took front & center. I felt the maps were created as a priority in the last three games, and a story was just thrown in there. The essence & soul of the Creed itself – its creation, purpose, and evolvement – was severely watered down narratively because of the creative direction taken in expanding these playgrounds to be massive. For someone like myself who fell in love with this franchise because of its narrative-building settlements, repetitive fetch quests, or climbing the highest mountain for a rare item, it isn’t Assassin’s Creed – it’s an RPG with the name slapped on it. There was no sense of direction, which soured me on the new experiences.
I’m happy to report that my experience with Assassin’s Creed Mirage has been sublime. Since this game was announced, the development team has sung nothing but music to these AC boomer ears — Smaller and more contained map size, less bloat, more focused story, heavy emphasis on stealth, more deliberate parkour & climbing like the older games, and back to the Middle East, where the Creed originated. As I kept watching and reading more & more about it, my interest went from “we’ll see” to “day one,” something I have not felt for this franchise since Origins (which I sank well over 60 hours into.) They talked the boomer talk, but can they walk the walk? Did they finally decide to build a game in this franchise that understands me?
The answer is yes. Oh yes, they did.
Our Creed does not command us to be free. It costs us to be wise.
Mirage is a love letter to the series’ day-one fanbase. While not without some (although never glaring) faults, the game sets out to do what it was created to do — give us an excellent, narrative-driven game within a self-contained map/world in another beautifully imagined historical setting. The great protagonist from humble beginnings with motivation & purpose? Check. The actual damn Creed, its members, and their origin? Check. Stealth emphasis? Check. A map that is big enough to play in but not overbearing or littered with bloat? Most definitely.
To tackle this review, I will be giving my impression of each of the different systems in place (not in this particular order) – Visuals/performance & sound, map exploration, combat & stealth, parkour/climbing, weapons/tools, RPG mechanics/upgrades, story/characters, setting. I feel that doing it in this structure helps with formulating opinions on the system discussed compared to before. Mind you, this game is reviewed on its merit, as I believe all games should be. But in this case, the comparison and transparency will better explain why I prefer (or do not prefer) what is in this game due to my experiences with the last three.
I will keep this review spoiler-free; anything I discuss with the plot is discussed or shown in trailers from older games or the developers.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage’s story revolves around Basim Ibn Ishaq, growing up an orphan in the streets of Anbar, a surrounding town of Baghdad. He is a street thief, taking on jobs from a man/father figure named Dervish. Basim occasionally does small-time jobs from Dervish, commissioned by The Hidden Ones, a mysterious group grounded in the premise of working in the shadows to protect against oppression and injustice. Basim idolizes and inspires to be a part of them; he admires their goals and methods and wants to become a messenger of justice. Through a series of events, Basim becomes the pupil of Master Assassin Roshan, who trains him to become the Master Assassin he already is when we first meet him in Valhalla. If you would like to know Basim’s story in Valhalla, I advise reading or watching a video on the story for that game, as it helps tie into the events of Mirage (which takes place 20 years before Valhalla.) Or you could play it!
Following Basim’s journey from a young thief to a Master Assassin allowed me to appreciate and bond with the character. His aspirations, motivations, and commitment to the Creed’s principles and goals make him an excellent and well-rounded character battling his demons. Along the journey, you will be trekking throughout Abbasid-ruled 9th-century Baghdad, at the peak of its historical height, which included world-leading innovation in science, art, and commerce. You will hunt down a mysterious entity, The Order of the Ancients, who seeks to exploit Baghdad’s power and influence. This group is your stereotypical Illuminati-like group we have seen in games before, but it’s always fun to slay Goliath as David; that formula never gets old for me. Especially when you know the extent of their falsely-placed power and the cruelties they commit.
A well-rounded and diverse supporting cast is included, from the previously mentioned Dervish to his best friend (love interest?) Nehal attempts to keep his feet on the ground when his ambition makes him float to his mentor, Roshan, her peers, and many more. They all have a sense of purpose in this world, and I enjoyed the screen time I shared with them, including the conversations and joint missions.
Ninth-century Baghdad is a beautiful set-piece to add to this series’s long line of historical locations. Its Middle-Eastern setting harkens back to the first game in the series, which also took place in the Middle East. A sense of familiarity is appreciated here, as the Creed originates from this region; it feels proper, like two pieces of a puzzle that connect. This is not to say that I did not feel the same about the other settings (Ezio’s Italy being my absolute favourite still,) but it does add some authenticity to the Creed itself.
From the surrounding deserts of Baghdad to its towns/locales, to the grand middle of Baghdad — The Round City, the atmosphere and architectural beauty is a continued tradition of AC games and is upheld in Mirage. Grand, majestic mosques & buildings with beautiful & detailed Islamic artwork, fountains, dense and vibrant locales with NPCs that react to your actions, traditional stone & wood houses of the era, lush gardens — it’s all wonderfully realized and done with proper care & respect like it always has been in the series. Different sections of the city will have their distinct feel — you will know you are in Round City because of the architecture, just as you will see if you are in Harbiyah because of its grim & industrial setting or in Karkh because of the markets. Traditional Arabic being spoken by the townsfolk wherever you go, the Athan (call to prayer) being overheard when it’s playing, the unbelievable background music – it just all feels alive, very well realized, and authentic.
The game has a full Arabic voiceover for the first time in the series. Because of the setting, this is well-realized and adds a layer to the world to make it feel more authentic. That will come with English subtitles; if you like to play games like Yakuzain Japanese voiceover for added authenticity, I invite you to do the same here to try it out. I am Middle Eastern, so I understood and appreciated it; it is a welcome addition to this game and elevates the experience. Even the map can be modified to be written in Arabic, which I thought would also be an excellent addition. There are other languages to choose from, as always, but I felt it would be nice to highlight this specific aspect.
The map of Baghdad and its exploration is reminiscent of the older games, which is what I’ve wanted for ages. The map size (according to developers) is comparable to Constantinople in Assassin’s CreedRevelations and Paris in Assassin’s CreedUnity. It’s a big map but tiny compared to the recent entries. I enjoyed that aspect because it allowed me to enjoy more of the architecture/geography/topography, the side quests, the townspeople, and the city’s history without ever feeling overwhelmed or breaking away from the narrative. The traditional synchronization points will reveal the surrounding areas and topics of interest. You can fast-travel between these sync points. When you first open the map, a fog of war will be revealed as you explore. When zoomed in on, the unexplored sections of the map have hand-drawn points of interest, landmarks, and geographical/topological/geological locations, all of which look like they are drawn on traditional parchment map paper. It’s a nice touch.
The game has a full Arabic voice-over for the first time in the series.
Exploration of the map will open up points of interest, including sync points, random NPCs with quests, occasional structures with underground treasures, mercenaries for hire, blacksmiths, tailors, and many others. You will also see the locations of the bureaus for the Hidden Ones, with each main geographical area on the map having its bureau. Returning is the bird’s eye view via companion. You can use your eagle Enkidu (more on him later) as a scout to find things as well — hidden treasure chests, locations of enemies, and a full view of the landscape to better track course. You will see a lot of icons representing these on the map, but they are redundant – meaning you will see blacksmith icons, tailor icons, synchronization icons, notoriety poster locations, etc. It is never overbearing because they offer the same services or information. For example, wherever you go, a stables icon will have the same horse skins or Enkidu skins you can buy; you can go to any merchant and sell your collectibles/valuables for the same amount. You will not feel like you are missing out on anything. And there are no baity, bloaty question marks on the map. Not a single one.
You can also find historical sites on the map, which all have their explanation, like previous games. A lot of care was put into these descriptions, including the history of Baghdad, the religion of Islam and its background, other beliefs in the city, daily life, economy, government, etc. A lot of care & detail went into these explanations, and they are worth looking into if you are a history buff or care to know more about this backdrop.
There are no baity, bloaty question marks on the map. Not a single one.
Parkour isn’t as advanced as it was in Unity or Syndicate, but it feels like a step above the previous games. The fantastic map design helps out when free running, as it resembles the older games. The entire city of Baghdad was built with parkour in mind, something that has been missing recently. Ropes, beams, planks, walls & towers, rooftops, giant buildings, etc. Bringing this all back, along with a (slightly) different climbing system, is another deliberate move by the developers to make this game feel more like a traditional Assassin’s Creed, and it works well here. You can swim, dive underwater to find things, or use boats to traverse areas that have it available.
While reasonably similar to Valhalla, the climbing system is more deliberate here. You can still climb many surfaces, but they must be climbable. It must have ledges to grab onto to ascend a tower or a wall. When you are escaping and climbing, more attention must be paid to finding an optimal path. While this is all welcome, it’s not as deliberate as the older games; I have some issues. For one, I wish the speed during free-running was faster. Sometimes, I would sprint on the ground instead of free-running; Basim’s not a turtle, and I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but I feel the speed can be increased a bit when climbing.
Another thing is you can’t back or side-eject when climbing, which is an extraordinary omission, as it restricts your freedom. Also, to descend from a high point, you hold O or B, allowing Basim to grab onto ledges automatically; you cannot let go of your grip to catch lower ridges like before. This will lead to occasionally frustrating falls at times. I am not sure why these two fundamental climbing aspects (pioneered in this series) were not included in this game.
The mission structure of this game revolves around Investigations. The Hidden Ones will sanction these investigations, and each revolves around one of the main antagonists that must be eliminated. These primary investigations will split into branches of smaller missions, all with their objectives; all objectives met will lead you to your target for a proper (and boomer-like) assassination mission. Goals will be completed using stealth, pickpocketing, finding/searching for specific documents or objects, talking to people, spying by listening to conversations, etc. There are a lot of ways to reach your goal. You can hire mercenaries to draw attention, musicians to annoy/distract guards, pay groups to let you blend, hear the location of someone or something by spying, etc. The detective-like approach with a heavier emphasis on stealth is welcome here; they are called the Hidden Ones for a reason, and playing into these systems feels appropriate. The previous games did a poor job of making you feel like an Assassin; stealth was not prioritized like in Mirage. Also, I cannot emphasize enough using the unguided objective feature in the settings. This makes location objectives less obvious, incentivizing you to use information from conversations, notes, and maps to find your purpose. I found it to enhance the experience.
While combat is sound in this game, you will (as previously stated) be inclined to use more stealth. It will depend on your approach. You can go in guns blazing if you are confident and mow down all the enemies in your way, but a crowd of them will test you. Combat is not brutal, but it is challenging, and you can get cut down quickly if you are not careful. You carry a primary weapon in one hand and a dagger in the other. The primary weapon, usually a sword, can be upgraded (more later) just like the dagger. The blade has a heavy and light attack. The dagger is mainly used to dodge, with a successful parry usually leading to one-shot kills. Enemies will glow either gold or red when about to attack; gold can be parried, and red can be dodged. Red attacks, if landed, can be brutal, so do your best to avoid those. There is also an unlockable skill that allows you to kick an enemy after a parry and other combat enhancements that can be unlocked from the skill tree. It works as well as Valhalla, with combat/killing animations being more finessed in this game.
If you choose stealth (which I felt was more rewarding), there are endless ways to scout. You can use your eagle Enkidu to explore an entire area – through the bird’s eye, as before, you will be able to see (and tag) enemies, hidden clues, secret locations, people of interest you can hire to help, etc. to open more options for you. You can hide in bushes, behind curtains, and all things. You can whistle to lure enemies to your location, and stealth assassinate them using your hidden blade. Hide bodies to avoid detection, use throwing knives from a distance, smoke bombs to get you out of jams, and noise makers to lure guards away; there is a lot at your disposal to empower you and make you feel like a proper assassin when infiltrating a heavily fortified area. And yes — the hidden blade is back; you read that correctly. Single-shot assassinations are back, no matter the enemy, if you do it correctly; this has been sorely missed recently and is another welcome addition that has been brought back. You also obtain Assassin’s Focus, an identical system to Splinter Cell Conviction’s Mark & Execute strategy; this allows you to instantly chain three kills (within proper proximity) by marking them before executing them. It is governed by three small bars that fill up as you play & take down enemies. Pulling this move off is very satisfying and upgradeable in the skill tree (more on the skill tree in a bit).
Basim’s weapons can be upgraded at the blacksmith, with each upgrade making the weapon more powerful and increasing the efficacy of the perk attached to the weapon. Sword perks (as well as dagger perks) attached to each sword/dagger are different and cannot be changed; you can only upgrade the efficacy of the bonus by upgrading your weapon. For instance, one of the swords has a 50 percent damage subsequent hit after a perfect parry; upgrading the sword will raise that damage to 75 percent, as well as the base damage and defence of the blade. You need proper schematics and resources obtained as you play the explore to upgrade your weapons. It’s a light RPG system that retains some of its previous three predecessors but keeps it more surface level, which I felt works fine with what they wanted to do for this game.
Along with your primary weapons, you will have tools at your disposal, with a rotary wheel menu that can be accessed by holding down R2 or RT. These include throwing knives, smoke bombs, noisemakers, and torches. Each of these tools has its three-tier upgrades. Each tier has one perk that you can activate. You can unlock more slots for devices throughout the game as you progress. They are complementary (but not necessary) additions to combat and can be fun to use, but I found myself mainly using the throwing knives and noise maker because of my more stealth-oriented approach. You will not need to use them all (if ever) during a playthrough.
Clothes and outfits can also be upgraded at the tailor for resources and proper schematics. As with weapons, dresses & outfits also have built-in perks that can be upgraded automatically as you upgrade your gear. Outfits/clothes have different colours which you can modify as well.
This is my favourite Assassin’s Creed soundtrack in ages, standing amongst the iconic music produced by Jesper Kyd.
There is a skill tree you get access to, which has different combat/stealth/consumable upgrades, all costing different amounts of skill points you acquire as you play the game. The three main trees are Phantom, Trickster, and Predator. At first glance, the possibility of upgrading different playstyles according to the player’s liking was the first thing that popped into my head, similar to Splinter Cell Blacklist’s approach. Unfortunately, that was not the case. They all have different upgrades for different things you use for the game — one of Phantom’s upgrades is to add a fourth bar to the Assassin’s Focus. Trickster has an upgrade to carry another health potion, and Predator is mostly upgraded for Enkidu. I think it’s implemented well for this game, and the upgrades are worth it – but I would have loved to see the gameplay style upgrade approach akin to Conviction. But I digress — it is a light RPG, and for the most part, it fits well with the old-school approach they set out to achieve with this game.
Mirage is built on the same engine as Valhalla. This is not surprising, considering the inception of this game was initially a DLC for Valhalla but then became a full-fledged production of a new and different game. I have always thought that Ubisoft is a masterclass in the lighting engine they use in the AC games, and their HDR implementation is always excellent. In terms of these, they both did not disappoint. The lighting and vibrancy are fantastic no matter where you go; they complement this period’s geography, architecture, and beautiful art direction, helping you appreciate finer details (especially the architecture.) AC games have never melted PCs, but they have always held up pretty damn well in the visuals department among their peers, and this is no exception.
Then you have the music, a soundtrack I find to be on par with the best of the series, and you have a winning combination from Ubisoft. I cannot emphasize enough how beautiful the soundtrack is. Brendan Angelides, renowned for fusing orchestral and electronic music, collaborated with Akram Haddad, a Palestinian composer and orchestrator. They achieved a harmonious fusion of electronic and orchestra, incorporating elements of Arabic music into a Western soundscape that nails the feels and authenticity of the period and, at the same time, feels modern. This is my favourite Assassin’s Creed soundtrack in ages, standing amongst the iconic music produced by Jesper Kyd.
Like many games, you have a performance and quality mode available. The quality is a bit crisper, but I did not feel the slight crispness was worth the performance sacrifice. Mirage was beautiful and ran a pretty steady 60fps across the board, even in intense scenes; I do not recall any slowdowns during my 20+ hours with the game. But I’m sure Digital Foundry will do a comparison soon enough.
If you have not noticed, I loved Assassin’s Creed Mirage. While the experience has some problems worth mentioning, I never felt any of them deterred the total experience for me. The developers promised and achieved what they set out to do, giving us a more traditional Assassin’s Creed game that is story-driven and has fantastic protectiveness, all within a self-contained map/world in a beautifully imagined historical setting with minimal bloat. This AC boomer is smiling ear to ear – fellow AC boomers, I feel you will enjoy this one.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
A special thank you goes out to my friend Bobby Pashalidis of Console Creatures for reaching out to and once again asking to guest review a game from a franchise I love for his website. Getting games early for review are a privilege, and I wish more people saw it that way. Thank you, brother.
Thanks to guest reviewer Moe for delivering a thoughtful and well-read review of Assassin’s Creed Mirage.
Review: Assassin’s Creed Mirage
Assassin's Creed Mirage sets out to achieve a specific goal and delivers one of the best games in the series in ages. While the experience has some problems worth mentioning, I never felt any of them deterred the total experience for me.
A cohesive and beautiful playground to be an Assassin in
Incredible music, setting, and story
Made with love for classic Assassin's Creed fans
Parkour is still not as engaging or fun as older titles
Lack of freedom when climbing, feels far to safe at times