There are plenty of staples within this gaming hobby of ours. Aside from the yearly sports title or militaristic first person twitch shooter, we used to have a regular schedule of releases we could always count on. Assassin’s Creed was one of those franchises that seemed to always release right on schedule. Because of this, Assassin’s Creed flooded the market and almost became rather redundant when considering the grand scheme of it all. It went from beloved to forgotten in such a way that Ubisoft decided that Assassin’s Creed desperately needed to change things up, and they did so by introducing numbers!
Assassin’s Creed Origins might have been the paradigm shift that no one really wanted, but the style was churned out for two additional games that really didn’t feel like Assassin’s Creed. Sure, there were the drips of lore here and there, but it just didn’t leave a sense of satisfaction. Suddenly, we get a new Assassin’s Creed that seems to be the product of what happens when you listen to your fanbase. So how does this title hold up? Well, I really like it, and I’m not saying that just because I am afraid someone is going to jump out of the bushes. It is a genuinely good experience with a “back to basics” feel that pays off in dividends. In the world of gaming, Mirage proves that less is more.
Many titles have attempted the “back to basics” approach to their games while also trying something entirely new. When held up to the standard of the AC basics, Valhalla feels poorly juxtaposed to that core concept. You can’t introduce something brand new while also going back to your roots. Its paradoxical, and Ubisoft understood this. Mirage, by all accounts, is the new gold standard of “going back to the basics.”
Coming off the heels of Valhalla, you play as Basim as he rises to his calling, being the one that introduces Eivor to his sneaky ways if you choose to use them. Instead of the vast English countryside filled with a ton of nonsense to do, Mirage is a focused experience set within the streets of 9th century Baghdad. It pulls back from some of the more egregious mechanics that Valhalla introduced while still keeping some elements that seemed to have worked well in the past, albeit simplified.
Everything from combat to the tools that you use, and even the skill trees, are all bringing the franchise back to its roots. It almost feels as if an actual adult walked into a room of sugar-ingesting kids and told them to stop, because it really shows how far the franchise has strayed from the core beliefs that we all loved. And that, on its own, deserves high recognition.
Tools of the Trade
When it comes to the gameplay, there is nothing out of the ordinary here. Weapons don’t have a ton of numbers tied to them, and you won’t be looking at which item is the best because one has “+2 attack power” or anything of the like. You’ll see a weapon or piece of armor and look at the benefits it can give to you. For instance, the core armor set gives you a bonus to sneaking, and the more you upgrade it, the harder it is for others to hear you. It’s incredibly simple and honestly feels much better than spending hours trying to sift through armor to find the set that is going to best compliment the situation.
It goes the same for weapons and how they are built into combat. Sure, you have a sword and a dagger to help parry attacks and deal damage, but Mirage isn’t an action game. When fighting enemies, you can easily take on two, but when it comes to three or even four enemies, the risk becomes greater. New elements, like the Assassin’s Focus maneuver that seems to be inspired by Splinter Cell, give the franchise a new coat of paint with a unique style. These also helps you dispatch multiple opponents quickly because stealth is the key to this title. Aside from skilled players, fighting your way through crowds is just not the best solution anymore.
Say what you want about the franchise, but Assassin’s Creed always worked best when the game didn’t want you to fight an unbearable army of soldiers. The game wants you to remain sneaky, giving you a choice of weapons in case your plans happened to go sideways. Your blades are carefully tuned to give you an opening so you can escape using the famous parkour system.
Yes, running and jumping have always been a part of the Assassin’s Creed formula, along with it’s own brand of jank, and there is no changing that here except that it is more thrilling. We have all come to believe that the rooftops are the safest place an assassin can travel, but Mirage changes that up just a tiny bit. Sure, walking around and gazing upon the beautifully crafted streets is nice, but it also makes you stick out. Various enemies will be perched all around, so if you happen to have a pretty decent wanted level, then you may have a more difficult time traveling. Otherwise, the busy streets can also be as important as the rooftops.
It helps because the streets are also ripe for pillaging. Using the new pickpocket mechanic, Basim will steal various items from meandering citizens. Whether it be currency or an item that can be sold to a fence, the pickpocket mechanic is a new addition that feels exciting because, if you fail, you’ll be back on the run again. The risk and reward is as equal as the ebb and flow of water. You can use several tools to help escape, most of which feel familiar.
Smoke bombs, noise makers, throwing knives, and more make a return to the franchise with a twist. You can upgrade these tools as well by spending three types of currency that you’ll naturally obtain while you explore Baghdad. Each weapon enables you to choose one of three addons that can enhance various aspects of that tool. For example, you can increase the damage of your throwing knife, making it more deadly, or you can carry up to two more on you. It’s a nice change of pace that makes you wonder what you should be focusing on. Of course, true levels of synergy don’t make themselves prevalent until you start gaining skill points and putting them into the brand new talent tree.
Once again, simplicity is the core of Mirage. Instead of the thousands of skill points, we have three talent trees with a couple of upgrades, nothing too crazy. Each tree focuses on different gameplay styles and enhances parts of your arsenal or assassin proficiency. Upgrade your tool usage, your swiftness as an assassin, or your hawk’s perception so you can get the upper hand. Each choice is important, making it difficult yet flexible, enabling you to pick and choose what you want to best suit your approach in the various scenarios.
The map itself also isn’t as vast as previous games, and I am thankful for that. There is this strong focus on the city area with some minor situations bringing you out into the desert areas. As I mentioned before, running through the streets gives me plenty of opportunities to escape the guards that are always on the lookout for me, and it is in these moments where I am fine not having a location that is so large. Baghdad is a refinement which creates this more intimate approach to the story and the narrative.
Chopping out the Fat
When it comes to the story, Mirage is about a 15 to 20 hour experience, which is an instant win in my book. As my adventure in Valhalla and other large format games are hitting the 80+ hour mark, it is a breath of fresh air to play and beat something that isn’t looking to take all of my attention away from Baldur’s Gate 3. Mirage simply wants you to learn more about Basim and the characters that are around him within an interesting setting, and then let you explore it. The game puts out what you are willing to give it, though.
Yes, the main story might be 15 to 20 hours long, but there are a ton of other activities to complete. Various bounties, when completed, give you the resources you need to upgrade your gear. Sometimes you are even rewarded with a new piece of gear. If you are someone who wants to complete every little thing within a game, then you’ll find that Mirage delivers a condensed and rather rewarding experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
It is also really important to complete these various tasks because they will reward you with tokens as well. These come in three flavors, and each one can be used to give you a leg-up on whatever it is you are looking to accomplish. Want to haggle lower prices at the market? Then give the shopkeeper a merchant token. Want to sneak into areas using some help? Then give the person a token, and you can be their assistant as they bring you into classified areas. You can instantly lower your wanted rating as well.
These tokens seem rather questionable as if they don’t really fit into the game, but we are talking about a series that has gone from being a historically accurate experience with grounded habits to one that now lets you wield lightning swords and ride around on a fire horse, so I guess practicality went out the window a long time ago. Either way, it still serves a purpose that is useful if you are not like me and horde them all like a greedy dragon.
Acting the Part
I desperately need to talk about the cast and the general direction of Mirage because, for once, I think it holds up really well, here. Lee Majdoub as Basim is wonderful and adds a lot of charisma to the role, while Shohreh Aghdashloo plays the role of Roshan, Basim’s mentor. She is a great casting decision that I cannot see anyone else portraying. Each character has this dynamic within their respective dialog that resonates with the scenes and the overall tone. Basim acts serious when he needs to and occasionally breaks out this lighthearted joke once in a while. It’s pretty neat writing that makes him likable.
Roshan, who has been highlighted in the past, is a hardened veteran of the Hidden Ones who knows all the rules, but she knows exactly what to say and how to say it. She doesn’t play into the cliche of know-it-all mentors, and, at one point in the story, she pushes Basim into doing what he needs to do in order to grow into something greater than himself. It’s great writing and great acting on all parts. Even side characters have these moments to shine, including a few that I really don’t want to spoil.
During my playthrough I realized that there was something quite strange about the system requirements in that they seemed kind of low for a modern-day title. Then I realized that Mirage is also keeping past console generations in mind, which produces an odd feeling when playing. It is a brightly colored environment, much more vivid compared to Valhalla which seemed to be drenched in rain and dark gothic environments, so it makes a lot of the imperfections stand out.
After playing around with the settings a bunch, I realized that what was recommended to me simply wouldn’t make the cut. It can technically play on anything, but I wouldn’t want to imagine how poor it would look or how much of a hit the frame rate dips would be if you were to try to squeeze every bit of performance out of an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 and an NVIDIA 1660 Ti.
At max settings, the game is asking for some mid-range and older processors like the Intel Core i5-11600K or AMD Ryzen 5 5600X. On the graphics card side at max settings, it is asking for an RTX 3080 or an RX 6900, which are both higher-tiered cards from a generation ago, so not too bad. My 3070 Ti was able to handle the game just fine, but there were still some dips in frame rate performance, and they happened quite frequently in isolated incidents. The good news is that after some tuning, I got it to a place where I am happy. Sure, it still has a bit of stuttering when jumping off the high perches, but it handles crowd density and 1440p resolution at 60+ fps rather well, especially where it counts. In the future, on the technical standpoint it could use just a bit more optimizing.
Aside from the technical prowess, I do think the game does a great job making the environment pop. Assassin’s Creed has always been about these “culturative” details within the setting, and there is no change here. The artistic tiles strewn about the various hideouts remain clear and boast this depth that adds to the flavor of the game. Mirage doesn’t paint every climbable surface with yellow marks, which makes the protruding blocks stand out well enough to send the signal to my brain that I can, indeed, climb this surface. Every PC experience that isn’t optimized seems to still have some sort of silver lining, I guess. While I’m not praising the graphical performance from the rooftops, I will say that the game is passable as long as you tinker with a few settings or even have a more recent graphics card.
Most importantly though, despite not being able to try this out on home consoles, it means that the game should be able to run smoothly on most modern systems with a few lower details on the PlayStation 4, Xbox Series S, and even low to mid-range PCs.
There are a handful of accessibility options within Mirage designed to enhance gameplay. These can be accessed at any time within the options menu and give you some average settings. Difficulty, guaranteed pickpocket, aim assist, colorblind mode, and control remapping are all available out the gate. There are also text to speech options that you can disable right when you start the game up for the first time. Those familiar with past Assassin’s Creed games will know what to expect.
One helpful aspect is how the Eagle Vision works this time around. It does highlight enemies as well as explosive barrels, hiding spots, and which enemies may use a horn to call for backup. This ability also doesn’t disengage randomly and allows me to use it whenever I please as long as I am not in combat, running, or falling off high distances. I will also say that sneaking around on the easier difficulty felt fun and intuitive within reason.
I could spend hours gushing and praising Ubisoft for their work on Mirage, but I have to end this somewhere. I think that this bet of releasing a game that works on most systems without pushing performance up to the cutting edge is a great move and is as “back to basics” as you can get. The smaller setting, toolset, itemization, and general mechanics provide a more focused experience, and it is the most relaxing and anxiety-free Assassin’s Creed I have ever played.
Whether you are someone who is looking to engross themselves in a pure Assassin’s Creed game or just a fan of the series looking to jump back into something familiar that respects your time, the welcoming starting price point of $49.99 USD is an absolute steal. This is one of the few games that makes me realize that I don’t need over the top graphics or an Excel sheet’s worth of mechanics to experience something fun. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is the experience we have all wanted for the last six years, and it would be a shame if this one fell on the sidewalk instead of the hay cart.
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