Assassin’s Creed Mirage Review: We Work in the Dark, to Serve the Light (PS5)

Assassin's Creed Mirage looks set to right the wrongs of the three previous entries, but can it put its own mark on this huge franchise at the same time?

Assassin’s Creed has recently had its fifteenth anniversary as a gaming franchise, and in those fifteen years, we’ve had a considerable chunk of media. From double-figure video games, a movie, books, comics, and soon a Netflix tv series, it’s safe to say that Ubisoft should be pretty happy with the franchise’s success.

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And yet, with the release of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, most fans are criticizing the franchise. Many fans aren’t happy right now, from being too big to having an empty world, to forgetting what made the franchise great in the first place. I think Assassin’s Creed Mirage is going to change all that.

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Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a Fatal Stab to the Franchise’s Past

Assassin's Creed Mirage

The most recent three entries in the franchise Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla, whilst good games in their own right, were rightly criticized for taking the franchise in a vastly different direction. Stealth was all but removed, the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars took a back seat, for the most part, and the game became overly bloated, RPG fare. Assassin’s Creed Mirage has been developed with the idea of addressing these concerns, and for the most part, it succeeds and certainly seems to be pointing the franchise in a brighter direction.

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For those who’ve played Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed Mirage will be familiar. Whereas Basim is an established Assassin and well-versed in the ways of the Hidden Ones when we meet him in Valhalla, Mirage is the beginning of his story, and as such, he is a drastically different character. Gone is the broody, quiet Basim, replaced with a much more jovial and easy-going, if ambitious Basim.

Related: How Long Does it Take to Beat Assassin’s Creed Mirage?

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The first hour of the game does a lot to establish the character of Basim and gives him an interesting if predictably bloody backstory. From rags to riches, street thief to Assassin, his motivations are clear and relatable.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage uses a lot of the story beats that fans have grown to love. Assassins vs Templars, good versus bad, moral versus immoral. It does all this, with absolutely zero future segments. The entire game is set in Baghdad, with no time skips or disconcerting future timeline story.

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Stripped Back and More Fun for It

Assassin's Creed Mirage

As mentioned, previous entries in the franchise have been criticized for being too big with too much empty space, as well as not really feeling like Assassin’s Creed games. Mirage fixes this in spectacular fashion. The sprawling, unending maps are gone, replaced with a tighter, more dense Baghdad as your playground this time round, with less traveling and more killing. The map, like much of the game, is very reminiscent of the first few Assassin’s Creed games, especially the first and second.

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Anyone that has been with the franchise since the start will spend a lot of time with Mirage comparing it to those first few entries, but that is only a good thing. Ubisoft Bordeaux has done a fantastic job of taking the better parts of those early entries, modernizing them, and bringing them back to the front of the franchise.

Related: Where does Assassin’s Creed Mirage fall in the Franchise’s Timeline?

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The huge, complicated, and complex skill trees are gone, replaced with a simple three-tier system. The tools have followed suit, with only the six on offer to help you on your mission. From blowdarts to throwing knives, there’s less time trying to figure out how to use or upgrade something, and more time spent using the tools on offer.

The upgrading of weapons and outfits is still available, however, but in a considerably stripped-down version of the RPG elements of the previous three games. You can upgrade your weapons and outfits three times, each time the upgrade gives a simple and clear benefit. No assessing and comparing weapon strengths for an age before just choosing the same one you had previously.

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Assassin’s Creed Mirage Brings Back the Assassinations

Assassin's Creed Mirage

Stealth is back. Assassinations are back. This feels like Assassin’s Creed. Mirage sports a new investigations menu, that instead of a basic objective to follow, you’re left to control what direction the game takes you, and in what order. Not everything is handed to you as you’re playing, and a lot of it needs to be found using your own deduction skills. Whether it is tracking down the Caretaker of Books, looking for evidence linking a target to the Order, or something entirely different, this simple mechanic makes you feel like you’re uncovering the story on your own, rather than being led down it with no choices.

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Once you’ve done the necessary investigations, you’ll spend your time reconning the area where your target is. Now, there are six main targets to dispatch, but other than that you’ll be coming across plenty of others in your adventure through Baghdad, be they humble guards, accessories to the Order, or more.

Once you’ve killed one of your main targets though, you’ll be transported to the familiar hallucinations that featured in several of the first entries. Basim has a little tête-à-tête with his now-dying target, wipes an eagle feather in the blood, and off we go again. Assassinations are incredibly varied, with multiple distractions available to utilize, as well as tools and techniques to make each kill varied and unique.

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Related: Jack Quaid, Hollywood Actor & Everyman Gamer Talks Assassin’s Creed Mirage, His Favourite Games & Being a ‘Little Sneaky Boy’ (EXCLUSIVE)

At this point, it should be mentioned that the game has put such a focus on stealth that, unlike the previous three entries, getting into all-out combat is a death sentence. If you’re faced with the prospect of fighting more than three enemies? I’d run. The health bar is minimal, and the enemies are strong. This again, is only a good thing. It forces you to be the Assassin you’re supposed to be, not the kill-all warrior Eivor etc. was.

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If there are several enemies in front of you and you remain undetected, the developers have introduced a new mechanic that fans of the Hitman and Splinter Cell franchises will remember fondly. Whereas in those aforementioned franchises, you’d mark and then execute your enemies at the push of a button, here you have Assassin’s Focus – which you can upgrade – which allows you to dispatch enemies in an automated fashion. Choose your victims and watch Basim murder them with flair and skill. It never gets boring.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage has a Few Minor Problems

Assassin's Creed Mirage

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Criticisms are light but valid. The game’s main character, Baghdad, is glorious to behold. The environment is stunning and you’ll never get bored of running across the rooftops or climbing the nearest viewpoint. However, the animations and character faces themselves are out-of-date, to the point it was jarring and took me out of the experience at times. Considering the rest of the graphical fidelity, this is made all the more odd. The outfits look gorgeous. The combat animations are great. The aforementioned environment is a treat. Unfortunately, the faces of the characters are not.

What’s more, the parkour of Assassin’s Creed Mirage is at times fluid, other times janky and hard to manage. I constantly found myself using the wrong button to sprint and the wrong one to climb, whereas it should have been one button for both, in my opinion. For the most part, I got where I was going, but there were some points where Basim just wasn’t having it.

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Ultimately, this is the most fun I’ve had with a character in an Assassin’s Creed game for a long while, and whereas nostalgia usually kills more modern games, Assassin’s Creed Mirage actually benefits from it. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported fifteen years back. A lot of what makes Assassin’s Creed Mirage great is that it respects what came before it, and what made the franchise great to begin with. It isn’t trying to revolutionize or inject new blood into it, but instead, it keeps the formula simple, and it translates to a fun experience throughout.

8/10

8 Out of 10

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Assassin’s Creed Mirage was played on PlayStation 5 and reviewed with a code supplied by 160over90.

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Written by Luke Addison

Luke Addison is the Lead Video Game Critic and Gaming Editor. As likely to be caught listening to noughties rock as he is watching the latest blockbuster cinema release, Luke is the quintessential millennial wistfully wishing after a forgotten era of entertainment. Also a diehard Chelsea fan, for his sins.

Twitter: @callmeafilmnerd