PAX West 2017: Assassin’s Creed Origins Brings Alternate History to Egypt

Assassin’s Creed games are no stranger to using historical events as source material and many have stated that the (mostly accurate) use of historical figures and events is a large part of the appeal. Like most works of historical fiction, certain liberties are taken with events to make them more interesting and fitting of the story. Pope Alexander VI aka Rodrigo Borgia (also source material of some premium cable show) was an interesting historical figure who did many things that would be quite scandalous, such as being a pope with multiple baby mamas and could teach a master class on nepotism, but has zero confirmed kills. Without giving any spoilers for those not completing the Ezio series of games, let’s say this Borgia chap was a bit nastier if you believe in the world according to the Animus.

Assassin’s Creed Origins sets us up in a time that has been explored countless times through other forms of media but isn’t too commonplace in video games, which would be ancient Egypt during Cleopatra’s reign and her tryst with Julius Caesar. Aside from the vertical exploration of famous structures such as the Sphinx and pyramids, how these figures and their deeds will be twisted through the bloodthirsty eyes of the Animus is something where fans of alternative history could have a field day. The actual historical events that have been accepted as fact are juicy enough to have inspired many creative works so things can get really interesting once the Assassins and Templars get thrown in the mix and really muck things up.

Julius Caesar was quite a formidable force in battle and his military might was unmatched. Through his military conquests he was eventually able to amass enough power and influence where he would become dictator of Rome. The amount of power he had allowed him to implement the Julian Calendar (until the Gregorian Calendar replaced it) and even caused an affordable pizza restaurant chain to bear his name. According to most historical accounts, Caesar died through multiple stab wounds in an assassination by a mob led by Marcus Junius Brutus, which led to him saying his famous final line of “Et tu, Brute?” even though no historical document supports him actually saying this outside of the Shakespeare play. The role Caesar plays in Assassin’s Creed Origins has not been detailed, though one could speculate that Bayek could likely be the one who Caesar speaks his last words to.

Cleopatra was the final ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and in the demo she appears to be an ally to Bayek to Aya. While still youthful, Cleopatra became the mistress of dirty old man Caesar who was more than twice her age. Tabloid newspapers didn’t exist a couple thousand years ago, so we can only speculate on what type of stories would have been printed in the impulse purchase friendly gossip rags but one can imagine it must have been good. How the dramatization of Cleopatra and Caesar’s diddling and the political implications it may have had in the foreign policy between Egypt and Rome may or may not be an integral part to the story of Assassin’s Creed Origins, but it could be an interesting backdrop for the adventures of Bayek. Perhaps in a twist Cleopatra ends up falling at the hands of Bayek, who could in turn end up becoming instrumental in handing over Egypt as a province of the Roman Empire.

The use of historic events and historical figures has been a long running strength of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and there are other characters and facets of ancient Egyptian culture that could come into play. Mark Anthony, Ptolemy and Brutus where historical figures that could end up playing significant roles in Bayek’s duties as a white robed assassin. Or they could simply be background characters that help move Bayek’s story along as his involvement with other characters may be more important to the plot. The knowledge I possess in what role any of these characters really play in the greater story of the game is virtually nonexistent, but with all the possibilities this presents I am optimistic that however the characters and setting are implemented in the plot the result will be interesting.

The historical setting is an interesting facet of any Assassin’s Creed game, but the success or failure of Assassin’s Creed Origins depends more on its gameplay than anything else. Ubisoft has been churning out Assassin’s Creed games at a rate of approximately three a week so the market was getting oversaturated. They decided not to release any new mainline Assassin’s Creed games in 2016 to kind of recharge the batteries and make the next title feel a little more fresh. The brief segment I’ve played of Assassin’s Creed Origins indicates this was a smart move, since their version of Memphis is a beautiful looking city with plenty of walls to climb and subsequently dive from to bring death to an unsuspecting person. The open world exploration and smooth combat controls combined with the interesting history setting hint that we can be optimistic about this title when it is released next month.