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    Assassin’s Creed Mirage goes back to basics — and ends up basic

    The previous several Assassin’s Creed games had moved away from assassination. You did murder people — a lot of them — but with the recklessness of Kratos rather than the elegance of Ezio or Altair. AC Mirage is Ubisoft’s return to the franchise’s roots, with a focus on stealth kills, evading detection, and talents that support such actions. It’s also a ruse, giving the impression of an intriguing tale and intricate stealth action combat before dissolving into a generic experience with technical annoyances, easy fighting, and a story that can be disregarded.

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    In Mirage, you take on the role of Basim Ibn Ishaq, a street thief who becomes entangled in the world of Assassins, known as Hidden Ones in this game, and its perennial rivals, the Templars or Order of the Ancients. Basim’s tough parkour talents are one of the first fun parts of Mirage. Buildings in Baghdad offer no impediment to Basim’s ability to go from one place to another, since he can jump, climb, and slide over practically anything in his path.

    I particularly liked how the game refuses to sacrifice its English-language authenticity. NPCs carry on complete discussions in Arabic while you wander through ninth-century Baghdad, with no dubbed subtitles. When Basim speaks to others, the conversation is riddled with Arabic words and phrases that are translated. While I cannot attest to the veracity of the language utilized or the culture on show (here are some opinions from those who can), I enjoy it when games include cultural features that aren’t for me. They are what they are, and this game was definitely created with a love for Arabic language and culture in mind.

    Mirage, I hoped, would provide a less bloated experience than the “go anywhere, do anything” edict — the assassin’s creed, if you will — that had been the standard in games like Origins, Valhalla, and Odyssey. That handful of recent games had become, in my opinion, more like the collect-a-thon games of my youth, with a thin, barely coherent plot stretched across a sprawling environment filled with seemingly endless amounts of collectibles and points of interest that you just have to see to satisfy the brain’s insatiable desire to mark off a checklist. For $60, this isn’t the most appealing deal.

    This game was clearly made with appreciation for Arabic culture

    Mirage rewarded that optimism. Yes, there is still a massive world full of things to do, see, and gather, but it is lot less daunting, and the activities you may engage in contribute to the game’s fundamental concept. The things you can do in Mirage don’t seem like they’re there simply for fun; they feel like they truly reinforce the concept that you’re a part of a covert order of Assassins designed to defend the innocent and punish the wicked.

    In the game, you can accept contracts. I first decided to disregard them since I wanted to write a review and I was short on time (as a result, I haven’t finished the game, clocking just 10-11 hours total for a game whose primary plot was described as lasting 12-15 hours). But I tried one and absolutely loved it. I liked how multiple contracts are available depending on your playing style. They centered on fighting, stealth, or a combination of the two, with additional optional demands that are more difficult to execute.

    My favorite task required me to steal from a bathhouse while still completing the objective without harming anyone. In this game, assassinating someone is really simple (and entertaining!). Hide in a bush and whistle, and guards will swarm to you like rats to a pied piper, ready to be captured, stabbed, and concealed. To finish this assignment and earn the extra goods, I had to be a little more crafty, whistling guards away from doorways so I could slip through instead of murdering them. I needed to think more like a genuine assassin.

    I really liked how Basim’s many skills and abilities complement one other. In the beginning, I didn’t do anything with my pet bird, Enkidu. I didn’t see the use of him other than to inform me where all the guards were. But once I found out how to use him, he became necessary. AC Mirage stresses the concept that being an assassin also implies being a detective who must bring all of their skills and tools to bear when assigned a mission.

    One of my jobs was transporting a gossipy poet to safety and shielding him from a strong ruler and his hired henchmen. When I came near to the mission marker, it vanished, leaving me to explore the area for my charge with no direction. I was about to give up until I summoned Enkidu and realized I needed to utilize his eagle vision to scan the region. I had no clue that the enormous golden circle that displays on the UI when he’s summoned is effectively a beacon that leads you in the right direction; the smaller the circle, the closer you are to your goal. That finding made me admire Ubisoft’s thoughtful approach to create this game more resemble classic Assassin’s Creeds. I felt more like a genuine assassin, using deception and specialized instruments rather than overwhelming force.

    I had to think more like how a true assassin would

    While I enjoyed feeling like a true assassin, technological limitations severely limited my experience. I crashed a lot when playing on my Series S. I’m not sure if it was due to the pre-launch version of the game or something else, but I crashed at least once or twice throughout each play session. Combine that with the fact that the game does not allow you to save manually during missions, and I had a lot of forward progress halted because the game simply stopped operating.

    Dungeon design is amusing — but not in a good way. The primary gameplay loop of Mirage is invading a restricted place in order to find information, objects, or people. There are several doors in these regions that are locked from the inside, forcing you to make your way to the other side and open them. Unbarring a door should therefore be a reward for successful investigation, similar to how it is in Bloodborne and other souls-like games. When you successfully complete the perilous journey of discovery, you are awarded with a shortcut to make future travels simpler. But, during my time with the game, I couldn’t either find my way to the other side or, when I did, the door didn’t lead anywhere or to anything.

    Ubisoft

    I had the most trouble figuring out where to go in the game’s first huge dungeon, a jail. I’d gone everywhere and murdered nearly every guard, but I kept wandering in circles, wondering, “How in the hell am I supposed to get to the bowels of this prison?” I believed my effective penetration had been rewarded when I located a door that I could unbar, only to have that door open directly into an inaccessible gate, similar to the ones in hotels with neighboring rooms. I was furious – all that wheel-spinning and going in circles had been for naught.

    NPC AI is similarly amusing in a negative manner and unreliable. You’re exposed to baskets scattered across the city early on in the game, from which you may take things like crafting materials and stuff to sell for cash. There was nothing to suggest that such stealing was wrong, as the game does with a huge red icon when you try to pickpocket someone or take from a chest. So, of course, if I saw a basket or a pot, I seized it. Imagine my amazement when guards suddenly began wielding swords. Maybe I mischaracterized that move from the start, and it’s always intended to be an arrestable crime, but I’ve stolen from baskets in front of guards multiple times, and it’s not an arrestable offense.

    NPC AI is similarly amusing in a negative manner and unreliable. You’re exposed to baskets scattered across the city early on in the game, from which you may take things like crafting materials and stuff to sell for cash. There was nothing to suggest that such stealing was wrong, as the game does with a huge red icon when you try to pickpocket someone or take from a chest. So, of course, if I saw a basket or a pot, I seized it. Imagine my amazement when guards suddenly began wielding swords. Maybe I mischaracterized the move from the start, and it’s always an arrestable infraction, but I’ve stolen from baskets in front of guards multiple times, and it’s always a crapshoot for when they react.Another instance of NPC AI gone rogue occurred at the jail. He followed me around after I saved the target… until he didn’t. I could still hear him giving me directions as if he were directly behind me, although he was standing several rooms away. It was a bummer since there was a time throughout the quest when I was surrounded by guards and having a helpful sword would have meant the difference between life and death. I had to lead battles to him because I couldn’t persuade him to advance past a certain point despite the fact that he had previously followed me. Enemies are also stupid, usually being trapped on geometry or in unending cycles of going up and down ladders in an attempt to catch up with me. Instead of deadly, important dangers to work around, enemies are trivial irritants that can be quickly prevented by ankle-high stretches of grass or hitting the assassination button someplace on their own plane of reality.

    Wait, that actually makes my job as an assassin easier, so forget I said anything.

    Combat is also lacking. That may be a sacrifice of Assassin’s Creed’s pared-down, back-to-basics design, but fighting is just not sophisticated enough to be fascinating. Guards are knocked out in a matter of seconds. The game promotes taking down larger adversaries from behind, yet anytime I got into a fight with them, I merely circled around them indefinitely. Circling an adversary while nibbling at their health is neither visually appealing nor enjoyable to play.

    I’m not a fan of Assassin’s Creed. I’ve played the Ezio trilogy and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom’s Cry before. (There is no reason why this DLC offshoot should be one of the only games in which you may kill chattel slave owners. Gather your shite, video game industry.) But, while I don’t know much about the previous 15 years of Assassin’s Creed mythos, I know I’ll appreciate anything with a good tale.

    Mirage ain’t that.

    I’m sure fans of earlier AC stories will appreciate this one, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Basim’s assassin mentor, Roshan, was a treat to hear, but there was nothing about this narrative or its characters that piqued my interest. Basim was a generic “every-man forced to take a stand” protagonist, and the general plot of “we are the righteous assassins who hide in the shadows to take down a centuries-old evil cabal” is so overdone by this point in Assassin’s Creed storytelling that I just skipped the cutscenes, understanding the story beats well enough without them.

    Mirage had some components that I liked, but I wish there was more I could say about it. I wish there had been something that pierced its “perfectly fine-ness” to make me sit up and lean forward. Aside from some frustrating technical problems, it’s not a horrible game. It’s really nothing out of the ordinary. You go places, do things, and then you fall into prominently positioned hay bales. Repeat indefinitely. Mirage is exactly what it sounds like: a faraway shimmering promise of a terrific time that swiftly fades into the reality of a pretty ordinary event.

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