After over 15 years and more than a dozen games and spin-offs, Ubisoft’s highly successful Assassin’s Creed (AC) franchise has undergone noticeable changes, leaving some fans feeling that it had drifted far from the original essence introduced in the first AC. This essence revolved around a triple approach involving stealth, parkour and assassinations.
The previous three games were massive RPGs, demanding around 100 hours to complete. For many AC purists, it came as a relief when the developers acknowledged the division among the hardcore fanbase by returning the series to its roots with the release of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, which launched yesterday, marking a departure from the epic Viking-themed Valhalla, released three years ago.
AC Mirage, centres on the backstory of one of Valhalla’s most interesting characters, Basim Ibn Ishaq, with the game set 20 years before, in 861 CE, in Abbasid-era Baghdad. This historical setting piqued my initial interest in addition to the game’s return to basics, having enjoyed the first AC also set in the Middle East but during the Third Crusade.
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Throughout the game, we witness the protagonist’s transformation, evolving from a mere street thief into a prominent figure within the secretive Hidden Ones. Staying true to the rich AC lore, the Hidden Ones are engaged in a timeless conflict between justice and tyranny with their arch-nemesis, the Order of the Ancients (by the time of the first AC game, the Hidden Ones are rebranded as the Assassin Brotherhood, loosely based on a fanatical faction of the Ismaili Nizari sect, while the Order become the Knights Templars.)
During the game’s prelude, we actually venture to neighbouring Persia, at the historic Alamut Castle, where Basim hones his skills under guidance from Roshan, a Persian former slave turned Master Assassin. From the get-go, the gameplay was an immersive experience, especially as we first get a glimpse of the City of Peace, Baghdad and its surroundings.
Parkour in #AssassinsCreed have been the most important!
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When it comes to gameplay, AC Mirage exudes a sense of nostalgia. Sneaking and leaping through the medieval streets of this city offers a smooth and abundant parkour experience, evoking memories of the series’ earlier titles. Despite being relatively more constrained compared to the expansive open-world AC games, the gameplay flows seamlessly and the world map brings 9th Century Baghdad to life.
However, combat remains one of the trickiest aspects to perfect, and AC Mirage is no exception. The combat sequences are somewhat simple and lack the fluidity of more combat-centric games one finds in Soulsborne games. Then again, it’s important to note that the game prioritises stealth and assassination over full-on combat, although the regular enemies were rather repetitive in design.
Recreating an important, medieval capital of the Abbasid Caliphate was the most impressive aspect, as it’s a city that has arguably captured the imagination throughout history, during a period often referred to as the Islamic Golden Age.
Speaking to MEMO, one of the historical consultants for AC Mirage, Dr Ali A Olomi, describes Mirage as “a fantasy game, which does a remarkable job creating nuanced and immersive experiences by drawing upon history as inspiration.”
“The approach of history as inspiration rather than historical recreation works wonderfully; by drawing on actual history, the world of Mirage compellingly comes to life with depth and realism while still allowing the game to take acceptable and logical liberties for the sake of storytelling and gameplay,” he adds.
For Olomi: “Baghdad feels very real, rich with history and culture. As you enter the city, the sight of the Great Mosque and the Palace is seriously breathtaking. You get a sense of medieval Abbasid Baghdad, the essence of it. Even the changes you encounter that are different from history make perfect sense, because they nailed the essence.”
Super excited to have been one of the historical consultants on #AssassinsCreedMirage and am currently one the cohosts for it’s official podcast.
On the eve of its release, a thread on the historical background of the game and 9th century Baghdad— pic.twitter.com/47TCLyAtrm
— Ali A Olomi (@aaolomi) October 4, 2023
In my game-play experience, it was remarkable to see the lengths with which Ubisoft went in bringing Arabic to the forefront, with numerous non-playable characters (NPCs) heard throughout the bustling streets conversing in classical Arabic. While the first AC was arguably ground-breaking in its use of Arabic phrases and cultural and religious references, AC Mirage has taken this to new levels, especially with dialogue cut-scenes and the inclusion of the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer.
The main quest in AC Mirage progresses through a series of investigations, each leading to a main member of the Order who are working from the shadows to ruthlessly control Baghdad and pull the strings of the Abbasids. It was both engaging and entertaining to pick up tidbits of information throughout the game, enlightening the user to various facets of the culture, history and politics of the age.
AC Mirage is filled with a plethora of references to historical events and iconic landmarks. Notable examples include the portrayal of the Zanj slave rebellion led by Ali Ibn Muhammad, the famed House of Wisdom, and the vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. Particularly, the bustling bazaar area stands out, where players encounter a diverse array of nationalities, religions and languages from both the East and West, reflecting the city’s status as a global hub during that era.
According to another contributor to the game, Dr Glaire Anderson, an author and researcher in the history and visual culture of the medieval Middle East and North Africa, in AC Mirage “The most dramatic landmark is the Round City itself. Players will encounter its monumental gates and will be able to walk along the top of its perimeter walls to survey the landmarks across the city.”
She told MEMO: “Players can look out for interesting architectural details: carved decorative elements inspired by period motifs, for example, or the important role of brick as a building material, for which the Abbasids are very well known. There’s a lot for players to encounter and explore in Mirage’s Baghdad!”
Commenting on Ubisoft’s latest addition, Dr Olomi said: “I personally found the game designers and people I worked with open to feedback and genuinely interested in getting the history right. The only challenge, if you can call it that, is finding the right balance between history and fiction and I personally think the game manages it splendidly.”
Experiencing a return to a narrative-driven AC installment was a refreshing change and it felt like revisiting familiar territory. While the main character, Basim, sometimes steps aside in the narrative, this could be attributed to the captivating allure of the city of Baghdad itself, which, for me, was the true highlight of the game.
Additionally, the inclusion of more native voice actors from the region assuming various roles is a positive step forward, providing a more authentic gaming experience. Hopefully, we can anticipate this trend continuing in video games, inshaAllah.