Ubisoft Bordeaux invites players to 9th Century Baghdad, with Assassin’s Creed Mirage, following the early life of Basim Ibn Ishaq, the Master Assassin from 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
For over fifteen years Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games, a mix of historical events and modern-day sci-fi, have taken players on a journey from Ancient Egypt to Victorian England. On the way we engaged in Athenian naval battles, met Leonardo de Vinci, and played a part in the French Revolution.
Played in third-person, the games have players experiencing the lives of various Assassins through the ages via a device called the Animus. Principally action stealth games, of late the games have focused more on action.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage has been presented as a return to the series roots, the long-running franchise buckling under the weight of countless games, comics, and novels. This is not the first time that Ubisoft has backed themselves into a corner with their Assassin’s Creed games, with each entry being required to outdo the last and accommodate an increasingly esoteric overarching storyline.
The success of the epic Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag forced the publisher to reevaluate the franchise with 2014’s more compact Assassin’s Creed Unity. After Unity’s successor, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the franchise was, once again refocused. 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, 2018’s Assassin’s Odyssey, and 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla featured revamped action RPG-style gameplay.
Mirage starts with a young Basim as a thief on the streets of the city of Anbar. Like many of the recent games, the story is set before the formation of the Assassin’s Brotherhood and their mortal enemies the Templars. Instead, Basim gets drawn into the conflict between their precursor organisations, The Hidden Ones and The Ancient Order. Enamoured by The Hidden Ones, Basim is taken in by Master Assassin Roshan (voiced by The Expanse’s Shohreh Aghdashloo) and, over many years, is trained as an assassin.
Whilst I consider the last three games to be some of the best in the series, they are a considerable departure from the series’ original premise. These games grant players almost superhuman abilities that make them virtually invulnerable, and stealth gameplay pretty pointless. Unlike the earlier games, they made it easier to engage in open combat than use stealth. For Mirage, the gameplay has shifted focus back to stealth, planning, and cunning.
With Basim being a newly-minted assassin, he is dispatched to Baghdad to investigate The Order of the Ancients’ presence in the city. As soon as you start playing it, the game’s change of pace is immediately apparent. Having spent the last three years as Eivor, in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, just wading into enemy strongholds and kicking arse, Basim’s comparative vulnerabilities took a bit of getting used to. My first hour or so with Assassin’s Creed Mirage was very frustrating.
It took getting a good whooping to understand that the novice assassin, Basim, really wasn’t going to be able to take on lumbering scimitar-wielding guards in a fair fight. Assassin’s Creed games should be more about assassinations than melee combat, which in this game seems designed to punish players who clumsily step out of the shadows. It wasn’t long, however, before the muscle memory of playing the early Assassin’s Creed games kicked into gear and I was meticulously removing guards from play with a hidden blade stab to the back.
The combat very much draws upon that of the first game. Perfect timing is required to block regular strikes and dodge heavy, unblockable attacks.
The game ignores the originals’ minimalistic HUD design by having opponents glow yellow before normal strikes and red before unlockable strikes. This unsubtle design decision breaks the immersion, somewhat. It’s not very practical, either, as the coloured cues don’t work if using Basim’s eagle vision.
As much as the game is a soft reboot, as well as the eagle vision sense ability that has been around since the beginning, Basim has an eagle sidekick similar to those in Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla. This greatly aids players when planning assaults on heavily guarded areas.
It’s not just the gameplay that harks back to the original Assassin’s Creed game. The Middle Eastern setting of Baghdad has the same exotic feel as the earlier games. There’s even a filter that can be switched on to match the blue/grey tones of the first game.
The city of Baghdad feels like a living city. Which makes exploring it even more fun. At ground level, there are opportunities to blend in and avoid guard, but it’s amongst the rooftops where Basim’s parkour skills come in handy. There’s lots of climbing and leaping across buildings, usually whilst being pursued.
Get caught pickpocketing and killing you will gain notoriety, eventually getting instantly recognised by the city guards. They will chase you until they lose sight of you and Basim becomes anonymous. The way to remove notoriety is by ripping down posters or paying a town herald.
The game is packed with secrets, collectables, and side quests, in the form of optional contracts. Contracts range from assassinations to procuring valuable objects. They are not without their risk but grant great rewards.
The map is smaller than that of the last three games, but not overly so. The landscape still feels vast and peppered with settlement in the area surrounding Baghdad. There are plenty of secrets to find. The mystery and intrigue that is a staple of the Assassin’s Creed games are plentiful in Mirage, inviting and rewarding exploration.
Out of the box, Mirage runs well. I am playing it on a machine with an i9-13800K and an RTX 4090, but this system would still betray any inherent optimisation issues. This is likely due to the game being built upon Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as opposed to being a “new game”. Mirage was first pitched as a potential DLC for Valhalla, a game that has enjoyed a stack of expansions over the last three years.
This would also account for Mirage looking a teeny bit dated. Not the breathtakingly detailed environments, which are fantastic, but some of the character faces and animations. The absence of a season pass, and the lower cost of the retail game, as well, suggests that this is not quite a full Assassin’s Creed game in the traditional sense. That being said, it very much plays like a full Assassin’s Creed game.
With Assassin’s Creed Mirage we get exactly what Ubisoft promised. If some classic Assassin’s Creed is what you are after, polished up in a more modern presentation, this game delivers.