Wooderon Games of the Year 2017: #3

Top three time. True to form I’m struggling to think of anything else to write in this opening paragraph as the list comes to its climax. So let’s pull something out of my ass… This might the first time I’ve written one of these lists that hasn’t had a 3DS game on it. I might be showing my hand a little bit here despite the list not being over yet.

But it feels like Nintendo really are winding down on their handheld system now with the release and subsequent success of the Switch. It’s exciting really, seeing all of these games that were 3DS franchises making the move to to a device with graphics comparable to the Switch. Pokemon, Phoenix Wright, the Mario & Luigi RPG series. But the consequence is that the 3DS hasn’t had the best year. It’s had its last gasps, With the likes of Samus Returns, but I hope we hear something more concrete from Nintendo regarding it in the coming months.

Anyway, on with the list.

#10: Prey

#9: Star Wars Battlefront II

#8: Cuphead

#7: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

#6: Destiny 2

#5: Horizon Zero Dawn

#4: Super Mario Odyssey

#3: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Played on Xbox One | Released 27th October | Developed by Ubisoft Montreal

I honestly never expected to come back to Assassin’s Creed after their year off and enjoy another game in the series as much as I ended up liking Assassin’s Creed Origins. There have been multiple occasions over the years where I have been happy to wash my hands of the series and say there is nothing else in there for me. Ubisoft always managed to poke me in the side and find one more reason to keep me on their leaky ship.

I’ve had a storied history with the series. I really liked the first few games. (That includes the first one) They did something different and rewarded forward planning and a unique stealth mechanic of hiding in plain sight. As the series moved on, it moved away from this to become a more generic action game, and thus the series fell away from me. I don’t really remember why I decided to pick Origins up, but I do remember wanting to dislike the game almost straight away when I started playing it.

And for the first few hours I did. I hated it. The game starts arduously slowly, dropping you into the middle of a fight with no context before sending you off to do a bunch of tutorial missions in a dusty little settlement. I persevered though, and by the time you get to the game’s first major city; Alexandrea, the game really starts to shine. The world really opens up and you’ve had enough time to get used to your tools and abilities that you’re able to properly interact with the game.

I ended up really enjoyed it, I still am enjoying it in fact. Taking a year off seemed to be just the thing this series needed to breath a bit of fresh air into it. The games had become stale, especially when they were on an annual release schedule. Origin’s serves as not only a soft reboot to the series, but a fresh take on the gameplay and approach Ubisoft take to these games.

While the previous Assassin’s Creed games have been open world, this game feels like that direction has been fully realised, more so than the series has ever managed before. The world map feels massive, and is filled with things to find and explore. Not only that, it’s gorgeous looking. With locations from rolling sand dunes as far as the eye can see, to flooded forests full of colour, to packed cityscapes, bringing back some more of the original Assassin’s Creed throughout.

Being set in Egypt works a lot in its favour too. While some games with maps this big can feel empty, the tombs and crypts littering the landscape make delving below intriguing and rewarding. Plus, even when you are riding though an endless desert, the game throws enough weird things at you to keep the journey interesting.

Surprisingly, part of the reason I enjoyed the game as much as I did are the main characters; Bayek and his partner Aya. Ubisoft have flip flopped with their game’s protagonists, especially the Assassin’s Creed series. Bayek manages to be a likeable character who isn’t just an Ezio clone. He is honourable, stoic, but not without humour to him. He feels more like a fleshed out person than I’m used to seeing in these murder simulators.

While he can seem serious of dismissive of a lot of the people he interacts with, the game isn’t afraid to let him be silly. Some of the people he encounters are barmy enough to even cause him a chuckle and to say “fuck it I’ll just go along with it”. But my favourite thing about him is how melts every time he interacts with children, which is so fucking cute. Despite the rage and righteous justice he extracts on those he feels wronged him, he still comes across as a very likeable guy who you want to see succeed.

Aya is something else. While we don’t see her all too often, she seems to be having the more traditional Assassin’s Creed protagonist experience. She latches onto famous figures and has a story more in line with the Assassin’s Creed games of old; being roped into political intrigue and starting to believe in something bigger than herself. The brief interactions between her and Bayek are really good, as he is far more reluctant to commit himself to the same higher cause.

Assassin’s Creed Origins creates a beautiful and interesting world I enjoyed spending time in, to the point that I went back and continued to tick boxes off the infamous Ubisoft checklist. The only downside is that the combat which, while different than the counter based death tornado of previous games, is a little dull. To begin with it felt unresponsive and frustrating, where you could get taken down too easily. But once you invest a few skill upgrades and get a decent weapon, it becomes a triviality where you can take down six guys with two button presses.

This game finds itself so high on my list because it kept me coming back. A lot of games I’ve written about so far on my list, I sometimes had to remind myself to go and play them. As good as they were, they weren’t at the front of my mind. Origins was something I would just start playing without thinking. I don’t know where Ubisoft are going to go from here, whether they’re going to stick to a more infrequent release schedule, which I think they should, or go back to an annual one. But right now, my feelings on the franchise are pretty good.

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