Nothing would have prepared us for Assassin’s Creed: Mirage’s return to form. Well, except, of course, for the part where you silently hope the 15 or so-year-old franchise realizes the essence that makes the series exceptional lies in its earliest years. It became second nature – to expect the series to continue to drift away from its original raw beauty. The latest of which – Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla – marked the point of no return I wasn’t sure the series would recover from.
If you’re a little lost, Assassin’s Creed is a long-running franchise whose fame has narrowed down to being the epitome of stealth-based missions. The series was unlike any other, placing players in the shoes of the hooded brotherhood of The Hidden Ones (later Assassins), gradually chipping away at the foiled self-fulfilling plans of The Order (later The Templar). You would hide, sneak, and stab enemies in the back without them seeing you coming from a mile away. You would revel in lurking in the shadows and saving the world without them ever knowing the part you played in doing so.
It’s a neat concept that propelled Assassin’s Creed into a unique stature in the gaming sphere until later iterations began to lose their way. From a more action-oriented RPG that doesn’t sit right with the series’ roots to a sprawling open world with vast empty spaces, Ubisoft would yet again release entries that merely defeat the franchise’s entire essence and purpose. That’s until Assassin’s Creed: Mirage came in to save the day and possibly change the course of the series’ future for the better. So, buckle up as we dive deep into our Assassin’s Creed: Mirage review.
When it All Began
You may remember the lead character, Basim, from Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. He was somewhat of a supporting character that left a mark in the game, enough to warrant an expansion revolving around his story that later rebirthed into a full-on standalone Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. It takes us back to when it all began for Basim, a street rat barely scraping by. He would pick the pockets of others before being recruited into “The Hidden Ones,” a hooded organization of assassins.
It’s not the story as much as the setting that truly makes your time here everlasting. There’s so much to do, yet it's all packed within the confines of a single city and its surroundings. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla or any of the previous iterations, you’ll understand why this map design choice is a dream come true. Assassin’s Creed’s stealth tactics were not meant for a sprawling world with vast empty spaces but for a compact city with bustling crowds.
Common folk go about their daily livelihoods. Among the hustle and bustle of city life, members of The Order blend in. It’s up to you to sniff them out and thwart their plans before impending doom arrives.
That’s it. That’s all the series needs to thrive – and it sure does. What’s more? The gameplay strips down all the extra weight from before. Stats and gear, large-scale battles, and castle raids – none of these were ever fitting of an assassin’s E.M.O. Instead, Assassin’s Creed: Mirage gives you nothing more than a spear and dagger. It leaves all of the evidence gathering and sneaking around to you.
Plan to Execute
Perched up on a ledge, you would use your eagle to plan your way through multiple routes and guards. Blending in could bring you closer to the goal. Or hiding at prime spots. Alternatively, you could keep leaping from building to building until it’s safe to land. With just a spear and sword, it would be highly unwise to take on multiple enemies at once. Your best bet is to sneak up on them and pick them off one by one.
There’s also plenty of investigating to do. In many instances, you have to look around to find clues. A dead librarian somewhere – possible murder? You may need access to a secret room. However, you’ll first need to get a coin; that’s the ticket to accessing the room. So, you fumble about, keeping your eyes and ears open. With the help of your eagle vision, you spot a random merchant who has the coin. But you must do a pretty bunch of aimless walking to find what you’re looking for.
But walking around aimlessly is beside the point because you always feel like you can use your time effectively. It’s easy to wander around and still find interesting secrets to uncover. Better still, you can always trace your way back and pick up where you left off. Whether it’s through faithfully following quest markers or taking up freelance assassin contracts, sneaking around and staying out of sight never gets lost on you.
Additionally, taking up freelance contracts does come in handy, as they reward you with extra currency in the form of tokens. You can use these to bribe factions to fight beside you or merchants to smuggle you into inaccessible places.
Options. So Many Options.
You can hide in tall grass, lurk behind corners, or atop buildings. The environment is your playground; do with it as you please. Guards will roam around the city. So, you must trace their patrol patterns to determine where to go. Alternatively, you may look out for alarm bells and turn them off. Or make use of smoke bombs and oil jars to take out several guards.
There are sleep darts, noisemakers for distractions, throwing knives, non-lethal traps—you name it. There are so many options, all of which help solidify the conscious choice to kill, bypass, or avoid – certainly much more compelling than simply “shoot all the guards before they spot you.”
Sometimes, all it takes is a keen ear to uncover secrets. People are always chatting, and you never know what their gossip may reveal. You can wear disguises too and roam freely within the crowds. Or, hunt treasures and infiltrate secret rooms to unlock chests and upgrade your weapons and gear. Some upgrades even let you get away with mischief tracked by the notoriety meter. Or, you could rip off wanted posters yourself to maintain anonymity.
Missed a Spot
When there are numerous puzzles and secrets to uncover in a small, compact, and dense area, it elevates the engagement levels a ton and makes for an intense 20-hour dose of fun. Unfortunately, it skipped Ubisoft’s mind to, yes, retrace the franchise’s steps back to its former glory, but, no, “don’t forget to revamp the gameplay, too!” Assassin’s Creed: Mirage does its job right to bring back the good old days that made the series shine. But in the process, it retains the same gameplay that wound up stiff and finicky on current and next-gen consoles.
Parkour, in particular, needs more garage time. You’d leap off a building only to land on a wall instead of a pile of crates. Or worse, jump into the waiting hands of a squad of guards. The parkour system has always had issues from time immemorial. It’s sad to see it persist until now.
Meanwhile, you better pray that you don’t somehow engage in large-scale battles with guards or The Order because the combat system of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is in desperate need of love and care. Thankfully, you’ll spend most of your time lurking in the shadows, and maybe that’s the intent behind a stiff and awkward combat system. Go figure.
There’s plenty to love about Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, especially for veteran fans of the series. It’s a love letter to the earliest years of the franchise, back when entries would hold stealth and the way of the assassin in high regard. To a large extent, Mirage looks and feels like a stealth sandbox packed with multiple routes and guards to plan your way through. You have plenty of puzzles to solve and secrets to uncover. As much as Mirage’s map design is drastically smaller than Valhalla’s, making your way from point A to B is never as straightforward as you may think.
Additionally, Mirage gives you plenty of tools at your disposal, such that it’s never as simple as “kill or be killed.” You could send guards to sleep, taking away the chance of guards finding a dead body. From wearing disguises, optionally infiltrating secret areas, and actively investigating scenes, Mirage’s gameplay feels refreshing. It’s never a straight and narrow play-through, with often infusing ingenious ways to stay alive.
That said, it’s utterly disappointing that the combat and parkour systems got left behind in the move to resurrect a franchise that was slowly losing its way. Still, there’s never a better time to play Assassin than in Mirage, and that’s all that matters, I guess, at least for now.
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage Review (PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, iOS, PC, & Amazon Luna)
Assassin’s Creed Return to Form
Just when we’d nearly lost hope of Assassin’s Creed ever returning to form, Mirage steps in and reconstructs all that made the series great once upon a time. You truly feel like an assassin, lurking in the shadows, silently and stealthily bringing to justice all who do the world harm.