It might feel strange for a successful series to take a break from its latest evolution to return to its origins, but that's exactly what Ubisoft is doing with Assassin's Creed Mirage. And it's the right move. After Assassin's Creed Origins took the classic series' formula and applied it to a vast open-world scale and RPG mechanics back in 2017, we've had almost five years of huge Assassin's Creed titles. And that's even with the series taking a break in 2019 from its usual annualized release schedule.
Because after Origins, we had the 2018 Ancient Greece adventure that was the immense Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which was followed by Assassin's Creed Valhalla and its epic Viking tale in 2020. Each of those three vast open-world RPGs also had at least two major expansions too, turning each one into quests with the potential to last for hundreds of hours. And as someone who's clocked over 180 hours with Eivor in Valhalla, even I reached the point where I had finally had enough of Assassin's Creed Valhalla after Dawn of Ragnarok.
At this point, Assassin's Creed as a series is at risk of developing open-world fatigue. Ubisoft promised that Valhalla would be shorter and smaller than Odyssey, but anyone who's stepped foot in its Dark Ages England will know that that's not exactly true. Each one of Ubisoft's takes on an open-world Assassin's Creed has been bigger and denser than the last, and although that's incredibly admirable, it's also not sustainable.
Ubisoft titles are already regularly (rightly or wrongly) criticized for being too formulaic, and producing worlds of this magnitude every two years surely just risks that becoming more and more palpable. By switching to a project like Assassin's Creed Mirage, it allows the series to take stock, and also make sure it's not losing sight of that which made the series what it is today – stealth, parkour, and, well, assassinating.
Not an illusion
So, Assassin's Creed Mirage is a relief – no doubt for the group of Ubisoft developers responsible for the series, but also for the community. Its 2023 launch is perfect timing – both in terms of celebrating the series' 15th anniversary and acting as an intake of breath before the inevitably vast worlds of Assassin's Creed Codename Red and Assassin's Creed Codename Hexe arrive.
Lead developer Ubisoft Montpellier has stated that Assassin's Creed Mirage is an homage to the very first title in the series, taking the series back to its roots albeit with some modern modifications. It's almost a complete deviation away from the direction of the last three Assassin's Creed titles. Of course, that starts with the setting – Baghdad. Like the first game, it's a Persian setting, and it's also a single, dense city for us to explore. Those early Assassin's Creed games were all about learning the intricacies of these populated areas, using the densely packed humans as much as the verticality to disappear from view. That same gameplay focus is going to be at play here, with hunting down, taking out, and then vanishing becoming the core gameplay loop – as it once was.
Each assassination will be a black box mission, allowing you to have some freedom as to how you take down your target, but I'm excited to have a tighter focus for each level. Valhalla experimented with it more in its DLC titles, with smaller camps to take out, but such open-world titles struggle to really pull off satisfying stealth mechanics. With Assassin's Creed Mirage promising more nuanced detection so you can see exactly who's chasing you down, there's plenty of scope for this to be seriously satisfying.
I'm immensely looking forward to getting to grips with a new parkour system too – with the trailer even teasing that Basim may fall if you mess up your movements, just like old times. Iconic moves like the corner swing are back too, which almost feel beautifully nostalgic at this stage. Basim's got a few new tricks though, like a pole vault for bridging larger gaps mid-run and mines to help go from hunted to Hidden One once more.
From zero to hero
Compared to the triple-ended sprawl of Valhalla's storyline, Assassin's Creed Mirage is instead a "tightly-crafted narrative-driven" adventure. Although there will be points where missions can be completed in any order, Ubisoft Montpellier has been clear that Mirage will offer clearly defined start and end points, so expect a much more condensed and intense narrative.
It all points to a much smaller, more compact experience all focused on our hero and their close allies – Basim. We're joining the story of the returning character some 20 years before the events of Valhalla, to see how he goes from street thief to master assassin. That's particularly interesting because from that phrasing alone it seems there are still opportunities to weave in a little of that modern Assassin's Creed RPG in there. He'll rise through the ranks from apprentice to top-level assassin too, leveraging his "unique skills" in stealth and agility.
I'm intrigued to see what a classic Assassin's Creed formula looks like in the current generation of consoles. Obviously, graphically the last few Assassin's Creed titles have set a high bar, but what tweaks will Ubisoft make to make a classic formula feel modern? With classic mechanics on modern machines, Assassin's Creed Mirage has the potential to be one of the most intriguing entries to the series for some time.
Mirage wasn't the only new game in the series announced at Ubisoft Forward 2022. The publisher also confirmed the first two games for Assassin's Creed Infinity, which will be flagship open world RPGs called Assassin's Creed Codename Red and Assassin's Creed Codename Hexe.