Ubisoft spent the last six years distancing itself from the formula that helped make Assassin’s Creed popular. It’s a strategy that has seen the stealth-focused gameplay of titles like Assassin’s Creed 2 and Syndicate traded out for unending RPG experiences like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Valhalla. These more recent entries carry over the historically based settings the series is known for, but apart from that, the slick, stealthy identity has faded away – until now.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a back-to-basics experiment that follows Basim, a quick-witted assassin living in the golden age of Baghdad. Developer Ubisoft Bordeaux, which originally pitched the project as DLC for Valhalla, has propped it up as a stealth adventure with a gameplay loop that demands and incentivizes a tactical approach. So far, it sounds like a mix of the past and present, and with a price tag of $49.99, the October entry has some wiggle room to really change the course of Assassin’s Creed’s future.
Ubisoft is surely keen to see how players will react to an excursion back to that classic formula, but can it successfully tap into the roots of what made the series special? If the three-ish hours of Assassin’s Creed Mirage I played are anything to go off of, then I’m happy to say the answer is absolutely “yes.”
My demo explored three different points in Basim’s life: his time as a street thief, his early days in the Creed, and a further point in time when he has about a quarter of his stealth toolkit. Although I didn’t get to spend too much time in those first two sections, they probably gave me my favorite moments from the demo. That’s mostly thanks to Basim, who has the potential to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the franchise’s most interesting protagonists. As he leaps, tightropes, and cracks jokes through city streets, the soon-to-be assassin somehow manages to capture that same allure that Ezio had in Assassin’s Creed 2. It’s far too soon to tell if he’ll be quite as charming or deep, but for now, I’m optimistic about his path ahead.
Ubisoft Bordeaux has gone to great lengths to make sure players feel immersed in the city of Baghdad, but my favorite sprinkle of character saw groups of children parading around Basim, calling out to him like he’s a local hero. When not sharing quick conversations with friends around town, my time as a street thief was spent learning to pickpocket, which, in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, is a quick, addictive, timing-based mini-game. Making clean getaways after a successful heist is energizing, but the not-so-clean getaways generate their own exciting moments, too.
Following my street-level view of Basim’s life, my demo skipped forward in time to have me both literally and figuratively climb my way through the ranks of the Creed. While I had been given the opportunity to toy with parkour a bit before now, this chapter takes a closer look at how movement works.
That thirst for fluid traversal should be quenched in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, but let’s get one thing straight: this is not Assassin’s Creed Unity parkour 2.0. Traversal definitely feels better than it did in Odyssey and Valhalla, and parkour is even stronger when you’re finally unleashed into dense city streets and cluttered rooftops of Baghdad, but I also felt the movement had been done better in some previous entries.
Combat this time around involves a combination of dodging and parrying with light and heavy attacks, while also allowing players to sprinkle in tools like throwing knives. A system like this is anything but revolutionary for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but the fighting in Mirage feels stunningly weighty. That might sound surprising, especially considering Ubisoft Bordeaux is, rather successfully, creating a stealth-centric experience. Although combat is absolutely a viable way to approach some encounters, you’ll quickly learn that you’re better off sticking to stealth when facing large groups. I did my best to complete one mission almost exclusively with in-your-face combat and was pretty swiftly punished for doing so.
Everything we’ve covered so far gets an incredible glow-up once Basim is finally let loose in Baghdad and its many diverse sections. My demo focused on Karkh, which features dense locations like a bustling bazaar that is complemented by glistening greenery, refreshingly wavy rivers, and an occupied seaport. Mirage offers a much more focused and compact play area, and I’d really like to take a second to talk about how fantastic it looks. I spent a respectable portion of my limited time just touring on camelback and rowing through the canals, taking in some truly beautiful sights and sounds. Baghdad feels like it was built with movement in mind, but even if parkour is occasionally finicky, I was always happy to stop and savor the view.
Baghdad is the perfect backdrop for an Assassin’s Creed game that is looking to explore an updated take on stealth-focused missions. Planning my way through enemy bases was liberating, mostly because of the tools Basim has at his disposal. Accompanying the hidden blade’s proper return in Mirage is Eagle Vision, making for a combo of mechanics with a groove that is easy—and nostalgic—to slip back into.
As I put up my hood and brought down Basim’s notoriety by tearing down wanted posters, I also explored some of his new abilities, such as an endlessly cool and useful assassination teleport ability. I won’t spoil too much, but I enjoyed the stealth options not only because they called back to that vintage gameplay but because Mirage’s skill tree makes a refreshing departure from the burdensome, RPG-focused trees we’ve seen in the past.
Not everything in Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a teary-eyed return to a bygone era. For the most part, it feels like Ubisoft Bordeaux adopted the elements from modern entries that worked, such as the option to scour areas with a winged ally. You’ll also absolutely find yourself rummaging around to collect hidden treasures and resources that can be used to upgrade Basim’s weapons and wardrobe. So, yes, Mirage feels old school, but it still feels like a modern entry, too. The difference between Mirage and games like Valhalla is that some of the rough edges have been sharpened.
During my time with Assassin’s Creed Mirage, it became increasingly clear that this trim, streamlined experience exists because Ubisoft Bordeaux wanted to handle its return to stealth-based missions with care. I didn’t even get to talk about some of the finer details, like how a curtain of heat waves lifts as you load into an area, but that’s only because the core gameplay, settings, and characters steal the show. If the final build is as solid as the demo I played, then Mirage will mark a welcome return to the structure that originally propelled Assassin’s Creed into relevancy. I don’t know how the next few years of the franchise will play out, but I do know that right now, this is the first time I’ve been enthusiastic about Assassin’s Creed in a long time.