Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Release date: September 5, 2023
The story of Basim Ibn Is’haq and Assassin’s Creed Mirage brings the blockbuster stealth series back to its roots with enormous success. Brilliantly modernized stealth action and one of the finest settings the series has ever seen combine with one of the most interesting assassins from recent years to produce spectacular results.
The story of Basim and his rise to assassinhood is full of mystery, discovery, emotion, and splendid character development over its 15 or so hours. With a minimum of modern-day storytelling, Mirage begins with a series of focused cinematic stories that revolve around cleansing the rot that lies under Baghdad’s golden veneer. At the core of this is Basim’s goal: unraveling the mystery of The Order of the Ancients and loosening their grip on Baghdad. Intel is thin on the ground, so there is an emphasis on finding the information you need before you’re able to act on it.
Knowledge is power
Basim’s investigations take him across Baghdad’s districts, with each target needing to be unmasked and identified through some serious detective work and investigation. Basim needs to go target by target and case by case to gradually reveal more information about the target’s work, habits, base of operations, and, ultimately, identity. These investigations are always interesting and multi-faceted. Each of these cases gripped me, and I was drawn in by everything from the tiniest of clues to the full-blown, climatic, and bloody missions that cap off each investigation.
There’s so much originality here and it feels like you’re actually cracking a case as you follow the different threads. When things get tricky, you can use Eagle Vision (an assassin’s sixth sense which can reveal enemies, loot, and clues) to assist in your search. It will highlight evidence, but as it’s so effective at revealing clues it can erode your sense of immersion, undermining otherwise tense searches and missions across a beautiful Baghdad that’s full of life and character.
From the stillness of the desert at night to the hustle and bustle of the market districts, the city of Baghdad is absolutely spectacular and a distinct character in its own right in Mirage. It is certainly one of the series’ most beautifully realized city settings. Getting to see and explore parts of the Alamut while it’s in construction is a thrill too; it oozes a sense of place even in its state of incompletion.
The only thing perhaps more interesting than Baghdad, however, is Basim himself. There’s more to him than meets the eye – much more than many other assassins we’ve played as, and his growth and journey in Mirage make for a wonderful story arc. Whether Basim is a street thief or a fully-trained Assassin, he is smart, perceptive, and ambitious. However, he is also very aware of himself and what being a Hidden One (the early name for Assassin in the game’s lore) entails in terms of ending lives and working in the shadows. Often wrestling with the ideals of the brotherhood and Hidden Ones and what it stands for, he is plagued by nightmarish visions of shadowy figures in his dreams. Yet he is calm, likable, witty, patient, and determined – and the climax of his story in Mirage is deeply interesting.
New tricks, old habits
Basim is a superb free runner; quick and nimble, able to deftly navigate corners and heights. His parkour feels familiar, being the same moveset as that of recent Assassin’s Creed games – this isn’t a full-scale overhaul of the movement and fluidity – but it’s massively elevated by Baghdad’s tight design and layout that lends itself to smooth and fun parkour. There are always multiple routes over, around, up, and across buildings and walls. You can put some seriously elegant and fluid runs together as Basim moves at top speed across Baghdad.
Basim fights like a nimble, lightly-armed, assassin who’s more used to stealth and the shadows. That’s not to say he can’t handle himself with his sword and dagger, but there is a greater emphasis on deflecting, parrying, dodging, and timing compared to previous games where you could rely on pure muscle to get you out of a bust-up. Waiting for the right time to strike, examining your enemy’s moves, and trying to outmaneuver them are far more important. I was much more successful in fights against guards when I stopped trying to pummel them continuously and instead took a patient, analytical approach. What’s more, even the most ordinary of guards can really dish it out on Basim; so he’ll fare better in the shadows rather than in open conflicts.
Finding and reading each clue in a restricted area, tracing each lead, and cracking each case, working towards the climax of each investigation in Assassin’s Creed Mirage is such a thrill. You’ll feel like a spy as well as an assassin and, with each clue, you’ll find the mysteries become increasingly gripping.
The stealth in Assassin’s Creed Mirage is possibly the best in the series. From Basim’s tools, the reliance on the hidden blade, and reimagined aspects of social stealth, there’s a great blend of old and new. This comes with a greater emphasis on patience, choosing routes carefully, and generally being super sneaky. Your small but honed assassin’s toolkit that gives you everything you need. While previous games’ stealth skillset had a lot of filler and little killer, Basim is going to need every single skill and gadget in Mirage. You need to use your limited throwing blades carefully, while also knowing how to distract and move guards around. You’ll also need to be patient, looking for the time to strike, as well as where to place traps preemptively in anticipation of guards’ patrol routes or when they give chase. Basim’s Assassin’s Focus ability – a skill where Basim can mark up to five targets with time suspended, and then teleport between them to assassinate them) is powerful, but it’s not something you can repeat at will. You’ll need to perform stealth kills to fill up its meter, and invest in skills (another honed selection of just three small trees that are woven neatly into story progression) to make that meter larger. However, when you get it right, unleashing a fully upgraded Basim to chain assassinate five blissfully unaware guards is hella cool.
Social stealth makes a fantastic return too, with the likes of eavesdropping, blending in with crowds, pickpocketing, and tailing suspects all worthy and well-implemented elements. The pickpocketing in particular is deeply satisfying and trying to master the technique is a fun challenge. When it comes to being social with Baghdad’s residents, you’ll have to be careful as your notoriety will increase with each theft or kill you perform. This can lead to Basim being recognized in the street, right through to having special enforcer enemies sent after you – once again, being patient and staying stealthy is king, as you don’t want to be running around with full notoriety trying to tear down posters or bribe town criers (but only if you have the right token – a currency that can be used for merchants, speakers, and gangs et al – about your person).
Mirage is not totally blemish-free, though. Basim and his story lean on and are tethered strongly to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, making knowledge of that game nigh-on essential. In-game, the AI and enemies are fairly ignorant in familiar ways. It’s very easy to separate guards from each other, or get away with brazen assassinations in full sight; lightly bumping into them can still take them straight from ‘chilled’ into ‘pursue to kill’ mode which is annoying, too. The parkour can still be ‘sticky’ in places and the series’ famous opposite-direction jumps are still present and can ruin the flow and land you right in trouble – literally. While excellent for jeopardy and encouraging stealth, the notoriety meter does build up staggeringly quickly – it can feel like the citizens of Baghdad are using walkie-talkies with the guards to insta-report your exact crime, appearance, and location.
However, these tiny gripes don’t get in the way of the fact that Mirage is a fantastic Assassin’s Creed game, truly – and perhaps one of the very best to date. The way it mixes the old and the new, polishing up classic Assassin’s Creed features for a modern game and audience, creates something special – it turns out you can teach a new game old tricks. Add in the fact that it’s got heart, a deeply interesting protagonist who really feels like an assassin, and some seriously deep and high-quality investigation missions and it all culminates in a game that’s better than those it’s taken most inspiration from. It feels great to be an Assassin again.
Mirage is a brilliant, bloody, patient, focused, and exquisite Assassin’s Creed adventure that’ll live long in the memory – and hopefully represents a solid bedrock on which more lean and focused entries in the series can build.
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Ubisoft has provided a host of accessibility options to make playing the game easier or more difficult. You can adjust the core difficulty at any point but can turn on things like automatic pickpocketing, and aim assist to tailor the playstyle more specifically. You can change the language of voices and subtitles, and you alter the size and effects of the latter, while controls can be changed to your preference. There are also three colorblind modes (for tritanopia, deuteranopia, and protanopia) and Ubisoft’s (rather robotic) screen narration is also present.
How we reviewed Assassin’s Creed Mirage
I played Assassin’s Creed Mirage on PS5 with a Samsung QLED Q6F 4K TV and experienced its audio through a soundbar setup but also with a headset. I have played for more than 20 hours, finishing Basim’s story in 15 hours, and spending the rest of the time hunting for collectibles and tying up side stories. I tested both High Framerate and Quality graphics modes and recommend playing on the High Framerate mode, though Quality mode has noticeably more detail.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is one of the best single-player games of 2023, but if you’re after something else, check out the best co-op games.
This post originally appeared on TechToday.