If you’re going to get a job in the Assassin’s Creed universe, be the dude who puts piles of straw under all the towers. You’ll retire a millionaire, I guarantee it. Occasionally mix it up with some palm fronds and piles of flowers, maybe, though I question the efficacy of a four-foot heap of flowers on a concrete floor versus a fifty-metre swan dive. In Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the Leap of Faith is once again treated as a sacred ritual amongst the Brotherhood, despite the fact that it’s never used for anything other than getting down from a high place quickly. You could just as easily take the stairs.
Of course, it’s really just for cool points and we all know that – though I wonder if Ubisoft does. We’ve been chucking folk off buildings for fifteen years now, and we’re still shown every new assassin being initiated in the same way. Which would be fine if the selection process was a little tougher. That said, the selection process in Mirage actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that protagonist Basim will eventually go on to swear-in a drunk Viking at a party, apropos of nothing.
Here, we are introduced to Basim as a young thief on the streets of Anbar, who runs with his slightly more competent partner Nehal. In the opening arc, they fall victim to their own ambitions, as they attempt to steal an unknown artifact from the Caliph. It all goes horribly wrong and the two are separated, with Nehal in the wind and Basim inducted as a Hidden One presumably because he looks good in a hood. His mentor, Roshan (played by the ever-impressive Shoreh Agdashloo) soon has him working with a local rebellion to stop the Order of Ancients, a group of highly influential, masked murderers intent on constructing some kind of doomsday device.
Despite being a much more compact adventure, Mirage still occasionally seems to flounder, piling on the filler content like there’s no tomorrow. The open world is tiny by Ubisoft’s standards, equating to maybe two medium-sized provinces in Odyssey or Valhalla. While this does mean there’s a little less aimless wandering, Mirage still manages to feel too thinly spread. Yes, there are secrets to track down, treasures to find, riddles to solve, and McGuffins to collect, but so much of it feels unnecessary.
A new currency system uses “Khidmah Tokens” as a means of reward. There are three kinds, Power, Scholar, and Merchant. The first can be used to bribe guards or remove your wanted level, GTA-style; scholar marks are used to bribe eggheads for information or pay musicians to distract soldiers, and the merchant tokens can lower prices and, weirdly, unlock certain chests. Between these and a small spread of upgrade materials for your outfits, tools, and weapons, there’s plenty of incentive to complete the side content. You can also find or earn costumes, dyes, and schematics for upgrading your gear. There are treasures to pickpocket for the local fence, and several collectibles that are infuriatingly unexplained until you’ve found a certain number of them.
But while Assassin’s Creed Mirage ticks all the franchise boxes in terms of climbing towers, freerunning, murdering literal heaps of jobsworth guards, and looking good in a hood, it falters somewhat in a couple of key areas. Firstly, the “Ubisoft jank” is fully present, and it’s technically all over the place. There are bugs everywhere, from collision issues to texture glitches, to guards who have total AI short circuits. Twice I got stuck in hay wagons after performing leaps of faith and had to reload. Sometimes when crouched, Basim can’t open doors and will just jerk back and forth like he’s dancing on one knee, and so many cool assassination moments are ruined by proximity issues that put Basim behind or inside the victim. And the usual defence of an Assassin’s Creed world being roughly the size of a small moon doesn’t count here, because Mirage’s Baghdad isn’t. You can go off on your horse or camel to explore the desert between Baghdad and Anbar, but for all the space, a lot of it is utterly wasted, with very little to find out in the sand.
The second major issue is the protagonist. I absolutely did get into the plot of Mirage, following the intrigue and skullduggery to the point that I was even surprised by a couple of the late-game twists. The writing is characteristically solid, the voice work very decent, and the story itself is compelling. But none of it is because of Basim. I’ve said many times before that a lot of what makes an individual Assassin’s Creed game shine within the larger franchise is the protagonist. Ezio, for example, is a fan favourite for a reason, while the franchise absolutely peaked with Black Flag‘s Edward Kenway. Likewise, Jacob and Evie Frye of Syndicate, Kassandra and Alexios, Eivor (girl or boy version) elevated their respective games, where characters like Arno Dorian, Conner, and Shay Cormack couldn’t pull it off. Their games were weaker as a result, and Assassin’s Creed Mirage is no different.
Basim is just kind of dull, bounced from pillar to post by the whims of others. He sees allies commit atrocities and shrugs it off, tracks down old acquaintances just to have them laugh at what he’s wearing. He never feels like a driving force; he’s a literal tool, a sharp object pointed at someone else’s enemy and made to get dirty whether he wants to or not. Whenever he’s in a room with Roshan or Ali, the hotheaded rebel leader, I’d rather listen to them because all Basim ever seems to do is shrug and go along with things. He doesn’t really come into his own in any way until the very end of the campaign, which is too little character progression too late.
Gameplay doesn’t feel vastly different from what has come before, which is oddly comforting. Most missions involve reaching a target area and using your bird buddy, Enkidu, to scout the area, looking for secret entrances, key-carrying guards, gear chests, documents, and distractions you can use to flush out or identify your target. Annoyingly, Assassin’s Creed Mirage maintains the franchise’s blasé approach to stealth, so you can reach your target without leaving so much as a fingerprint on the cutlery, and the actual kill will still be ridiculously cinematic, and about as subtle as riding an elephant through the front gate. The investigation system is pretty decent though, and at least makes you work for your objectives instead of just handing it all to you on a platter. You’ll usually have to eavesdrop, tail, sneak around, or recon an area (or all of the above) in order to find multiple routes to your target.
Combat, when it occurs, is fun enough, returning to the “perfect parry equals instant kill” system. Big enemies can only be hurt from behind, while any red attacks must be dodged. Gold attacks can be parried and then you can counterattack. Basim has half-a-dozen tools at his disposal too, from throwing knives to smoke bombs. All can be upgraded with various buffs, such as allowing the smoke bomb to heal Basim or strengthening the knives so they can pierce armour. It’s nothing terribly original but it all functions. It’s just a shame that combat is janky, suffering missing sound effects, colliding animations, camera issues, and the kind of messiness that comes from kill animations giving you i-frames but the guards attacking anyway, so their swords just go harmlessly through you while you filet their mate. Sadly, you will become far too powerful far too soon, and the stress of stealth is simply too easy to avoid in favour of poisoned smoke bombs and retrievable throwing knives.
And yet I enjoyed my time with Mirage. It was nice to have an Assassin’s Creed game wrap up in less than 20 hours, though you could certainly stretch it a little further if you went for 100% completion. The smaller size meant that the main story always felt vital, because I wasn’t blowing off saving the world to ride around the countryside murdering rabbits for five-hour stints. The more focused campaign means you stay with the story and events, even during the midsection where you can opt to tackle three arcs in whichever order you choose.
Ultimately, Assassin’s Creed Mirage feels like what it is: it’s a filler game to ensure a franchise release while Ubisoft presumably works on the next “big one” (no, not Jade). It’s perfectly serviceable and will certainly scratch an itch for major fans – though it’s arguably not a bad entry point for newcomers either. It has almost no modern-day stuff in it, either, so it’s a less confusing place to start than many entries. But it’s far from the series’ best, and really fails to move the needle in any meaningful way. It’s straightforward, pretty linear, and not too challenging, so it’s easy to recommend to fans, but it’s just not of the same calibre as Brotherhood, Valhalla, or Black Flag.
A more focused adventure
Still lots to do
Nothing feels new
Lots of bugs
Basim is dull