Feature Article

Why Assassin's Creed Origins Is Actually Black Flag 2

From high seas to arid deserts.

The decision to turn Assassin's Creed into an open-world action-RPG is shaping up to be one of the best moves the series has made in years. Assassin's Creed Origins' combat, exploration, and progression feel more involved than in previous games, and there's a high attention to detail that imbues the world with renewed vitality. While the game's new direction is a clear attempt by Ubisoft to reinvigorate the long running franchise, the shift also follows one of its greatest entries, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. After all, the same core creative team is developing Origins; but according to game director Ashraf Ismail, it's also being created using the same design philosophy that made Black Flag so well-received.

Origins is fully entrenched in playing like an action-RPG; it sports a multi-faceted skill tree, damage hit points, and equipment with varying statistics. In addition, everything you do feeds into an overarching progression system that steadily improves your character's strength and abilities over time. While Origins strongly embraces these elements across its various mechanics, it isn't a new concept for the series. You need only look at Black Flag's naval combat, which made heavy use of a stat-based upgrade system. Building up your ship was one of Black Flag's most fulfilling systems, as it continually rewarded you with practical upgrades for your ship the more you faced challenges and steadily learned how to overcome them.

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"We saw that [RPG mechanics] worked in Black Flag," said Ismail. "And so we decided: "Let's blow it up. Let's have it across the whole game. From combat to stealth to manipulating the environment; everything is tied to a progression system [in Origins]. This was a decision we made very early on."

The choice to introduce RPG mechanics into Origins builds upon what worked in Black Flag, expanding its progression systems and giving you more freedom to utilize and embrace your own playstyle. Gone are the days of instant desynchronizations. Now you can play stealthily and pick off opponents from afar to your heart's content, or you can embrace the intricacies of the game's Demon's Souls-inspired combat system and ambush a squad of guards. There's more freedom to do things your way, but what's most apparent about this approach is that it comes from the team's own post-mortem analysis of Black Flag.

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"We studied a lot about Black Flag and how it was consumed, and what we saw was that we had two groups," said Ismail. "We had people who were warriors and people who played in stealth. Looking back at Black Flag, we found it frustrating when we slapped the hand of the player because they chose a playstyle different from what the mission wanted, so we decided that we can't do that anymore."

Origins learns from Black Flag's mistakes, but it also leans heavily on that game's design philosophy. For example, you might infiltrate a military camp to obtain more powerful weapons to strengthen your chances against a tough boss encounter during the main quest line. While recent entries offered entertaining side-missions and collectables, they largely felt detached from its overarching systems. Origins attempts to provide more narrative and mechanical payoff for your time spent in its recreation of ancient Egypt.

Origins follows Syndicate in the series' chronological order of releases, but in terms of design, the game feels more like a follow-up to Black Flag. According to Ismail, this was deliberate.

It was our intention to take what we learned from Black Flag and iterate upon that.

Ashraf Ismail, director

"It was our intention to take what we learned from Black Flag and iterate upon that," said Ismail. "Because the feeling that game gave was a sense of openness and exploration, and we took those feelings and we said, 'Okay. We want to hit this and go further.' One element that I personally wasn't as happy with in Black Flag, was we had a good sense of exploration, but not necessarily a sense of discovery. For me there's a difference there. We kept reminding ourselves to provide this feeling in Origins; that you can explore and always find something that rewards you for that exploration."

When Black Flag released in 2013, it was praised for its terrific use of its exploration and how well it balanced its world's diverse range of activities with rewarding progression systems. But a relatively new creative team within Ubisoft Montreal lead by Ismail developed it. With Origins, there's inherently an immense amount of pressure on Ismail and his team to surpass the work they did with Black Flag. After all, the game is largely considered by fans to be one of the best in the series, right up there with Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood. And then there's the even larger challenge of reinventing the franchise--a task set forth to them by Ubisoft as a result of the diminishing interest in the franchise over the years.

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"With [Black Flag], we had something to prove, and with Origins, we have something to live up to on top of this mandate to reinvent the franchise as a whole," said Ismail. "We're not a new team anymore, and we're living up to an image of what Black Flag was. As a result, we felt this obligation to bring something that was important to the fans, as well as something that new players could enjoy. We wanted to create a refreshing experience that's still somehow Assassin's Creed."

Ismail believes they've found a formula that can revitalize the Assassin's Creed franchise. But it wasn't easy; there were initially arguments from the creative team against the shift to action-RPG. Yet Ismail remained adamant, citing that "it was the logical step" and that "there was no other choice." The team inevitably adapted, crafting an experience that he hopes can appeal and impress the full spectrum.

"For both groups, especially for people who've played previous ACs, if they walk away from the game feeling like they just [played] something that was authentically AC, but yet still feels like a drastically different experience, then we have accomplished our objective," said Ismail. "I would love for new players to say: 'I've never played this [type of] game before. It blew my mind. It screamed Egypt. It screamed Assassin's Creed even though I've never played one before."' For me, that's what we're trying to achieve. That's what we want people to say, and that's what we aim to do."

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With Origins, it appears Ismail and his team at Ubisoft Montreal are making good on their promise to overcome the fatigue burdening the franchise, while reinventing the series formula in meaningful ways. Whether or not the game is truly the revitalized sequel we've been asking for remains to be seen. However, Origin's connections to Black Flag are undeniable. It may not have pirates, naval combat, or sea shanties, but it maintains the same spirit and design that made that game so captivating, and that's more than enough to get excited about.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Matt Espineli

Matt is a GameSpot Editor who, like a Dragon Quest Slime, strives to spread love and joy to the world.

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juxax

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I'm optimistic about this. but spending £120 on games in 1 month is a bit far. I've got a daughter to buy prezzies for, so im prolly gunna skip this, I can't miss wolfenstein. lol

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AfroMakka

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AfroMakka  Online

Wanna know what's wrong with AC Franchise ?!

It's that its being developed as a FRANCHISE , if it was treated as a series that would end then wouldn't have failed miserably like it's failing now , all the video i saw for the game had clunky combat , clunky stealth , clunky enemies AI and thats because they don't take their time

Witcher series took 8 years for 3 games , same can be said for Uncharted , Metro , Dark souls , Mass effect - last one failed cause they wanted to "franchise it " - , Tomb raider , Darksiders and many more

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Phazevariance

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So, with Syndicate, the game may have played at 60fps but clothing animation was locked at 30fps, so when you climb a tall structure and stand up at the top you can see the clothing animate in a choppy way. I really disliked how that broke the immersion (more so) in syndicate, and really hope that's not the case in origins.

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deactivated-5e7f8a21de9dd

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@Phazevariance: They released a patch for that. It was just that the setting was only configurable in the ini. If you're still playing the game, give that a look.

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Abdulrahman1981

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I'm surprised this game is not being developed for The Switch!

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couly

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Black Flag is my favourite AC. I played it to death.

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the-games-masta

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It's been a while since I've looked forward to seeing an AC game- its looking good

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Pelezinho777

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More likely they're trying to be a new Witcher.

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BigGamerDude

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@Pelezinho777: thats not a bad thing tbh

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deactivated-5d762a7e1423c

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@Pelezinho777: So they are trying to ensure that we will all be frustrated using the inventory, trying to fight the clunky controls by actually moving anywhere, trying to fight, trying to read the font, trying to ride a horse, etc. etc.....if they want to replicate the atmosphere of Witcher, please do....please don't try to replicate the rest of that game.

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Phazevariance

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@Daelusca: Inventory wasn't a problem after the 1.3 update eons ago, and honestly in the options you can change the control scheme to a much tighter setting that worked far better. That setting alone completely fixed the control issues for me.

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deactivated-5d762a7e1423c

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@Phazevariance: I agree they tweaked the inventory...still takes far too long to get through..., and they definitely fixed the font.....still controls like garbage....which they almost explicitly acknowledge by putting the Achievement in for 10 seconds of continuous sliding. Loved the game (especially Blood and Wine which is why I replayed it a month ago), but it had some major flaws that fanboys never acknowledge cuz, well, they're fanboys.

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brain20035

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I am with all the developer is saying. What baffles me is how he fails to mention everything they are copying from Far Cry Primal! I mean, you can see the same mechanics across most Ubisoft games now.

This is the path that Zynga took with their games, too. When they found golden mechanics that worked, they copied it over and over in their other games (Farmville, Cityville, etc.).

We all know how that ended up...

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smalwex

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@pasullica: Nothing is original when it comes to games anymore sadly. it's about how you use those mechanics we've seen before effectively.

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mrbojangles25

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Edited By mrbojangles25

Black Flag was a great game, but it was not a true Assassin's Creed experience to me. I was excited for this game up to this point, now I am reserved...but still hopeful. I have, after all, enjoyed pretty much every single AC game I've played.

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zakhaev1

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@mrbojangles25: Well don't forget there going full steam ahead on RPG, it's bound to feel different.

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mrbojangles25

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@zakhaev1: yeah, fair point; that has me kind of excited. So I guess that sort of pulled me back to interested lol.

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zakhaev1

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@mrbojangles25: Just imagine if they didn't add that in, "Oh its just another cash grab blah blah blah"

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eterpay

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This is one of those things that sounds cool, but only if they don't **** it up. Definitely waiting for a few reviews to come out.

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face76

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I loved the AC series since the fist game. I'm one the few I guess who was happy with the yearly release. I even loved Rogue which gave us a take on the other side. What makes me excited about Origins is Ismail. He made Black Flag and turned AC around. I think he will do it again. My concern is what comes next. This is the Origin of how the Assassins came about. So how about how the Templars? How did the AC and Templars come into this constant fight through the thousands of years. I wouldn't mind if this was a soft reboot. That the modern is the a new protagonist or maybe there is no modern day. But the one thought I had was that Bayek and his wife might get to the point where their differences split them and she starts the Templars Order. I'm pumps either way.

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Cyanak

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@face76: It was mentioned in an interview with IGN that Bayek created the Brotherhood with Aya (his wife), so I don't think they'll split. The question is : how and when and why did they create the Brotherhood ?

Also, the Templars already exist at this point in time, in the AC lore. Cesar was working with them, and that got him killed by Brutus. Cleopatra was also working with them, and she got assassinated by Amunet, a female Egyptian Assassin (potentially Bayek's wife, though they have different names). That last part is actually interesting, as Bayek et Aya both work for her. So she might betray them when aligning herself with Cesar, or something will make her switch sides.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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This is just like every band who releases a new album. "This is totally new & different, it's way better than our old stuff. It's a bit like that one everybody likes though... definitely like that one."

If the AC franchise is going to continue at all, I'm glad they're changing things up but I'm not buying into any hype. I'll wait to see if it's actually any good.

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VANGUARD003

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@bbq_R0ADK1LL: Thank god someone said it! I got bored with Black Flag and stopped after a few hours. Maybe the ships were cool--great! Still had an omniscient mini-map that made looking at the actual world pretty pointless, and still had mind-numbing combat. These have gone completely unmentioned in this little write-up. I don't need "RPG elements," I need good reasons to play the game. Lol.

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Salt_AU

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Regardless of the new direction the series is taking I am glad they made me wait longer. Having played every game in the franchise I have actually missed it to a point and am looking forward to Origins.

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Barighm

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Edited By Barighm

It worked for the naval combat though because there isn't any other real incentive for engaging in naval warfare, plus it's easy coming up with all sorts of different ways to customize a ship. Skill-tree based ARPG mechanics is bog standard these days.

I never liked the stealth elements much but I still respected AC for being a cool assassination simulator. There was nothing else like it at the time. Now it's just another action game.

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SebB

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@Barighm: though I think I'm gonna like origins because of the rpg elements I have to admit you do have a very good point in your last statement. It makes sense that AC is an assassination simulator. After all you are playing an assassin and that's what the first one was about. You had your targets and you had to assassinate them using various means. It's true it would have made more sense if they developed the assassination and stealth aspects of the games further and polished them to reflect how an assassin should play like. But they chose to go with the popular rpg centric direction which seems to be present in all games now and there are valid reasons for that: player has a feeling of progression and is more involved with the character and the world but sometimes when devs do this i can't help but think it's a bit lazy to just go rpg instead of inventing a new and different way of making players feel more involved while staying consistent with what the game is about. Maybe there is no better way. Don't know.

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zakhaev1

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@sebb: I mean we do have the decision to stick to stealth if we so please, I'm glad that hasn't completely left in favor of this new style

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siarhei

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Camels are ships of the desert... :D

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DEVILTAZ35

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@siarhei: Yeah but i don't want to see them firing their canon balls :)

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yukushi

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Talk is cheap I will wait until the reviews comes in look at the meta critic and that will give me a good idea if the game is worthwhile

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ThaGeorgian

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@yukushi: i predict a solid 85

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JEF8484

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@thageorgian: same here- its pretty dam hard these days for games to reach in the 90s

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zakhaev1

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@JEF8484: Unless you're naughty dog

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couly

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@JEF8484: unless it's a crappy indie game that GS loves so much

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gamingdevil800

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In other words the team that is actually good at making AC games is making Origins. I believe they actually made Assassins Creed 2 as well.

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zakhaev1

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@gamingdevil800: Nah they said they started with Black Flag

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gagula94

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gagula94  Online

Even though I'm interested in this game, why are they calling it Assassin's Creed is beyond me. Entire concept of game was stealthy elimination of targets and then fucking off asap. But this, action-adventure RPG with Dark Souls inspired combat where stealth is optional, is not Assassin's Creed. They should have made new ip. True Assassin's Creed died with Revelations.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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@gagula94: Because the name is what sells. Big corporations like Ubisoft are scared to put money behind anything that doesn't already have an established name. They'd rather tear down a franchise & build it up again than simply create something new.

I enjoyed Black Flag but personally I think it would have been a much better game if it had nothing to do with assassins. A straight up pirate RPG would have been much better.

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StealthyOctopus

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Edited By StealthyOctopus

@gagula94: There was plenty of action from the start and the stealth only improved (though not always by much) as the series went on.

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Barighm

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@gagula94: Mainstreaming sells better. Didn't you know?

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Xylymphydyte

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It may not have pirates, naval combat, or sea shanties.

Sooooo nothing like Black Flag 2?

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couly

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@Xylymphydyte: "But we would like the same sales" :D

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lampboy

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Edited By lampboy

Loved Black Flag. I didn't get (buy) Unity or Syndicate. looking forward to this.

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