Ubisoft is adamant that Assassin’s Creed Mirage will take the series back in time, and while the newest entry in the stealth game series plays like the classic adventures of Ezio on the surface, that isn’t the whole story. With the release date now imminent, PCGamesN had the chance to go hands-on with Assassin’s Creed Mirage, which has some great new ideas but is still a Ubisoft game through and through.
From my three or so hours with Assassin’s Creed Mirage, it was abundantly clear that new protagonist Basim’s adventure through Baghdad isn’t quite the straightforward ‘return to roots’ you might expect. Instead, Mirage plays more like a modern version of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood with a handful of mechanical and quality-of-life features lifted from the modern Assassin’s Creed RPG games.
What I really love so far about Assassin’s Creed Mirage is how it gives you ample reasons to explore every nook and cranny of Baghdad, interacting with its people in underhanded ways to collect resources that directly play into progression and gameplay.
You can earn leather, steel ingots, and components by completing optional contracts, or you can explore to find them in chests dotted around the map. All of these items help you upgrade your weapons and tools, acting as one of the many ways Mirage aims to incorporate minor RPG elements into its toolbelt.
That said, it’s the game’s approach to mission design that proves the most interesting. Yes, Mirage has thrown out the playbook for a lot of its missions and opted to give you much more freedom in how you approach any given scenario.
On multiple occasions, I was thrown into a bustling area of Baghdad and told to either find an NPC, a piece of information, or a specific item with no other clues. This meant I was actually exploring playspaces, pickpocketing NPCs, talking to merchants for information, and eavesdropping on conversations without explicitly being told to do so from the outset.
To be clear, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is not an immersive sim, as these individual scenarios are still heavily scripted, but simply being able to tackle them in any order via exploration was a real treat. Tokens collected by pickpocketing or completing contracts present another level of choice, as you can spend them with specific NPCs to unlock new ways around key objectives.
While at a Bazaar auction for the preview’s assassination mission, I was given the option to use either a token or some money to bet on the item I was searching for in the hopes of obtaining it. I didn’t have either resource though, so I instead had to sneak around to the buyer’s location, find the item, and steal it to continue with the mission.
I still have no idea what successfully betting on the auction would have resulted in, but earlier in the game I was able to uncover the broad location of an objective straight away by using a merchant token, so it’s clear that spending a bit of extra time prepping ahead of a big mission can come in handy.
This is something I find encouraging in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, as it intrinsically links your exploration of Baghdad’s immediate surroundings with broader mission objectives. Combining all of that with the freeform mission progression gives Mirage a lot of promise, as the focus moves away from explicit handholding and becomes more about how you choose to play.
This doesn’t mean Mirage is not an Assassin’s Creed game though: you should still expect walking and talking mission sections and a map screen that screams mid-2010s Ubisoft, which is to say it’s way too busy.
I said Mirage feels a lot like Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and that’s because what Ubisoft is doing with Baghdad feels very similar to how we all want to remember exploring Rome in that game. The city of Baghdad isn’t small, but compared to Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla, it’s a much more condensed playspace. Instead of just running from one objective to the next or constantly flipping to the map screen to highlight a point of interest, you’re encouraged to inhabit the world like a member of the Assassin order would.
Given more time with the game, I could also see Mirage’s combat picking up, as it’s a fragmentary mix of both styles of Assassin’s Creed. The tools of the classic games are back and you only have a sword, dagger, and the hidden blade to your name. This is nostalgic, sure, but many of the enemies feel like they were ripped out of the more modern AC games, with tanky health bars and unavoidable attacks.
This forced me to rely more on stealth and parry attacks, but with each enemy having a stamina bar you need to worry about, it felt like the two AC combat styles were sometimes at odds with each other. As I wasn’t able to see how the progression of your tools and weapons impacts the combat, it’s difficult for me to say whether or not this changes as you get deeper into the game. That said, the increased focus on stealth and smart usage of tools makes for a welcome change.
Speaking of progression, you’ve now got just three relatively small skill trees to worry about here, and each one can help improve your combat, sneaking, and assassin capabilities, letting you hone in on whichever style you like best.
This pairing back of Assassin’s Creed’s recent bloat is prevalent throughout all of Mirage, and should really be the deciding factor for you. While Mirage can’t shake the Ubisoftification of its own overstuffed map screen and countless points of interest, it’s clear from my preview time that Ubisoft Bordeaux is attempting to fill a deep puddle, not a shallow ocean.
We already know that the Assassin’s Creed Mirage length will be considerably shorter than more recent games in the series, and this also feels very deliberate. Mirage is less about gorging yourself on endless content until you’ve had your fill and more about nudging you to experiment with and think more carefully about what’s there. Less is hopefully more in this case.
If you want to dive into some similar games while you wait for the Assassin’s Creed Mirage release date, we’ve put together a list of the best sandbox games currently available, alongside the best open-world games on PC.