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E3 2017: Re-learning combat in Assassin's Creed: Origins

The Assassin's Creed series has become one of the backbones of Ubisoft's library. So much so that the publisher is preparing to celebrate the series' tenth anniversary this year. Even following its one-year hiatus, the story looks to be going strong with Assassin's Creed: Origins.

However, while the narrative path and story beats may feel familiar, there was something noticeably different at the E3 2017 demo. The combat has been reworked. Shacknews went hands-on to try and learn how to assassinate enemies all over again.

As noted, this Assassin's Creed tale brings along a sense of familiarity. New lead man Bayek travels across the Egyptian desert aboard a trusty steed, as the series brings back mounts. There are still structures to climb and vast open areas to explore. The village still has several side quests, including one that sees an Egyptian priest publicly whipping a boy for stealing artifact pieces. The boy pleads his case that they were stolen and left aboard nearby ships, so Bayek offers to retrieve them and clear the boy's name.

As the side quest begins, it's time to explore the mission area with Bayek's eagle. While the eagle functions the same as similar mechanics in other Ubisoft series like Ghost Recon and Far Cry, the Origins developers offered up a novel narrative reason for the bird's existence, noting that it is the origin of the Order's Eagle Vision ability.

After tagging the objective points, it was time to board the ships and take out the guards. As is often the case with Assassin's Creed games, there's the option to take a stealth approach. If the player happens to be a noisy clod, like this writer, they can take a full combat approach. This is where things started to feel noticeably different.

The combat is no longer tied to the face buttons, but rather to the triggers, closer to what one would find in a first-person shooter. Heavy attack is linked to the right trigger and light attack is attached to the right bumper. It takes some getting used to, not helped by the dodge button that's still tied to one of the face buttons. This proved particularly trouble in the second demo I tried, which took place in the all-combat Gladiator Arena.

The bow felt like the combat's most intuitive element. Tied to the left trigger, it was simply a matter of aiming and shooting. This was the closest way to wear down enemies, given that toe-to-toe combat with multiple foes has become more difficult than ever. This is especially true, since instant assassinations with the hidden blade are out the window. The closest thing to an instant kill is Bayek's adrenaline meter, which fills up over time and is triggered with the shoulder buttons. The adrenaline attack allows Bayek to rush the foe in front of him with a powerful attack. It's an instant kill on lesser enemies, but hulking foes and bosses can withstand one or more of these attacks.

Fighting in Origins is not going to be easy, even for series veterans. This creates some pause, given that combat becomes a key element of the game in areas like the aforementioned Gladiator Arena. Parrying and dodging proved to be particuarly difficult, given the short execution windows. It'll behoove players to try and go stealth, but there appear to be moments where that might not necessarily be an option.

Assassin's Creed: Origins feels like a standard Assassin's Creed game in many areas, but that reworked combat system is going to be divisive. Getting rid of the instant assassinations feels like a plus, because it offers an extra incentive to avoid drawing attention from guards and gives fighting an extra sense of challenge. But fighting with the shoulder buttons doesn't quite feel as fluid as fighting with the face buttons.

Players will get to scope out Assassin's Creed: Origins' combat for themselves when the game arrives on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on October 27.

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