After two mammoth open world entries, Ubisoft returns to its roots with Assassin’s Creed Mirage, a narrative-driven experience that aims to recreate the magic of early Assassin’s Creed titles. The result is a game that starts strong and ends stronger but loses its path for most of the experience.
Where it all began
Assassin’s Creed Mirage focuses on the origin story of Basim, a character that some will recognize from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Basim and his friend, Nehal, are working as low-level thieves in Anbar, a city to the northwest of Baghdad, where the bulk of Mirage is set. As with most Assassin’s Creed titles, the first hour or two are dedicated to introducing characters and gameplay mechanics before you’re given the freedom to explore the open world.
Once you’re roaming Baghdad, you’ll start to recognize pieces of previous Assassin’s Creed games, both old and recent. There’s a small skill tree featuring three categories, and several tools to unlock that you can deploy during your stealth and combat adventures. These two systems are fueled by an economy where players can complete contracts for currencies and skill points, loot items from chests scattered around the world, or pickpocket Baghdad’s unsuspecting citizens. Gone is the XP system, with skill points and progression tied to contract and main quest completion.
The tools were a high point for me in terms of gameplay. Throughout Mirage, Basim can unlock several tools that can be upgraded and customized to suit your style of play. These include items such as throwing knives, blow darts, smoke bombs, and even a noisemaker. Each can be upgraded three times and upgrading them allows you to choose one of two or three custom perks for each upgrade tier of that tool. For example, my smoke bombs became flammable, so I was able to toss smoke into a group of enemies followed by a torch. What can I say, I like to watch my foes burn. If there is one criticism about the tools, it's that they turn Mirage into easy mode. I've cleared entire bases by enraging guards, or just throwing endless torchers on oblivious enemies below me.
Unsurprisingly, there is ample customization in Mirage, including choosing your weapons, outfit, and even appearance of each. Your weapons and outfits will come with stat bonuses and can be upgraded from tier one to three to reach their maximum potential. You can alter the color of your outfit or wear a costume that allows you to look the way you want without sacrificing the bonuses of your chosen gear. Gear is upgraded by finding schematics in chests throughout the world, a nice way to encourage exploration.
It’s while you’re exploring and questing that you’ll get a solid taste for the gameplay in Mirage. As an Assassin’s Creed title, you’d be right to expect a large amount of stealth, with some combat mixed in when you screw up, or when the game decides stealth isn’t an option. This gameplay is going to look like what you’ve experienced in previous entries, and returning players will feel right at home timing their aerial assassinations to take out a target, then slipping out of a heavily guarded base before anyone is the wiser.
The view from up here
If there’s one thing that I never worry about Ubisoft delivering with its Assassin’s Creed franchise, it’s the visuals. Both on PS5 and PC, Baghdad is gorgeous, especially from a distance while perched high upon a rooftop. That was to be expected. Unfortunately, I found that when I got to street level and started wandering around, there’s just not much going on. Yes, there are buildings to clear and chests to loot, but Mirage fails to bring meaningful life to the ample locations and NPCs. It does try to teach you about the history of Baghdad, which is a nice returning feature. While you can visit a shop to buy or upgrade gear, there’s nothing memorable about the shop, shopkeeper, or anything near it. It’s all very rudimentary and lacks the details required to do Baghdad justice.
But we’re not here to go shopping in Baghdad, we’re here to hunt down the Order and get an intimate look at the origins of Basim Ibn Ishaq. In this way, the prologue and conclusion to Mirage were both exceptional. Nehal, one of my favorite characters in Mirage, gets plenty of screen time with Basim before he departs for his training to become a Hidden One. Even that training, featuring Shohreh Aghdashloo voicing Basim’s mentor, Roshan, is quite good. Mirage's storytelling is at its best early and late in the game when the cast of characters taking screen time is reduced.
As a narrative-driven experience, Mirage plays out using a similar system to how members of the Order of the Ancients were hunted in Valhalla and Odyssey. Players will get an investigation board that displays known members, clues, and quests. As you complete quests you’ll unlock more clues, complete investigations, and close in on the elusive leader.
A familiar fight
Where Mirage falls short with me is in its execution. It feels like Ubisoft didn’t understand the assignment, or maybe my expectations were a little higher than everyone else’s. I wanted to see an Assassin’s Creed game smaller in scope, but richer in detail with polished and refined gameplay mechanics. That didn’t happen outside of the tools which, while cool, come with their own issues.
The skill tree in Mirage doesn’t improve on the previous system, it just has less skills. The open world doesn’t include more detail or lifelike NPCs, it’s just smaller. The clue system that powers the narrative got worse from what was used in Odyssey and Valhalla.
While tracking the Order in Odyssey and Valhalla, you would get a clue and spend time figuring out what it meant and where you needed to go. In Mirage, you’ll end up with a clue that tells you to speak to an NPC marked on your map, who will point you to another clue also marked on your map, and this process will continue until it’s time for the next big assassination. There are very few instances where you need to find something on your own, which is fine, but then why use an investigation and clue system? Most of the narrative is handed to you unless you go into the menus and disable all the quest tracking. Even then, the entire system feels like a balk.
Perhaps most importantly given that Mirage is a narrative-driven experience, the story just doesn’t maintain the momentum it builds in the first couple of hours. Before long, the list of supporting characters expands, limiting screen time for Nehal and Roshan, two intriguing people in Basim’s life. Their appearances become less as they are substituted by a plethora of characters that all split time and few, if any, give you a reason to care about them. This includes Order members that you’re hunting. Having completed the game, I could not sit down over beers and talk about most of the characters in detail, be they friend or foe.
My play time with Mirage, which included plenty of side activities, came in at about 26 hours across both PS5 and PC, with cross save working beautifully. The gameplay, while not drastically different or improved, can still be satisfying. Pulling off the perfect assassination is still exhilarating and progressing from an inexperienced and under-prepared assassin to care-free badass Basim felt good.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a worthwhile experience for invested fans of the series. It’s going to give you that stealth and stab gameplay that you’ve enjoyed before, even if it doesn’t build upon it outside of the tools. It’s bookended by exceptional first and third acts, but Ubisoft has again failed to create a detailed and meaningful world that you want to explore beyond its waypoints.
This review is based on PC and PS5 codes provided by the publisher. Assassin's Creed Mirage will release on October 5, 2023 for PS5, PS4, Xbox X/S, Xbox One, iOS, and PC.
Assassin's Creed Mirage
- Stunning visuals
- Nehal and Roshan are great characters
- Zero performance issues on PS5 or PC
- Cross save worked seamlessly for PS5 and PC
- Exceptional prologue and ending
- Great deep dive into Basim's origins
- Still fun stabbing folk from above
- Tools are neat if you don't want to work hard
- Loses all narrative momentum in the middle
- Fails to create a detailed open world to spend time in
- Nehal and Roshan lose too much screen time
- The investigation board feels pointless in execution
- Doesn't improve the series' core gameplay mechanics
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Assassin's Creed Mirage review: For better or worse
The review I was expecting, unfortunately. Was hoping MIRAGE would come out and blow people away.
RE: the investigation and clue system (and how it marks everything for you, instead of making you explore) I am wondering if you accidentally clicked through a step where it asks if you to pick a skill level?
Not sure if MIRAGE has this, but in Valhalla you picked "Adventurer", "Explorer", or "Pathfinder" right at the start of a New Game.
I think "Pathfinder" was the option where you really had to find things yourself and it gave you less clues. Most people would probably just pick the default "Explorer" option.
Either way I think they need a better way to explain this to people than just with a popup box. Valhalla had a "Stealth" option to pick in the beginning as well.
Sounds like a solid step in the right direction rather than a home run. I'm still giving it a go.
Oh yes, it's a must-buy for this fanboy too... but will I pick it up Day One? Hmmm..
$15 for a month of Ubisoft+ should be plenty time to finish it!