I really like what I've seen of Assassin's Creed Mirage so far. Though Assassin's Creed's shift into open-world action-RPGs has resulted in plenty of good ideas coming to the series, it's created a trilogy of games that oftentimes feel disconnected from what came before. I love Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla, but all three, to various extents, put the Assassin's Creed experience into too big of a setting or overshadow all the cool real-world history with a less-impressive supernatural flair.
In comparison, Mirage looks a lot more like the series' earlier games. You play as Basim Ibn Ishaq, a young street thief in Baghdad who is inducted into the Hidden Ones (the precursor to the Assassin Brotherhood) and is tasked with hunting down members of the Order of the Ancients (the precursor to the Templar Order). Unlike the more recent Assassin's Creed games, in Mirage you can't pick between two playable characters, and there aren't dialogue options throughout the story. There's no giant, branching skill tree of abilities to parse, and the scope of the game more closely resembles the medium-sized Assassin's Creed games.
"[Mirage] is going to be a condensed experience," Assassin's Creed Mirage art director Jean-Luc Sala told me. "It's a more focused game. The size of it is something like a Rogue or a Revelations, just to give you an idea of the scope."
So players can expect Mirage to probably be a bit larger than the earliest Assassin's Creed games, like the original or Brotherhood. However, it sounds like it's no Black Flag or Odyssey. "For the size of the city or the map, you can expect something that is as dense as Paris in Unity," Sala said. "We do have some wilderness around, which was not the case in Paris. Paris was just Paris, and there was very small Versailles stuff just for the flavor. But we do have more than Baghdad [in Mirage]. We can go outside the walls and see some nice places."
Alongside being a more condensed experience in comparison to Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla, Mirage will also put a greater emphasis on social stealth and parkour abilities. Unlike Bayek, Kassandra, and Eivor, Basim is not a warrior who can safely tank hits and openly engage multiple enemies. If you're trying to assassinate a target, you'll need to be strategic in your approach, stealthily laying traps and being a hidden blade in the crowd. And if you are spotted, it might be better to escape and try again later--fighting your pursuers may put you in an early grave.
"Basim is definitely not Eivor," Sala said. "You have to pay attention to that, what you do, how you play. If you are hit, you are hit. You are going to regret it really, really soon. If you start to fight with big, chunky enemies, thinking this is like Valhalla, you are going to die really fast. You need to just take your time, look around. ...It's more a bird of prey playing with their prey approach. Take your time, look around, be smart, move quick, kill, disappear, think again, look around. So it's really that: you kill and vanish, then come back again. If you are static, it's no good."
Sala describes Basim as one of the fastest protagonists in the Assassin's Creed series, possessing plenty of gadgets and skills that help him quickly move through Baghdad, like the pole vault, which allows Basim to swiftly cross gaps while running. "The pace of parkour is definitely faster than the previous games, so you have some tools to help you to go fast," Sala said. "So the parkour base is improved, faster. You do have new vanishing tools that help a lot. The corner swing is back, so you can just go really fast, turn around, and go somewhere else. It's a mixture of old and new mechanics, but nothing revolutionary."
Basim is even able to pull off a new multi-kill assassination that sounds a lot like a more murderous take on the Fear Multi-Takedown from Batman: Arkham Knight, allowing him to effortlessly kill several targets at once in quick succession. "It's not something you can do all the time," Sala said. "You learn it, and you improve it. Perhaps, at the beginning, you are not able to use that with more than two enemies, but perhaps it can go better. It's not exactly Matrix bullet time, but you have the opportunity to recharge this ability, and then, when you think, 'This is the best moment to take down several enemies,' you just quick-shot them, and it happens." When I asked, Sala said he was not yet allowed to reveal how much Basim can improve this ability or how players are able to do so (I assume it's tied to story progression or a specific side quest), but that those details would be revealed eventually.
Frankly, I love everything that I'm hearing. This is a style of Assassin's Creed game we haven't seen in a very long time. And it wasn't until I was attending a Ubisoft preview event to check out Mirage, and then subsequently talking to Sala about the game, that I realized just how much I've missed this style of Assassin's Creed. It sounds like a game that borrows elements from multiple Assassin's Creed experiences from the past 15 years, but ultimately most closely emulates the structure and vibes of the original game. Mirage even takes place just 20 years prior to the events of Valhalla, which is also around the same time as the first Assassin's Creed.
"[Mirage takes place] 100 years before the creation of the Creed," Sala clarified. "You will see the fortress of Alamut, and it's in ongoing construction--the building is not finished, and it's going to take, for some reasons, a lot of time to be completed. But once it's completed, that's when they start to be the Assassins and stop being the Hidden Ones. That switch is going to be the same for the Order of the Ancients and the Templars. It's still a little bit too early, but you can expect that the next step of history is going to have the Hidden Ones come out of the darkness and into the light and say, 'We are Assassins. Now, we are no longer hidden.'"
Mirage is by no means a reboot for Assassin's Creed, yet I couldn't help but feel like it might almost act as a narrative on-ramp for lapsed fans or newcomers to the series. In GameSpot's Assassin's Creed Valhalla review, I talked about how that game tied up a lot of loose threads in the series, referencing pretty much every mainline Assassin's Creed game and lingering plot point. And now, in an interesting twist, its follow-up, Mirage, evokes similar imagery to the very first Assassin's Creed, as both games take place in roughly the same location, just 300 years apart. Basim and his fellow Hidden Ones even wear robes not unlike what Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad and his fellow Assassins wear in the original game. Plus, the aforementioned Alamut is a fortress that inspires the Assassin Brotherhood to build similar structures across the Middle East, including the fortress of Masyaf from the first Assassin's Creed. I pointed this out to Sala as we spoke, commenting that it almost feels like, following Valhalla, Ubisoft is giving the Assassin's Creed series a small reset. He disagreed, saying that Mirage simply feels that way given the nature of the franchise.
"Not a remake or reboot, it's just like every Assassin Creed game, which has to bring a new character, new setting, a new time period," Sala clarified. "This is the DNA of Assassin's Creed, to always bring something new and fresh. And that happens to be exactly the good formula to bring the good vibes for the old geezers--like you and me--and to still be something fresh and new for newcomers."
And to that point, Mirage is not representative of a drastic shift for Assassin's Creed. The series isn't going back to this style of game from now on--we're still going to get Odyssey- and Valhalla-sized experiences. For example, Project Red, an upcoming Assassin's Creed game set in feudal Japan, is being made by the same team that developed Odyssey and sounds like it will be similarly giant in scope. The same could be true for Project Jade (an upcoming mobile game set in China) or Project Hexe (an upcoming console/PC game seemingly set in the Holy Roman Empire during the witch trials). And, granted, it makes sense that Ubisoft would continue making games like Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla. Those three games have sold a lot of copies, making them some of the most popular Assassin's Creed games ever. Why would Ubisoft stop making games like them if so many fans are buying them?
"We just thought it was time to bring some stuff back," Sala said. "[Mirage] is not the future of the franchise, it's not a side step, it's not backward. It's just that this is here, and you can enjoy it, so let's celebrate."
And it's not like Mirage completely forgoes all of the advancements and changes the franchise has made since the days of Altaïr and Ezio. Basim will be able to recon locations with his eagle companion, much like you could in Origins and Odyssey, for example. And much like Unity, plenty of buildings on the map in Mirage can be entered, allowing you to parkour through structures, not just over them. Most exciting of all, however, is the return of the Hitman-style Black Box missions from Unity and Syndicate, which have been reimagined around Valhalla's Hidden One Bureaus missions. As Basim explores Baghdad, he'll be tasked with reopening Hidden One Bureaus around the city, but some you'll need to clear of a high-level target first.
"That's your mission," Sala said. "So all the activities of the bureau: investigating, identifying targets, and then identifying the boundaries of the Black Box, and see what happens there. They're going to be obviously full of enemies, so it's perhaps not a good idea to go straight in and try to reach your target. You need to be a little bit more stealthy and smart, take your time and look at what's happening before making decisions. There are multiple ways to take down your target."
The more recent Assassin's Creed games' ever-growing adoption of fantastical science-fiction and supernatural elements aren't making a return in Mirage, however. "We do not have present-day [segments], nor too much science-fiction stuff," Sala said. "It's clear from the beginning of the game and for a bit at the end that someone is entering the Animus, and this is an Animus experience. This game is not just disconnected from that feature. ...But it's just not the purpose of this game. It's focused on a young person, [Basim], and his story. That's why we want to go straight into that."
He added: "The core of Eivor and Basim's story [in Valhalla] is really, really into the mythology. So that's fine. It's okay. It was really great in Odyssey [and] Origins. We don't do that [in Mirage]. That's not our story. We are in the historical setting. As you have seen in the trailers, there is something that is kind of unnatural, but, as you have noticed also, it's perhaps inside the Rite of Passage. But we don't go too far on that. It doesn't mean we don't have some hints or winks about the mythological culture of the Middle East and of Persia. So you can perhaps expect some stuff."
In a follow-up clarification, Sala added that Mirage, like all Assassin's Creed games, won't be made with 100% historical accuracy. As this is a video game, enjoyment comes first. So even though the team hasn't outright drastically altered the history and culture of the time period, they have massaged certain parts of it to make the game more fun to play. Several of the tools the Hidden Ones use had not been invented as of the 850s, for example.
"When you have to choose something and you have to choose between pure accuracy or emotions--because we tell stories and we bring emotions to players--and gameplay, we pick emotions and gameplay," Sala said. "We always discuss with specialists of the culture of the time period--in this case, medieval Islam--to see what fits every time we have to make a decision, though."
I've always admired the great deal of care the Assassin's Creed teams typically extend to creating an authentic reflection of a time and place. So far, the team on Mirage seems to be on the ball in terms of set dressing, clothing, and architecture. Care has seemingly been put into the casting call for voice actors as well. During the preview, Ubisoft revealed acclaimed Iranian and American actor Shohreh Aghdashloo would be voicing Roshan, a Persian Hidden One and Basim's mentor during the events of Mirage. Aghdashloo is most recognized for her work in television--like Dina Araz in 24 and Chrisjen Avasarala in The Expanse--though a careful ear may also recognize her as the voice of Admiral Shala'Raan vas Tonbay from Mass Effect and Lakshmi-2 from Destiny.
"When Ubisoft approached me to voice this character, I was immediately seduced by Roshan's strong personality and her backstory," Aghdashloo said during the preview event. "She's a true warrior who fights for justice and protects her fellow Hidden Ones at all costs. She is loyal and honest but keeps her former self behind a shroud of mystery. And of course, the fact that she is a mature woman from Persian origins made her resonate even more with my own story and background. Playing such a character is a unique opportunity that I could not miss."
I left the preview and my conversation with Sala bummed that Mirage won't be releasing this year alongside the celebration of Assassin's Creed's 15th anniversary. It looks and sounds like a really cool game, and I'm eager to actually play it. I try to be patient in the meantime, and thankfully, I don't have to wait all that long, as Assassin's Creed Mirage is scheduled to launch in 2023.
Development on Mirage is being led by Ubisoft Bordeaux, a developer that, up till now, primarily worked as a support studio. The story is being helmed by narrative director Sarah Beaulieu, whose writing credits include another Ubisoft game: Beyond Good and Evil 2.