Assassin’s Creed Origins – Exploring Memphis at Gamescom 2017

By the standards of the ancient world, the city of Memphis is a bustling metropolis, dominated by busy waterways and massive, gleaming temple complexes. Built around the Nile, it sprawls out in a labyrinth of small huts and statelier buildings, surrounded by miles of open desert and ruins. It’s here that we started our latest run in Assassin’s Creed Origins, during which we met Bayek’s wife Aya, investigated a crime for Cleopatra, and put the new combat system through its paces against squads of deadly mercenaries.

The demo playable during Gamescom started out with Bayek paddling downriver on a little reed boat, which we immediately abandoned at the sight of a fortress on the outskirts of the city. Assassin’s Creed Origins is filled with armed camps that you can plunder when you’re spoiling for a challenge, and each of these locations has a number of objectives to hit before it’s considered clear, like defeating specific enemies or finding big treasures. In this case, the fortress turned out to be a huge complex that tasked us with defeating its captain and its commander, and then looting two treasures. Using the Animus Pulse ability let us quickly ping Bayek’s surroundings for items of interest, pointing us in the right direction and revealing tons of smaller loot along the way.

The soldiers inside the fortress weren’t pushovers, and presented a great opportunity to put the new combat system through its paces. We started out trying to be stealthy, taking out one of the guards at the gate with a headshot from the first-person predator bow . Long-range sniping is strongly encouraged in Assassin’s Creed Origins – so much so that, when you aim at an enemy, you’ll see a preview of exactly how much damage your shot will do. (Aiming at someone’s head, for example, will usually zero out their health meter.) Also, Bayek can remotely steer predator arrows if you hold down the trigger when firing , so we tried curving a couple of shots around a wall and hit a guard who thought he was safe behind cover.

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If you hit someone within full view of other guards, though, you’ll still put those guards on alert, which we learned the hard way. And while trying to scramble to another roof to avoid enemies that were coming to investigate, we got spotted – triggering a brief slowdown meant to give us a chance to silence our enemies – and then they were after us. Some of them climbed up to our perch to attack, while others hung back to pepper Bayek with arrows, forcing us to split our focus between short- and long-range threats.

The combat system has deepened since the game’s debut at E3, introducing new weapon types – including heavy axes and a long scepter that Bayek wields like a staff to deliver quick strikes – as well as letting us go in unarmed and punch foes into submission. (Bayek’s fists are a lot weaker than his weapons, but if you like the idea of nonlethal takedowns or just want an extra challenge, they’re a fun alternative.) As before, all weapons have a light and heavy attack, and the latter can be charged for a shield-breaking strike. Fighting also fills up a meter that can unleash devastating super attacks that vary by weapon; using a spear lets Bayek impale an enemy in a finishing strike, for example, while smaller weapons might slow time while Bayek unleashes a flurry of quick slashes.

Bows are extremely important here as well. Something like the predator bow, with its screen-filling POV, isn’t great for fighting in close quarters, but switching to an arc bow let us unleash a rapid-fire arrow barrage, and the warrior bow’s shotgun-like blast of five arrows is best deployed at short range.

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Eventually, the fort was scoured of treasure and cleared of guards (a tougher-than-normal task, since one guard had managed to light a signal fire and call in reinforcements), so we continued into Memphis to meet Bayek’s wife, Aya. Half-Greek, half-Egyptian, Aya hails from Alexandria, but moved to Bayek’s home of Siwa at an early age. Trained in the ways of the Medjay, she works as an agent of Cleopatra, and met with Bayek to discuss a series of mysterious poisonings that pointed to a mysterious enemy, known only as The Lizard.

The latest victim was the Apis Bull, a sacred animal kept at a local temple, so Bayek and Aya made their way there by boat and begin an investigation. This played out in familiar fashion, with Bayek searching the area and sending out Animus Pulses to highlight possible clues. Eventually, we discovered the source of the Apis Bull’s sickness – peach pits, administered by the temple’s twin priestesses – and confronted the culprits, who tearfully confessed that they were being coerced. Bandits had kidnapped their brother, Panchrates, and sent them his finger as a means of forcing them to slowly poison the bull – which meant our next task was to go and rescue the missing brother from his captors.

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Panchrates was being held in a nearby fort where guards patrolled along the walls, giving us a clear opening to take them out quietly with Bayek’s bow. And after we battled our way through the main contingent of bandits, the rescued Panchrates told us enough about the leader of his captors to identify him. The Lizard was a priest of Anubis, with a cough and a blue scarf – someone known to Cleopatra and her advisers, who in turn tasked Bayek with The Lizard’s assassination. That wasn’t part of the demo, however, so we instead turned our attention to the outskirts of town.

Out in the desert lie two pyramids, and getting to them is slightly trickier than you might think, given the twisting geography that surrounds them. Fortunately, marking a path is as simple as sending Senu, Bayek’s eagle, into the air and tagging a distant landmark, after which the Animus will project a line for you to follow on the ground in front of you. Once we’d gotten closer, we discovered the Bent Pyramid (so named for its oddly tapered top section) and the Red Pyramid, both built by our new favorite Pharaoh, Sneferu (which we won’t pronounce “Sniffaroo,” no matter how badly we want to). The former held a few secret chambers and venomous snakes, but the latter hid Sneferu’s tomb, a vast network of tunnels and environmental puzzles, including lift platforms that we had to carefully counterweigh in order to raise. The tomb’s darkness made this tough at times; luckily, Bayek has an unlimited supply of torches that can be dropped, thrown, and used to light things on fire.

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Whether we were in the pyramids or in the city itself, Memphis is a striking example of how dense the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins can be. The city is a tightly woven labyrinth of dusty streets and back alleys, with dizzyingly huge structures that hide loot-filled secret areas – like the temple whose collapsed floor gave way to an underwater cavern.

This is a world in which we’re ready to lose ourselves, and we’ll be able to starting October 27, when Assassin’s Creed Origins launches for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. For more in the meantime, check out our previous Assassin’s Creed Origins coverage.