This year’s October is going fully open-world, it seems. First, on October 10 comes the increasingly controversial Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and two weeks later Assassin’s Creed: Origins brings the series back from a year-long hiatus.
Let’s find how they compare to each other.
Oddly enough, both games seem to take a hard stance against the weapon and armour systems present in their previous instalments. Shadow of War’s predecessor, Shadow of Mordor, had something of an evolving gear. You essentially never changed your equipment, it simply was upgraded and reforged as you played, probably providing some nebulous bonus as a result. On the other hand, the Assassin’s Creed games had a fairly reasonable selection of weapons in general, but the differences were almost cosmetic within weapon classes, stats didn’t really matter, and you could easily play with your starting sword. Both games change this up in a major, and a very similar way.
As it happens, Origins and Shadow of War have full loot systems, of the kind you’d expect from an action RPG or Darksiders 2. During gameplay you’ll get new weapons through exploration (and finding chests, probably), shops or some measure, and, of course, looting dead enemies for a chance at some sweet, sweet legendary. SoW will likely stick to the familiar sword-dagger-bow combo for weapons and various sets of armour as a bonus. And we don’t say “sets” without reason, because set bonuses, like, again, in action RPGs are going to be there, waiting for you.
On the other hand Origins goes for breadth, and the selection of various weapons will be much less limited, allowing characteristic Egyptian khopeshes alongside axes, swords and shields, as well as a bunch of different bows exhibiting different abilities before we even start factoring in quality tier-related special traits. There’s no telling right now how the loot systems will compare on the more crunchy level, but on the surface they appear very similar, and curiously welcome additions to the respective franchises.
Both games boast about being open-world, but even this descriptor has become somewhat vague due to the number of open-world games out there. There isn’t a lot known about Shadow of War, but that’s probably because so much about it is going to be more or less procedurally generated, at least as far as the NPCs are concerned. The fortresses and regions they preside over will change based on the orc tribe controlling the territory and the warlord sitting in the throne room. The stories will be of the “emergent” category, at least the ones not related to the overarching plotline of a so far unknown length.
By comparison AC: Origins seems to take a much less dynamic approach, which apparently allowed the developers to pepper the world with distinct major quests and smaller stories alike. It’s an approach which gained widespread recognition as one of the best features of The Witcher 3. Additionally Origins ditches being confined to a mission until it is resolved (via failure or success) or cancelled. Now you’ll be able to take a quest and go on your merry way until you decide to complete it at some point. The world’s not going to close you in a single area at any time, enabling free and seamless exploration at your leisure. Of course many things will be verified after each game’s release date, and that includes the handling of plot and exploration.
This part is something that’s hard to compare in a reasonable way, because both games have a vastly different setting. Shadow of War takes multiple creative freedoms with the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, twisting the Middle-Earth to accommodate the setting-shaking ending of Shadow of Mordor. The most important departure is the creation of a second ring of power, but there are also minor ones, which are likely to draw the ire of Tolkien purists, with good reason. On the other hand Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the series’ return to the roots, quite literally. Instead of moving the historical timeframe forward, which could have been odd given we’ve jumped around Victorian London the last time, Ubisoft put the rewind button to good use, bringing the action to the ancient Egypt, in the time of Julius Caesar, Ptolemy the Boy King, and the famous Cleopatra. It’s a very interesting time, with many cultural and political perturbations, so getting the street-level view of it is very enticing. Bayek, the game’s protagonist is the last of the Medjay, a caste/ethnicity once important, but faded into obscurity before his time.
Both settings are great in their own right, but we see Egypt so rarely in video games, as opposed to Tolkien’s creations, that the new AC looks much more interesting by its freshness alone.
It’s hard to compare the combat of both productions, mostly because Shadow of War has a blend of Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham combat systems, while Origins is a very clear departure from the series’ style.
SoW retains the very choreographed combat, with Talion dancing between enemies, countering their attacks, building hit streaks, and executing special attacks when the streaks gets high enough. It looks great thanks to a vast library of canned animations, but it is also fairly simple and straightforward.
By comparison Origins ditches the similar system AC games used to have, and adopts one that’s much more involved. With a combination of heavy and swift attacks, parries, dodges and hitbox-reliant attacks, the new AC will require much more than just good timing to unleash a counterstrike. Add weapons effective only against certain enemies, but subpar against others and the system starts to look much more interesting, even if the deadly dance doesn’t look quite so cinematic.
Both open-world, free-roaming parkour slashers seem to be very strong October entries, and it’s great to see Assassin’s Creed come back with style and enough flair to rethink and revamp some of the features that have grown somewhat stale in the decade since the first game’s launch. Shadow of War launches on October 10, which Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ release date is October 27, leaving much more time to consider buying a preorder, if you find the game interesting.