Assassin’s Creed Mirage First Impressions

A direct response to fans clamoring for a more traditional experience.

We recently got invited to a media preview event for Assassin’s Creed Mirage where we were given the opportunity to play an early build of the game. AC Mirage represents an interesting point for the franchise as it harkens back to its series roots while also taking into account the various changes done over the years. It’s in trying to find that balance where the game gets its many strengths but here’s to hoping it gets to capitalize on it all the way. 

Ever since Valhalla accompanied the 9th generation of consoles as a launch title back in 2020, Assassin’s Creed hasn’t had a mainline entry. The franchise has undergone a couple of changes over the past few years that have proven to divide some longtime fans while also attracting new ones. For 2023, Ubisoft is going to try and cater to both by doing something that can be considered innovative in the game industry, going back to what made them successful in the first place. 

However, there’s a caveat to this. The preview event was conducted online wherein Ubisoft would provide me remote access to play the game. This means that I wouldn’t have the build installed in my setup, and instead, it would be remotely streamed to me through the Ubisoft Connect application. For some unexplainable reason, we couldn’t establish a stable connection. Despite tinkering with a lot of things such as reinstalling, restarting, shutting off other programs, etc. for both me and Ubisoft for over an hour, it just wouldn’t work. This means that I wasn’t able to play the game for myself. 

As a compromise, Ubisoft sent over about 1 hour and 50 minutes of gameplay footage that they recorded themselves. They reassured me that the build they used was the same one I would’ve gotten hands-on with. Everything I’ll be talking about will be based on the footage that was sent to me alongside a couple of presentation materials.

There are 3 main parts to the preview build which give glimpses of Basim’s introduction as the protagonist, his rise to be a Hidden One, and how he operates in the open once he has dawned his signature hood and hidden blade. 

Take it from the top

Assassin's Creed Mirage start

The opening establishes Basim as a highly-skilled street thief who spends his days scrounging for small-time jobs that pay for scraps. He’s not exactly the charismatic rascal trope, which I love considering that it’s a trope that’s been far too overused already for this type of narrative. Basim is just someone who’s down on his luck and eager to capitalize on an opportunity that will change everything for him. 

It is in these opening moments that the game teaches you the basics of stealth as you try to steal items around the market. It’s all pretty standard AC stuff and nothing too groundbreaking. The only significant change I noticed is that pickpocketing is no longer as simple as bumping into someone while holding down a button. It has its own minigame that you have to time right to be successful. It feels much more involved. Unfortunately, the footage didn’t see what it would be like if I failed the minigame so I wouldn’t know if there are any consequences to it. 

I’m still of the firm belief that the modern-day version of eagle vision is a little bit too overpowered. It’s basically Batman’s detective vision at this point. You don’t need to see and mark people anymore. You just push a button and you see everyone. Either lessen its range, the number of people Basim can sense or have a limited amount of uses. This mechanic acts as more of a crutch rather than a tool that can be used once in a while. 

It’s worth a shoutout on just how beautiful the streets of Anbar are. Assassin’s Creed games have always had great visual presentation and Mirage is no exception. The game wastes no time in communicating to the player that rooftop traversal is back in full force. The town is dense with climbable structures where you can just jump from one place to another without touching the ground. It was with AC3 that the series started to shy away from rooftop-centric movement given how a lot of the settings didn’t really allow for them to do so. I’m happy to report that Mirage is bringing it all back.

Becoming an Assassin

AC Stealth

One unspecified time jump later, Basim is now training to become an Assassin, or more accurately, a Hidden One at this moment in time. This section has to be my favorite part of the media preview from a narrative perspective. This part of the story really showcases what the Creed looks like from the perspective of a Novice. It’s simply fascinating and highly rewarding, especially for long-time fans like me. 

Roshan acts as your mentor in the story. She’s played phenomenally by Shohreh Aghdashloo once again. Thank god she reprised her role because her unique voice commands authority and presence without being unlikeable and heavy-handed. Easily a highlight of every scene she’s in. 

Gameplay-wise, it’s really just the same as you would expect. It plays exactly like Valhalla, even recycling a lot of Eivor’s animations. While that may sound like a bad thing, I believed that it wasn’t the gameplay of Valhalla that was the problem, it was everything around it such as the overly long narrative and a messy melting pot of RPG elements that dragged the game down. 

At this point in the story, there were still tutorials such as combat and throwing a knife which concerned me. As I said, I’m not exactly sure how far of a time jump this is from when we first see Basim as a street thief. While I hope that they don’t rush those opening moments for us to really connect with Basim as a person first, I also hope that this isn’t a case of 5 or 10 hours down the line, the game is still trying to teach basic mechanics. 

But then again, the narrative is the real value of this chapter and I imagine it to be the same for the rest of the game. Mirage started out as DLC for Valhalla so it makes sense that it shares a lot of its gameplay and even the look of the UI. 

It’s in the small details such as the conversation audio having a deeper echo effect when Basim and a companion pass through a mini cave and smoothly transitions to a more normal sounding bass when they step out in live gameplay that makes the whole experience feel more tangible. 

Mirage environments

Near the end of the segment, it shows Basim getting his first skill point. I was initially worried when the notification popped up. If anyone remembers how messy and convoluted (and useless) the skills were in Valhalla, they’ll understand what I mean. However, when the skills menu was opened up, I saw 3 branches (Phantom, Trickster, and Predator). Each only has a handful of unlockable skills, no more than 7 or 8. I absolutely love this change.  First of all, just a look at the branch names themselves, it really feels like you are developing an Assassin rather than a period-appropriate John Wick. 

Assassins were never supposed to be legendary warriors. They make the biggest impact through their work in the shadows. That’s what makes an Assassin interesting and it looks like Mirage understands that.

The third part involves an Assassination mission. This is where Mirage really proves that it wants to bring back what the franchise has been about. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t be detailing any more information regarding this. Just know that instead of just going straight to the target like we normally would in recent AC games, there are preparations that need to be done, clues to be collected, and information to consider. It really showed me what it would’ve been like if the first AC game was made today. If half of the game is this detailed, I believe we’re in for a good Assassin’s Creed experience. 

Origins, Odyssey, and Vahalla were massive departures from the well-established AC formula, for better and worse. They all gave sprawling RPG experiences filled with tons of things to do in beautiful and expansive sandboxes. However, it did create a discussion as to whether or not they should still be considered an Assassin’s Creed game. Assassin’s Creed Mirage feels like a direct response to fans clamoring for a more traditional experience. One that respects franchise roots while also integrating modern-day game development standards. As an Assassin’s Creed fan who likes both the classics and the RPG titles, I can confidently say that I haven’t been this excited about an AC release since Black Flag.