Assassin’s Creed Mirage Review | A necessary leap backwards

Assassin's Creed Mirage takes the series back to its roots.

It’s been a while since an Assassin’s Creed game has been about Assassins. In the pursuit of systematic innovation, the franchise lost its grasp on its core identity. Assassin’s Creed Mirage takes the series back to its roots. In a lot of ways, it succeeds at harkening back to simpler times by reducing a lot of the unnecessary bloat recent releases have. However, the game does take the whole throwback vibe a little too much with a number of systems that are a bit too shallow for today’s standards. Regardless, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is exactly what the franchise needs right now and it is what I hope to be the template to build upon for major releases moving forward.

As a massive Assassin’s Creed fan who started his journey all the way back with Bloodlines on the PSP, I was initially on board with the action RPG-oriented format of Origins and Odyssey. While severely lacking in any Creed-related stuff (mostly because it didn’t exist yet), the games did provide an interesting sandbox that faithfully and playfully recreated the time periods they were set in. It wasn’t until halfway through Odyssey and Valhalla that I started to realize that the only thing that tied those games to the franchise was the AC name plastered on the cover. They were RPGs that went on for far longer than they had any right to be. There was so much filler but barely any substance.

Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed Mirage adopts the less-is-more approach with mostly triumphant results. It focuses on a new series protagonist, Basim Ibn Ishaq, one of the few redeeming factors of Valhalla, as we see his origin story go from being a street thief to a master assassin in 9th century Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate. There’s no more grinding through mundane side missions for XP, slowly progressing the narrative, and requiring over 50+ hours to finish an Assassin’s Creed game. Assassin’s Creed Mirage provides a very digestible 15-20 hour experience that draws from some of the best parts of the original games.

I’m so glad to say that Mirage is the best Assassin’s Creed we’ve had in a long time. But of course, it’s not because it’s a perfect game. In fact, there are quite a few flaws that stem from Mirage originally being planned to be a DLC expansion for Valhalla. It feels like a stripped-down version of what came before, for better and worse.

Sand tales

Assassin's Creed Mirage story

Mirage’s story has a lot going for it. The best thing that I can say about it is that it actually takes itself seriously this time. What I noticed with titles like Odyssey and Valhalla is how it would sometimes feel like an MCU script where characters and scenarios would constantly try to make light of a given situation. Assassin’s Creed is no stranger to humor but it was always in the context of strong writing that made you feel the weight of what’s happening. Mirage is noticeably more aware of the conflict that’s contained within its narrative which in turn, has its characters react a bit more realistically. The script knows when it should be serious and when it can pull back a bit for some fun.

We get to spend time with Basim as he pickpockets and petty jobs his way through the days. One thing leads to another till we get to control a slice of what it was like for him to be trained into a Hidden One. When we were given an early preview of the game last month, I mentioned in my first impressions that the opening hours are genuinely fantastic. Seeing the writers avoid portraying Basim as an annoying scoundrel in his early years did wonders to make him such a likable character you want to root for from the very start. He cares about his peers and despite being a thief, he has lines that he doesn’t cross.

However, I did mention how concerned I was that the game might just gloss over the opening sequences. I was hoping that what I saw during the early preview event was just cut for time but unfortunately, it was exactly the same for the final build. Basim’s rise to become a Hidden One is basically a montage cutscene. A damn good one but it still felt underwhelming. While there were brief gameplay segments during his training years, there weren’t as many as there could’ve been. Regardless, it was still really cool to see how the Creed used to operate in its early years on a much more up-close and personal level. I just wish we could’ve had more of it.

Assassin's Creed Mirage opening

Despite a relatively strong start, Assassin’s Creed Mirage’s most noticeable flaw is within its core narrative and writing. There’s nothing new or special in the main story here. It does a pretty okay job at giving Basim a reason why he’s running around and doing all this stuff but none of them amount to anything substantial. Each moment just comes and goes and this is because of the way the gameplay is integrated with the story.

Investigations are back. That means before assassinating a main target, you’re gonna have to gather some information through a handful of missions. This is where Mirage pulls a lot of inspiration from the game that started it all, 2007’s Assassin’s Creed. If it wasn’t obvious enough already, there’s an option to activate a nostalgic blue filter in order to make the visuals similar to the first game. It’s satisfying seeing it all tie together once all clues are gathered. While the gameplay itself is functional enough, the writing doesn’t do much to carry it further. Most of the characters you meet aren’t memorable at all which is disappointing given how this is usually where Assassin’s Creed games are good at. Leonardo da Vinci, Blackbeard, and Benjamin Franklin are all examples of Ubisoft integrating them into a variation of minor to major roles in the campaign with a memorable touch to them. In Mirage, I didn’t really feel that with any of the characters.

Basim himself isn’t a bad protagonist by any means but he also doesn’t really stand out from other assassins in the franchise. He’s there, he does what he has to do, and that’s it. He’s nowhere near the likes of Ezio, Edward, or even Desmond. While there are moments in the story that solidify its ties to Valhalla, there wasn’t really a narrative moment that sticks out to me.

Brave new familiar world

Assassin’s Creed Mirage feels like what the first AC game could’ve been if it was made today. There are a lot of classic elements here that really excite the franchise veteran in me. Take the simplicity of the past games while incorporating it with some of the smoother gameplay fixes of the modern titles, and you’ve got yourself one of the most enjoyable AC games to play today.

The best part about Assassin’s Creed Mirage is its setting. The city of Baghdad is absolutely stunning in its presentation. This is a gorgeous place and one that constantly provides a whole lot of atmosphere to take in. The camera mode was put to good use here. Mirage is a beautiful game.

What elevates my love for Baghdad even more is the gameplay implications it provides. For the longest time, parkour has been an afterthought in recent AC titles. Most of the blame goes to the lack of rooftops to climb and jump on top off. The RPG games were so concerned with trying to impress with their expansive scope that they became riddled with wide empty spaces of nothing. Mirage takes it all the way back down to the basics. Rooftop parkour is finally back and it’s a lot of fun, if a bit janky at times.

Traversal within the city walls was an absolute treat. I did encounter some minor bugs of Basim sticking to certain places I didn’t want him to go to but what’s a classic AC game if not for the unintentional parkour jank? The only time I ever used a mount was when it was in the outskirts, which is a painful reminder of the empty plains recent AC games have had. I will say however that Basim is the slowest-running assassin in the franchise which was a bit frustrating.

You can tell that the developers were passionate about building a setting that best represents its culture. Mirage celebrates Arab culture in ways that feel interesting and genuine. There are certain parts of the map where you can collect a codex entry that teaches you all about the Golden Age of Islam. I walked away from this game learning something new each day.

It took a really long time for me to get somewhat tired of running around Baghdad. While it does still contain a number of side activities, collectibles, and tower synchronization points, this is a Ubisoft game after all, it’s nowhere near the overwhelming amount that is found in other games. Mirage is where I can see the developers restrain themselves from the usual Ubisoft bloat. The side stuff is easily ignorable and no longer feels like they’re being forced down onto you. That’s thanks in large part to the elimination of RPG leveling.

New skills, equipment, and abilities are tied behind normal story progression. There’s no more grinding your mind away just so you can reach a recommended level for a mission. This is exactly what Assassin’s Creed is supposed to be. It’s no longer a game about numbers. No more artificial barriers. Basim becomes better in the context of the narrative, not because you spent the last 5 hours jumping from one lazy sidequest to the other.

Into the shadows 

Mirage’s gameplay is a whole lot simpler but more deliberate. Take pickpocketing as an example. In previous games, all you had to do was hold down a button and bump into an NPC. This time, there’s going to be a prompt that pops up where you’re gonna have to time your input right to be successful. This is a fantastic change that makes pickpocketing a far more involved experience. I definitely spent way too much time picking pockets. It helps that this is one of the best ways to earn money.

Stealth is finally back in Assassin’s Creed. At certain points, it definitely feels like Mirage goes out of its way to encourage sneaking around compared to brute forcing your way in. Hiding in plain sight is one of the first things the game teaches you and it continues this philosophy all the way till the end. Social and environmental stealth is back and they work just as well as you’d expect them to be. Bench assassinations have to be my favorite ones because of how blatant and yet hidden it is at the same time.

Enemy AI is painfully easy to exploit. Whistling multiple guards will alert them all but only one will approach where you’re at. This makes it extremely easy to pick them apart one by one without any consequences. There is a sound mechanic where an assassination will trigger a sound that nearby enemies can hear but this doesn’t work all the time. An enemy can grunt in pain and fall to the ground and their buddy from a couple of meters away will not notice anything. While I still wouldn’t say that Mirage is a full-on stealth game given how simplistic its mechanics are, it’s definitely far from the massive battlefield moments that the RPG titles have blatantly thrown at you.

Speaking of battles, combat in Assassin’s Creed Mirage is far more involved than the button-mashing mess of recent games. You have a normal attack, a heavy one, a parry, and a dodge. That’s it. You do have to go back and forth with an enemy unless you hit them with a perfect parry. Basim is deliberately underpowered in direct combat with far fewer tools and abilities at his disposal. I am fully on board with this. An assassin is not supposed to be a world-class head-bashing warrior. They strike from the shadows and create the biggest problems in plain sight. That is exactly what Mirage lets you do and I can’t help but applaud them for that.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage Review Final Verdict – 8/10

It’s easy to discount Assassin’s Creed Mirage as just a dumbed-down version of the gameplay innovations recent releases in the series brought. While a part of that statement is true, the true value of Mirage is just how intentional it is in bringing back the reasons why we all fell in love with the franchise in the first place.

This is the first time in a really long time that I felt like I was truly becoming an assassin. To wear the iconic robes and strap on the hidden blades became a cosmetic gimmick rather than something that had significance. Mirage is a game that respects where it came from and pushes it for modern times. It’s less of an evolution and more of a refinement of a lot of things that came before. Given how Assassin’s Creed has been a thing for 15 years already, it’s impressive to see Mirage take a step back and evaluate what really makes an AC game work and unapologetically run with it.

I truly hope that Mirage is what Assassin’s Creed will be moving forward. The small team at Ubisoft Bordeaux made something really special here for long-time fans like me. Imagine the possibilities if this was given the budget and development scope that traditional AAA Ubisoft titles have. I get excited just thinking about it. Assassin’s Creed Mirage was a leap of faith that landed exactly where it needed to be.


Assassin's Creed Mirage is exactly what the franchise has been needing for the longest time. Despite a weaker story and unmemorable characters, the heart and soul of a classic AC game remains intact here and refined to a stunning polish from both a visual and gameplay perspective. Despite being widely looked at as a callback to what came before, Mirage is precisely what the franchise should be moving forward.