If you have longed for a modern version of the early Assassin’s Creed (AC) games, the latest title of the popular franchise, AC Mirage, grants you that wish.
AC Mirage returns to its original stealth-based gameplay of the first AC with Altaïr Ibn-LaʼAhad as the protagonist in 2007, and subsequently, Ezio Auditore da Firenze in AC II in 2009, with some modern quality-of-life enhancements.
Initially developed as an add-on for AC Valhalla, the new game has now been given sufficient scope to be a standalone title.
The full game takes around 20 hours to complete — more if you are a completist and want to find all the collectibles and complete all the side quests.
Although the timeline of AC is a little messy, Ubisoft has a handy chart to show the chronology of AC games — take a look if you are feeling scholarly. It places AC Mirage right smack between the events of AC Origins and AC Valhalla.
One Thousand and One Nights
You play Basim, whom we last met in AC Valhalla as the manipulative and devious “mentor” to Eivor. Set in Baghdad in the 9th century, AC Mirage focuses on Basim’s story and his rise as a member of the Hidden Ones.
AC Mirage’s main story mission has Basim unveiling the dark conspiracy of the powerful and mysterious group, The Order of the Ancients, and assassinating its key members. This is usually preceded by some investigative work to identify and locate the members, which is quite enjoyable.
Besides the investigation of The Order in the main missions, Basim is plagued by terrifying visions of a monstrous jinni, and he needs to uncover and confront his own inner demons.
Missions can be done in a non-linear fashion, which allows for some freedom in pursuing whichever tickles your fancy.
There are also optional side quests to help some Non-playable characters (NPCs) as well as collectibles including rare books and artifacts that can be traded for rewards.
There are also cryptic riddles in the form of Enigmas to be found. They can lead you to locations that contain cosmetic enhancements for Basim.
Although references to the Animus, a device that reads genetic memory, are limited in AC MIrage, there are some signs of futuristic influences. You find a mysterious cave where shards can be exchanged for gear as well as Animus orbs that can be collected and add interesting bits of historic information in the codex.
While AC Mirage sets itself up as a prequel to AC Valhalla, the rather puzzling conclusion seems to deliberately leave some loose threads for future AC games to build on.
Skulking in the shadows
Since stealth is a major gameplay element in AC Mirage, the sneaky tactics of early AC games are critical in completing the missions.
These include hiding in plain sight among the crowds, concealment in bushes or around corners, whistling to lure and cull naïve guards, conducting assassinations from height and hiding bodies.
Basim can also pay off mercenaries or musicians with special tokens to cause a distraction for the guards, or to merchants to smuggle him into restricted locations.
Unlike more recent AC games, combat is secondary as Basim is a weak warrior despite him looking muscular and buff. He is easily overpowered when facing off more than four enemies, so running away and hiding until the manhunt is over is critical to staying alive.
When combat is inevitable, a timely parry can help him dispatch off-balanced enemies. So, good timing is essential in combat rather than button-mashing.
As with all AC games, Basim can use Eagle Vision that works like X-ray vision to reveal enemies behind walls as well as objects that can be interacted with, such as loot, clues and locked doors.
Plus, Basim’s pet eagle Enkidu can fly up and offer a bird’s eye view to tag enemies as well as discover hidden entrances and clues. Some missions also require Basim to eavesdrop on NPCs’ conversations to find clues on his targets.
With all this surveillance, sneaking around and picking off enemies surreptitiously, AC Mirage is a much slower paced game compared to AC Valhalla. Thankfully, fewer activities and a smaller map ensure that the game doesn’t feel dragged out.
It helps that Basim can get around the map efficiently. He can fast-travel after synchronising viewpoints where Basim can perform the trademark leap of faith. He can also ride on horses and camels as well as jump on boats to move through the city’s rivers.
Playing the game on a PC, I felt the controls in AC Mirage were suboptimal compared to AC Valhalla, which is strange since AC Mirage was built on the same Anvil engine.
Climbing and jumping were not always smooth and Basim kept getting caught in tight corners or roofed areas. You can even get stuck at a window with his body hanging outside, which is frustrating when trying to escape from enemies.
I recalled AC Valhalla being much less problematic in terms of movements — Eivor could climb practically anything even as a hulking Viking warrior armed to the teeth.
Cloak and dagger
In terms of gear, Basim is armed with a dagger and sword that can be upgraded with resources found in chests such as leather, steel ingots and components.
There are variants of daggers and swords with different properties that can be unlocked as you progress in the main game and by unlocking loot chests.
As with all assassins, Basim also has a retractable hidden blade attached to his left hand at the cost of his ring finger when he officially joins the Hidden Ones.
This weapon excels in sneaky kills and assassinations at close range, but I had the most fun using Basim’s ranged tools for a variety of assassination tactics. These include throwing knives, blow darts, smoke bombs, traps and noisemakers.
Tools can be upgraded and altered to suit your playstyle – such as increasing the range, adding the ability to poison foes or even ensuring enemies do not recover from effects of the tools. Think of putting them to sleep permanently after a blowdart hit.
AC Miage offers a variety of costumes that Basim can don, and grants him certain boosts in abilities. If you don’t like the look, there is an option to override it with the “costume” option. For those who like to customise Basim’s look, there are also dyes to change the colour of Basim’s costume and different talismans to wear.
What I found fascinating are the shimmering Animus orbs that are scattered around AC Mirage’s maps for collecting. These add to the in-game Codex, which offer plenty of interesting insights and history of actual places and events by the game’s historians
In terms of visual design, AC Mirage brings 9th century Baghdad to life, with elaborately designed mosques, hammams and palaces, richly decorated with lush carpets and tapestries, which are lovely to explore.
There are also plenty of structures for Basim to hide in, such as gazebos on rooftops, piles of hay and tall grasses and buses in gardens. Baghdad is full of NPCs who react to Basim’s antics and will even scream for the guards if his notoriety level is high.
Outside the city, the scenery changes to windswept deserts, oases and rocky structures. In contrast to the city, the deserts feel rather featureless and lacking, so the map and explorable areas in AC Mirage are much smaller than it looks.
AC Mirage has day and night cycles that vary the landscape, and some missions can only be completed at certain times of the day, which make these details more than cosmetic.
A bonus is that Basim is also able to pet cats, which will purr in appreciation. An important detail for all cat lovers out there!
I did enjoy the massive open worlds of AC Origins in Egypt, AC Odyssey in Greece and AC Valhalla in Norway and the British Isles, but I felt that these games have deviated away from the stealth-based of earlier AC games.
They might be better off being separate historical fantasies since the gameplay had deviated so far from their predecessors and somewhat dilute the stealth-based gameplay of the AC series.
In AC Valhalla, for instance, you don’t really need to sneak because Eivor goes in wielding double axes while raiding strongholds and tearing off heads of enemies.
If you feel more isn’t always better and long for the original stealth-based AC games, AC Mirage offers a safe nostalgic gameplay experience. However, with its limited open-world exploration, much fewer activities and purely cosmetic character customisation, AC Mirage offers limited replayability.
For those who have longed for the stealth-based gameplay of earlier AC games in a more concise form, AC Mirage ticks all the boxes and offers some modern conveniences and improved visuals.
On the flip side, it also means that the game is slower-paced, smaller in scope and less epic than AC Valhalla or AC Odyssey. The city of Baghdad is fun to explore although the deserts are rather lacking.
The deluxe edition of the game offers cool gear that lets Basim dress up as the Prince of Persia, with sand-themed weapons and costumes. That sure ups the ante in nostalgia since AC games are a spiritual successor of Prince of Persia games.