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Impressions

Assassin’s Creed Mirage Was Juuusssttt Right

Finally, an Assassin's Creed for normal people with normal lives

12:08 PM EST on December 7, 2023

I'm a huge Assassin's Creed weirdo. I've enjoyed, on some level, every game in the series, even III, and I've especially enjoyed the last three (Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla), as much for their open-world RPG dalliances as their traditional stealth stuff.

That said, I also had huge problems with Odyssey and Valhalla because they just did not know when to stop. Ubisoft, convinced it could somehow transform a singleplayer game with a clear ending into some kind of live-service timesink, turned both games into a narrative death march. I've written about this previously:

...all of this is bullshit! The lengths of these recent Assassin’s Creed games sucks, and I hate it. I hate that you have to do the same things over and over again when you’ve already done them over and over again. I hate that there are so many different endings, some more substantive than others. I value my time, and when a game has said and done everything it has to offer I want it to release me from its grip, not hold me down for dozens more hours, just because.

Imagine my joy, then, when Assassin's Creed Mirage was announced last year. Originally planned as an expansion to Valhalla, its entire point was that it was going to be a response to, well, people like me complaining that we were exhausted by all the bullshit that had crept into the series over the past few releases.

It was going to be smaller. It was going to ditch most of the open-world traversal. It was going to go back to the series' roots, when the games were more about rooftop escapes than sailing ships. And, most importantly, all that was going to combine to make it shorter. A lot shorter.

Well, I just finished the game--I know it came out in August, we've been busy!--and wanted to take the time here to say it accomplished all those things, and I loved it. Loved everything about it. I didn't think I'd enjoy the flashback to earlier mission and city design, but I did. Baghdad really felt like more of a lived-in place than the last few games (which had more of a deserted sandbox vibe to them). Even the return of traditionally infuriating quest objectives like eavesdropping were fine, since most of their rough edges have been sanded off.

I also thought the setting and characters were wonderful. Even as a history grad I knew almost nothing about the 9th-century Abbasid Caliphate, and with the region only normally explored in AAA gaming through the iron sights of a rifle in Call of Duty, it was a refreshing change to see so many Middle Eastern characters (some of them historical figures, as is series tradition) given the space to simply be characters, not action movie villains. I'm sorry if that seems glib or that it's clearing a very low bar, but...the bar is set that low.

What I liked best, though, and you've probably guessed where this is going, is that it didn't take me 150 hours to "finish" it. It took me 22 hours. That's a normal amount of time for a video game to take. I installed it, I met some people, I had an adventure, the story wrapped, I am now free to get on with my life, which asks a lot from me and only allows a few hours a night to devote to running around stabbing dudes.

This is all I ever want from a video game these days, so thank you, Assassin's Creed Mirage, for respecting my time and my attention span. Again, a low bar to clear, but given the rampant excess of the last few games in the series, it's important to give credit where it's due.

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