Redefining the open-world RPG: An interview with ‘Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ creative director Jean Guesdon

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Ubisoft/Courtesy

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Marking the tenth anniversary of the beloved action-adventure RPG series, Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed: Origins,” which releases Oct. 27, transports the player to ancient Egypt as they lead the last Medjay Bayek of Siwa, in traversing the various factions of the empire in its prime serving justice and clashing with the likes of Cleopatra and Caesar along the way.

Featuring an impressively massive open world with both bustling urban cities crowded with non-player characters (NPCs) and crocodile dens tucked away in the wilderness, “Origins” presents a beautifully diverse landscape that certainly lends itself to the type of in-game exploration that has become a hallmark of the “Assassin’s Creed” series. Yet even more fascinating than its highly detailed exteriors and interiors is the game’s newly designed AI, which adds depth to the immersive gameplay of “Origins.”

“With (‘Origins’) we wanted to go further. Not only is it the biggest map we’ve ever done, but we’ve reworked totally the AI to make the world living like never before,” said creative director Jean Guesdon in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I think as soon as you are in (the world), you feel the difference. When you look at NPCs moving and animals attacking each other, you really get the sense that this world is living, and I’ve never seen that before.”

Guesdon added, “When you start making a game, you start with your desire and you try not to think about the feasibility of it. During the development, it’s always a matter of harmonizing, of keeping the balance between the ambition of the content and the feasibility of it for the team.”

Namely, “Origins” features a newfound versatility in its environment, displaying an array of interactions with both water and untraditional terrain that brings the game back to the heart of the series. In fact, having been developed by the same team that delivered “Black Flag,” the fan-favorite sixth installment of the “Assassin’s Creed” series, the mechanisms of “Origins” certainly improve upon the swimming and sailing interactions that were first mastered in “Black Flag” four years ago.

“In ‘Black Flag,’ we had these underwater sections that were really nice, but for technical reasons we had to load them,” explained Guesdon, who was also the creative director of “Black Flag.” Referring to the new completely accessible underwater maps showcased in “Origins,” Guesdon revealed, “We’ve hidden actually the loading behind the diving action. So this time there’s a full map in all directions, even below the water and up to the top of the mountains.”

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Ubisoft/Courtesy

Further developing one of the pillars of the “Assassin’s Creed” series, “Origins” also delivers new and improved parkour abilities that make more structures, including pyramids and ships, climbable.

“It was important to us to make the world accessible everywhere and keep this ability for the players to have this sense of verticality,” Guesdon said, commenting on the game’s redesigned climbing abilities. “Being in an urban setting, we find high buildings so we have big cities like Memphis. But being in the open world, in the wilderness, we wanted to be able to use rocks and cliffs as part of the layout.”

The highly interactive environment of “Origins” is overshadowed only by the game’s new combat and role-playing systems, both of which allow for specialized gameplay that caters to any unique playstyle. The player may choose to take on a stealth role, using the infamous hidden blade and smoke bombs to make a kill – or just as easily switch to a heavy melee build, crafting customized weapons using collectables.

In fact, “Origins” takes on a more traditional approach to RPGs, requiring the player to explore, interact and level up before successfully taking on higher level opponents. Yet the game gives the player the freedom to choose exactly how to progress.

“People who are really into the narrative will just enjoy the vast amount of quests that are available,” Guesdon explained. People who really like the combat and the action part of it will have tons of locations, militaries, enemies and challenges to face. Those who really like being more contemplative and enjoy exploring the world in a peaceful manner will have that.”

But as key features of “Origins” are revealed, longtime fans of the “Assassin’s Creed” series are still waiting to discover how the upcoming game will incorporate the lore of Abstergo Industries, the Templar organization of the series’ modern timeline. While the presence of Abstergo’s traditional Animus interface in the game suggests that the organization will make an appearance in “Origins,” the extent to which the player will be able to explore this portion of the “Assassin’s Creed” universe remains unclear.

“What I can tell you is that we know well the franchise and all the different layers that are important to the global lore and mythology and we will respect them all,” Guesdon hinted. “I think we came up with some quite clever things that you will enjoy.”

With its redesigned AI, newly integrated combat system and stunning 4K graphics, “Origins” certainly promises to not only redefine the “Assassin’s Creed” series as an immersive open-world experience, but also change the way in which large scale RPGs are developed, emphasizing environment and narrative over sheer combat.

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Ubisoft/Courtesy

“In terms of navigation and exploration in the world, we’ve reached this unification of the world that we’ve never had before,” said Guesdon. “In terms of combat, it’s way more flexible and way deeper with all the options you have. With the narrative and the different quests, you can switch and really manage the narrative the way you want.”

As Guesdon explained, “There is not one way to consume (the game). You make your own experience. You are free. You can explore the way you want.”

Manisha Ummadi covers video games. Contact her at [email protected].

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