How Assassin's Creed Mirage is returning to its roots

By Kate Gray, Contributor

It has been over 15 years since the very first Assassin's Creed introduced us to the backstabbing badass Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. Since then, the series has spawned 12 mainline games and myriad spin-offs, books, comics, board games—even a movie.

Assassin's Creed Mirage, the next installment in the series, has been touted by its developers as a "love letter to the origins of the franchise," turning back the clock to reconnect with what players loved about the games in the first place. The original three pillars for Assassin's Creed were Parkour, Stealth, and Assassination. While the series never let go of those three ideas, in recent years they've often taken a backseat in favor of new mechanics and ways of traversing the world. Mirage is promising to return to those design pillars, bolstering what worked with both new and old mechanics, and getting rid of what doesn't.

Here's how Assassin's Creed Mirage is rediscovering its roots—plus a few ways it's keeping things fresh, too.

A much shorter playtime

Mirage is estimated to last around 20-30 hours, according to early playtests, bringing it more in line with older games in the series.This is a game that chooses not to overstay its welcome, thanks to its smaller map and more linear story. If you prefer sprawling epics that clock in at 80+ hours minimum, you may want to wait for the next Assassin's Creed, which will return to a gigantic open world that takes much longer to explore. Mirage is intended to be a different way of doing things in between larger games—a sort of palate cleanser, perfect for those who don't have much time to spare.

A return to the Middle East

Our old friend, Altaïr, was the son of an already-accomplished Assassin. Mirage's protagonist, Basim Ibn Ishaq, begins life as a thief in the street markets of Baghdad before rising through the ranks of The Hidden Ones, basically the proto-Assassins. But despite their different childhoods and the 300 years between them, the two are much closer than Assassins have been in a while. 

How Assassins Creed Mirage Is Returning To Its Roots Middle East
Assassin's Creed has taken us across the globe, from North America to London, Paris to Greece, but Mirage's Baghdad setting is the closest the games have come to their origins in the Middle Eastern cities of Masyaf, Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. Baghdad still isn't super close—Google Maps says it's a 10-hour drive from there to Masyaf, in modern-day Syria—but it's closer than we've been in the past decade.

A focus on Baghdad

Assassin's Creed games have always had open worlds, but in more recent games, those open worlds required a great deal of travel. Bayek and Aya, Kassandra and Alexios—the dual heroes and heroines of Origins and Odyssey respectively—spent a lot of time on horseback or on boats, trudging from one city full of stab victims to the next. While the space offered moments of relative tranquility between set pieces, Mirage does away with all of that traversal in favor of (mostly) a single setting. 

Mirage is largely set in the densely-packed locale of ninth-century Baghdad, 300 years before Altaïr's day, with a comparable map size to Unity's Paris or Revelations's Constantinople. The city is split into four districts, so it won't all be one giant blob of similar-looking buildings, but its smaller size allows for more focused exploration—with that signature Assassin's Creed verticality. 

Dense city traversal

Assassin's Creed games used to be more about going up than going forwards. That all changed with Assassin's Creed III's colonial North America setting. There just weren't a lot of crowded cities over there at the time. Instead of Italy's tall basilicas and Jerusalem's towering temples, Assassin's Creed III offered trees, cliffs, bushes, and tents. Maybe a watchtower or two. Although we occasionally returned to tall buildings and denser cities in Odyssey and Valhalla, recent games also provided a lot of empty land in between.

How Assassins Creed Mirage Is Returning To Its Roots Rooftops

Not so in Mirage, where Baghdad is filled with narrow streets, bustling markets, and housing stacked like Jenga blocks, ready for Basim to clamber over just like the old days. Parkour looks like it'll feel just like it used to—scaling walls, jumping across roofs, and using the detritus of city life to swing, vault, and catapult wherever you need to be. It's easier to learn and master than ever before, though. The development team focused on momentum, flow, and verticality, bringing Mirage's parkour more in line with the original design while modernizing and improving it with faster animations.

Returning stealth mechanics (with a twist)

It's not just rooftop traversal, either. The density of ground-level is also your friend when it comes to hiding in plain sight. Mirage's streets are narrower and packed with people, providing Basim with more chances to hide, distract, and cause chaos.

Remember how you used to be able to blend into crowds, even if the crowds were quite clearly all women in dresses and you were very obviously a dude in a robe? Well, it's back—and it's better than ever before. 

Not only can you blend seamlessly into crowds to hide from the ninth-century version of the cops, but you can bring the crowds to you. Basim can bribe folks to gather around him, providing cover when he most needs it, rather than waiting for a suitably-large group of people to appear nearby. Neat!

The bench hide—a useful tactic that involves sitting on a bench and pretending you aren't the world's most obvious assassin—is also making a return, as is the bench assassination from Assassin's Creed 2. Benches are back, baby!

A renewed emphasis on assassination

Mirage's commitment to stealth means that fighting is really, really your last resort. Assassins aren't built for combat, after all. They're built to jump on top of people and stab them in the neck.

How Assassins Creed Mirage Is Returning To Its Roots Assassination
You'll be assassinating people old-style. Your target may not always be clear, and you'll have to do some reconnaissance with your trusty eagle to figure out things like entry points, exit routes, and where the horn-bearers are—the guys who'll call for reinforcements if you don't take 'em out first. This is a return to what Ubisoft calls the "Black Box" style of mission—figure out your plan, execute on it, and get the heck out. 

More good news: There are also more killing animations than ever, plus the return of mechanics like rooftop and the aforementioned bench assassinations. But it's not all peachy—there are also new enemy types, including a guy whose job it is to stab haystacks just in case you're hiding in one. Be careful! 

Linear story

More recent Assassin's Creed games let the player kind-of do whatever, whenever—with a minor nod to a grander, linear-ish story that usually deals with the main character's identity, some Abstergo stuff, and a late-game alien reveal. But other than occasionally dipping your toe into the overarching plot before running off to do side-quests again, you don't really have to follow the story unless you want to.

Mirage does away with all that freedom-of-choice nonsense and returns to a linear tale that's more in line with how the games used to be. The story largely takes place in Baghdad, as we've mentioned, with some scenes set in the training facility run by The Hidden Ones, which is tucked away in the nearby fortress of Alamut. 

...And the new stuff

Of course, Mirage is not all about rehashing old mechanics, even if they were beloved. Alongside the speedier animations and the focus on momentum that will make the parkour feel dynamic and alive, there are also new ways of traversing the city streets to maintain that all-important momentum. The biggest change is pole-vaulting – Basim can find poles that will swing him from one roof to the next, making it much easier to get over large gaps. 

How Assassins Creed Mirage Is Returning To Its Roots Supernatural
Basim's scouting eagle isn't new—Origins and Odyssey both featured the helpful bird—but what is new is that the eagle can die. New enemies include the (devastating) marksman, whose job it is to find and shoot down your avian amigo, effectively removing the scouting feature until he recovers.

Basim's arsenal of tools is also the biggest it's ever been in an Assassin's Creed game, with mines, traps, darts, and the new ability to slow down time to mark targets and string together assassinations.

Supernatural elements

Assassin's Creed has always had an undercurrent of weird, supernatural, and extraterrestrial goings-on. It's not just ancient lads with knifey-sleevey! Sometimes there are immortal aliens! Cursed objects! And some dude from the future secretly controlling you through a VR pod!

Mirage still features these elements—although it's not yet clear to what extent, since that stuff is usually pretty end-game... But we do know that the game features djinns in some way, in case Basim's Baghdad street thief beginnings weren't quite Aladdin enough for you. Can you stab an ethereal being? We'll probably find out when the game comes out in October!