It’s hard to believe that Assassin’s Creed has been taking us on adventures across the globe for 16 years now, beginning way back in 2007 with the series’ titular debut. The franchise has ebbed and flowed in many ways since then, with the last few mainline entries fracturing the fanbase by departing from the classic, stealth-based AC formula in favor of massive open worlds and XP-based RPG systems. On the Venn diagram of AC fandom, it feels like the overlap between players who prefer the classic formula and those who prefer the newer RPG formula is relatively small. For the record, I am someone who prefers the classic formula, but appreciates what the RPG twist brings to the table. I’m on the fringe of that Venn diagram, to be sure – having adored Origins (even getting the Platinum Trophy) but bouncing hard off Odyssey and Valhalla. Put simply, when Ubisoft said they were returning to that classic stealth formula for Assassin’s Creed Mirage, it was music to my ears. So, does Mirage pull it off? Do we have an AC game that feels like a game about assassins once more? The answer is a definite “yes”, though, understand that Mirage does not reinvent the AC wheel. It’s Assassin’s Creed comfort food for those of us who miss the games of yore, and I must say – we’re eating good.
Mirage stars Basim Ibn Ishaq as its protagonist, a prominent side character in 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla who now takes center stage in a bustling 9th century Baghdad. But while Basim is the main character in Mirage, I would argue that Baghdad is the real star of the show. It’s an excellent setting for an AC game and feels a bit nostalgic considering the series’ roots in the Middle East. For starters, this rendition of Baghdad is gorgeous and full of life. Citizens flock to the Bazaar, cats roam the streets, and there is a general sense of busyness throughout the city. The amount of care that Ubisoft’s researchers have put into making the world feel period accurate also stands out. It’s been a hallmark of the franchise for years, but I always enjoy learning bits of real-world history during my AC experiences through the in-game codex.
Mirage’s map is bigger than I expected, stretching beyond the walls of The Round City (the original core of modern Baghdad) to the suburbs of Baghdad, if you will. As such, and in typical Ubisoft fashion, there is plenty to do and see in AC Mirage. You can perform contracts for the various factions in town to earn tokens, which can then be traded for services or information around the city. Contracts vary from eliminating a target to stealing a valuable item, and the tokens you earn can be helpful when needing to hire a group of mercenaries to cause a distraction, as an example. In addition to contracts, there are also ancient books to collect, mysterious shards to find, items to pickpocket, chests to unlock, and of course, viewpoints to synchronize with. It took me a little over 20 hours to complete the story and complete a healthy dose of side content along the way, but I could probably spend another 10-12 hours working towards 100% completion. Which is to say that for $49.99, Mirage provides great bang for your buck.
In terms of gameplay, Baghdad is a proper assassin playground and has been designed around the core tenets of assassination, parkour, and social stealth. It was very reminiscent of the older games in the series, allowing me to hunt my targets, identify weaknesses, stalk them, and ultimately, eliminate them. Mirage features many of the familiar franchise systems such as parkour, eagle vision, and others, but where it makes the biggest change from recent games is the nature in which you use its various mechanics. Gone are the XP-based RPG mechanics like character leveling and looting weapons in favor of a more focused experience. You will still upgrade your weapons with materials such as steel ingots or leather, but its far more streamlined than the likes of Origins, Odyssey, or Valhalla.
Parry-based combat is also back, placing an emphasis on defense and properly timed counter attacks. At times it can flow like the Batman Arkham games, chaining together brutal finishers and cutting down handfuls of enemies with ease, but other times it felt finnicky, with the parry window seeming a tad too small. I found myself taking beatings often until I started paying attention to enemy body language, rather than the gold flash that indicated the perfect parry window. Maybe it was just one of those “git gud” moments that I seem to be encountering more often as I get older, but something about the timing of enemy attacks felt consistently off to me.
While you can certainly slice-and-dice your way through Baghdad in open combat, I wouldn’t advise it in large doses. In fact, doing so raises your notoriety throughout the city and will eventually lead to elite enemies being dispatched to quell your murderous streak. Notoriety can be reduced by ripping down wanted posters or bribing street demonstrators to keep your name out of their mouth. Both mechanics are welcome returns from previous games, but Mirage is clearly designed with a focus on stealth and should be played accordingly. You’ll need to blend into crowds to eavesdrop on conversations and gather intel, which might reveal someone you can pickpocket a key from to access the location of your target. Some signature tools of the assassin trade make life much easier, including throwing knives, the blowdart, and smoke bombs, among others. Each tool can be upgraded to unlock perks, such as increased range, or smoke that poisons enemies, letting you cater your playstyle to what works for you.
Once I forced myself to start using all the tools at my disposable, as opposed to brute forcing (hidden blading) my way through each mission, I felt unstoppable. Properly chaining the use of my tools and hidden blade together was so satisfying, akin to putting together a clean assassination in the Hitman games. One of my favorite combos was knocking a guard out with a blowdart, sneaking up on the investigating guard with my hidden blade, and then chain-killing another nearby guard with a throwing knife. Speaking of chaining, a mechanic called Assassin’s Focus allows you to chain assassinate targets by marking and executing them, which reminded me of the execution mechanic in some of the old Splinter Cell games. It is yet another deadly tool in your shed, and a fun way to clear large compounds of guards in no time.
You may have noticed that I’ve spent most of my time discussing the world and gameplay of AC Mirage, but very little about the story. That’s because the story of Mirage falls largely into the familiar framework of “take out the leader of the order in X location, but first take out everyone in his web”. It’s not a bad story, but we’ve heard this song before. Even so, Basim is an interesting figure in this universe, and I enjoyed seeing his origin story. Set more than a decade before the events of AC Valhalla, Mirage’s Basim is a young thief in his 20s who carries out contract jobs for the Assassins, though he dreams of joining them full time. As the son of a former public servant, he feels compelled to fight back against tyranny and stand up for disenfranchised people. In his hometown of Anbar, Basim is a Robin Hood type figure, garnering the admiration of children and adults alike. He forces himself into the trajectory of the Assassins, or Hidden Ones as they are known in recent games, and from there he embarks on a journey to cut the head off the snake in Baghdad. The story is serviceable, if not predictable, but does include a couple of interesting twists along the way.
I did experience a few minor technical issues during my time with Mirage, but Ubisoft has promised an imminent patch to clear up them up. At times I could not interact with shopkeepers, and dialogue would occasionally restart from the beginning. Those issues are minor compared to the decidedly “cross-gen” facial animations and mouth movements – they’re not all bad, but some are jarring. On a more positive technical note, graphically the game runs great, featuring both Quality and Performance modes to choose from. I split my time equally between the two, playing the first half in Quality and the latter in Performance, and I truly think you can’t go wrong with either option. No matter what lens you view it through Baghdad is beautiful, and I loved finding new corners of the city I had yet to discover. The playtime counter on my PS5 shows three more hours than my in-game save file, and my theory is that is how much time I spent taking pictures in the built-in photo mode. In fact, every picture in this review was taken by yours truly.
Mirage isn’t a reinvention of the franchise, but rather a love letter to the classic Assassin’s Creed formula that many of us became infatuated with so many years ago. Returning to its roots has proven that the stealth-focused formula can still work, though further innovation is needed to keep things fresh moving forward. Still, if you’ve grown tired of the bloated RPG entries in the series, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is the game you’ve been begging for. Now let’s collectively hope that we won’t have to beg for another one like it.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hello! I'm Jason, the newest member of Gaming Nexus. My favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports games, RPGs, and shooters, but I don't limit myself to those. My favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2 and I have somehow played it for nearly 1,000 hours. I also co-host a weekly PlayStation news podcast called The Dual Sense Podcast, so I stay pretty well versed in that ecosystem. Before that, I co-hosted a basketball podcast.View Profile