Assassin's Creed Mirage review: A warm, bloody hug from an old friend

We are literally so back.


Editor's note: This article contains mild spoilers for Assassin's Creed Mirage.

The deeper I got into Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the more a sense of warm nostalgia washed over me. It felt like a cozy hug from an old friend. A comforting, bloody embrace.

The latest entry in Ubisoft's long-running open-world adventure franchise takes the series back to its roots. Mirage mostly forgoes the RPG approach Ubisoft adopted in the last three main games: Assassin's Creed Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla. I'd only played the latter of those and it didn't click for me, largely because of Ubisoft's propensity to ovestuff its games and partially because it strayed so far away from the earlier titles.

Some of Valhalla's DNA carries over to Mirage, which shouldn't be surprising as the latest game was originally envisioned as an expansion to the last 100-plus-hour epic. There is some loot to hunt for in the form of swords, daggers and outfits that give protagonist Basim some small upgrades, such as reducing the level of notoriety he gains while carrying out illegal actions or passively regenerating some health. These items are upgradable, as are your tools. One neat, if unrealistic perk, makes an enemy disintegrate after Basim eliminates them with a throwing knife. So, you can tweak your build to fit your playstyle to a certain degree.

A hooded figure prepares to kill an enemy with a blade protruding from a bracer in Assassin's Creed Mirage.

There are skill trees too, but rather than unlocking things like a slight increase to the damage Basim deals, the abilities here are genuinely impactful. Pinpointing opponents and important items from further away, reducing fall damage and a chain assassination ability are all super useful tools for Basim to have in his belt.

Ubisoft has pulled back quite a bit on the RPG elements of the previous few games. You won’t be using bows, shields or two-handed weapons as you might in Valhalla, for instance. Still, there's just enough customization for folks who want to optimize (or min/max) Basim for the way they like to play.

"Just enough" is a thought I kept coming back to in the 17 hours it took me to beat the main story. Mirage is just the right length. There are just enough collectibles and side-quests to make the world feel rich but not overwhelming. There's just enough to the story, which is fairly by-the-numbers though gets more intriguing in the last couple of hours. There's just enough variety to the enemies.

There are only a few enemy types, and I love that Mirage doesn't go down the well-worn and nonsensical path of arbitrarily making them stronger based on their geographical location — an aspect of Dead Island 2 I greatly disliked. Although Basim largely has to make do with his sword and dagger (and, of course, the Hidden Blade), enemies have a variety of weapons. A trio of goons will pose a different threat when they have spears instead of swords. You'll have to navigate that melange of weaponry carefully, especially so when enemies surround you. Putting an onus on that and the level design for encounters helps make Mirage feel like more of a refreshing throwback.

A hooded figure prepares to drive his sword through an enemy in Assassin's Creed Mirage.

In the main missions, I only encountered one traditional boss fight toward the end of the story. Practically every other enemy was susceptible to a single-button slaying. I absolutely made the most of that by sneaking up on assassination targets or distracting them with noise-making devices. The game actually discourages open combat, anyway. You won't gain experience points by killing tons of enemies. Staying stealthy is usually the way to go — unless you're a completionist, since there's a trophy/achievement that requires you to stay in open combat for 10 minutes. Thankfully, the game makes it fairly easy for you to slink around.

Contrary to my first impressions, the guards of Baghdad aren't all that smart. They'll often be briefly puzzled when they encounter the dead body of a colleague they were chatting with seconds earlier before walking away. They'll quickly give up on a hunt for Basim. They'll see a cohort being yanked around a corner and think nothing of it. That breaks the immersion a bit, but it does make it easier to mess with these idiots.

I took some delight in tormenting my opponents, even if that may not match up to the code of conduct the assassins live by. One larger grunt was trapped in a room alone to guard a chest. I entered, used a smoke bomb to distract him, opened the chest and left, blocking the path behind me. I then made my way around to a gate that kept the guard locked in from the other side and spent a few minutes whistling at him, for no reason other than to annoy him and amuse myself.

The real star of the show is the version of ninth-century Baghdad Ubisoft has built. It feels rich and lived-in, with bystanders simply going about their day as a hooded figure darts by them to climb up the side of a building. Unfortunately, that level of detail wasn't reflected in the character models. Main characters and NPCs alike looked far less refined than their surroundings.

A hooded figure perched on a viewpoint looks toward a large green palace in a ninth-century version of Baghdad in Assassin's Creed Mirage.

Some Arab critics and reviewers appreciated how Ubisoft represented Baghdad and Muslim culture in the game, and that's a positive sign. In that sense, Mirage seems like a prime candidate for the historical educational modes that Ubisoft has added to recent Assassin's Creed games.

I can't personally speak to the authenticity of the environment Ubisoft has created. The same goes for the Arabic used in the game, but the developers at least strove to avoid anachronisms. I spent an hour or so playing in Arabic with English subtitles and found it a compelling way to experience the game, though I missed hearing the velvet-voiced Shohreh Aghdashloo's portrayal of Basim's mentor Roshan too much.

Aghdashloo's performance is one of several highlights of a solid game. Developer Ubisoft Bordeaux has achieved what it set out to do in bringing back the format of early Assassin's Creed titles while adding some modern bells and whistles (such as a gameplay option to avoid the turgid pickpocketing minigame) and avoiding some of the old trappings.

No part of the game that I've encountered is set in the modern day. That's a wise move, since those parts of previous games pulled me out of the main experience and into some tedious sections that sought to serve a larger story. I didn't hear the word "animus" once this time around. Mirage does tie back into the broader Assassin's Creed narrative — Basim makes an appearance in Valhalla, after all — but you won't get sidetracked by Desmond Miles or Layla Hassan. That meant I could spend more of my time roaming the streets and rooftops of this well-crafted city, scouting enemy camps from above and figuring out the best way to approach an assassination mission.

Mirage probably won't be for everyone, including those who appreciated the format of the last three big Assassin's Creed games, but it struck a chord with me. Even though I've wrapped up the main story and have a bunch of other games to play (I'm looking at you, Cocoon and Spider-Man 2), I'll probably spend a little while longer nuzzled up in the comfort of Mirage.

Assassin's Creed Mirage is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. It's coming to iPhone 15 Pro devices next year.