Assassin's Creed fans are going to be divided when it comes to Mirage. Many younger gamers will be expecting a huge open world that sucks up hundreds of hours of your time, and they'll be disappointed; those who have been with the series since the beginning, however, will love this smaller and more focused experience that harkens back to the golden age of Ezio Auditore de Firenze.
Assassin's Creed Mirage sees you take control of Basim, an inhabitant of Mesopotamia - modern-day Iraq - in the 9th century AD. It's not long before he runs into the Hidden Ones and joins their ranks, of course, so the stabbing comes soon enough after a couple hours of tutorials and story set up.
This time around, Assassin's Creed is a different beast entirely when it comes to how the game is set out. Gone are the overwhelming number of map icons that plague modern Assassin's Creed games, and instead, we're treated to a far more linear experience.
As Basim, you'll need to track down members of The Big Bad Order, so there's nothing really new in the overarching story, but this is done entirely in the form of investigations (think Odyssey when you're hunting down all the bad guys late game), which you get by visiting mission hubs called assassin's bureaus.
Assassin's bureaus are dotted around the game's world, and you'll hit up each one in search of missions that put you on the trail of increasingly more important bad guys. As you take out your target, you'll learn more information about other cases you're investigating and an interconnecting web starts to form, all leading back to the Big Baddy.
There are still cutscenes, of course, but the game feels far sleeker when it comes to getting into the action. You'll still spend around 2 hours in-game before you'll see the title roll, but there's more emphasis on getting you in to the game's world quickly. You can go to the assassin's bureaus in whichever order you want, and so while there's less busywork distractions - side tales still exist, but there's just fewer of them - there's also more freedom to choose how to complete the main missions that matter.
You'll also find all the usual series RPG mechanics when it comes to Basim. You can buy and upgrade clothes, armour, and tools. There's also a skill tree you unlock as you gain more XP throughout the game. It’s a middle ground between the simple level-ups of Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 and the stat-grinding RPGs of Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla.
The only difference in Mirage compared to what you're used to is how quickly you upgrade everything. Seeing as Mirage is a far shorter and more contained experience, XP and unlocks are gained at a much faster rate than usual, introducing a more rapid pace.
You'll spend a total of around 20-30 hours in Assassin's Creed Mirage's world if you just stick mainly to the main story. You can undertake side missions called contracts to gain currencies that can be redeemed with various factions, like the merchants, but these aren't really necessary or thrilling. So those who want to go back to the AC days of Ezio will enjoy this more focused experience. Those looking for huge open worlds full of busywork, however, might find Mirage a bit jarring.
There are still chests to track down, areas to explore, and things to do in this Assassin's Creed game, but my greatest enjoyment was found just tackling whichever investigation took my fancy at that moment and seeing how each member of the Order links to each other and the overall narrative.
Where the game starts to fall down is in its worldbuilding. 9th century Baghdad is an engaging setting, but because of the geography and similarities in architecture, Assassin's Creed Mirage feels too similar to Origins as well as the original game. Yes, it's a different culture and 900 years separate the two, but we're still wearing robes in the desert, using the same camels and boats, and the palm trees and foliage look identical.
If Ubisoft had chosen a more distinct regions and period for Mirage, like feudal Japan, the changes in game structure would slap harder and make the game feel like a truly unique experience. As it is, it feels like a quick copy and paste worldbuilding job. Obviously, much more research went into the game from the team than that, but the setting doesn't allow their hard work to truly shine.
And with that, our review draws to a close. Assassin's Creed Mirage is a great Assassin's Creed game. Curtailing the unnecessary bloat of the Assassin's Creed corpse was much needed, and Mirage delivers on that front. The gameplay is slick, the story is delivered in a freer way, and it respects players' time. However, the setting of the game makes it feel like more of a re-tread with a sleeker veneer, rather than a gut-punching new experience.