When Assassin's Creed Mirage launches on October 5, it will represent a return to the series' roots - but what does that mean, exactly? For one thing, it means we'll be back in the Middle East (the dense urban landscape of Baghdad, specifically) amongst the ranks of the Hidden Ones, who at this point are classic Assassins in all but name - working out of secret bureaus, constructing the legendary fortress at Alamut, and sporting the familiar white robes we first saw on Altaïr back in 2007. They can also speak entirely in their native language, with the series' first-ever full localization in Arabic.
But the connection isn't merely in the setting and story; Assassin's Creed Mirage recaptures the spirit of the series' origins through gameplay, in ways both big and small. For example, as a former street thief, Basim can pickpocket people in the crowds, much like Ezio Auditore could. He can also make use of explosive noisemakers and mines, like the ones Ezio could craft in Assassin's Creed Revelations - and if he draws too much attention, his notoriety will rise, and players will need to tear down wanted posters or bribe officials if they don't want continual, escalating attention from guards.
It's not just the small things that help immerse you in the daily life of a Hidden One; Assassin's Creed Mirage echoes those early games in its bigger structural pieces, the tense missions and grand plots that make you feel like a true Assassin. Basim's missions in particular take inspiration from the structure of the very first Assassin's Creed, which challenged players to conduct investigations to learn all they could about their targets' identities and weaknesses before launching into big, elaborate set-piece assassinations.
Where the original's investigations were brief side activities before the main event, however, investigations in Assassin's Creed Mirage are more involved, with bigger, more varied goals and story beats that feel vital to Basim's journey. In our recent hands-on - after experiencing a little of Basim's street-thief days and his training and initiation at Alamut - we were introduced to Kong, a Chinese tea merchant and old friend of Basim's. Kong was being unfairly hassled by the local authorities, who'd confiscated a vital shipment of tea leaves, so naturally Basim was happy to intervene and un-confiscate them from a nearby warehouse. Careful observation of said warehouse would have revealed a couple of different ways to enter - an explosive oil jar left next to a barred window, for example, or bags of spices near the entrance that could be hit with a throwing knife to create a disabling smokescreen through which Basim could slip in unnoticed. We weren't quite as careful as we should have been, though, and ended up having to fight our way in after the guards spotted Basim.
Combat in Assassin's Creed Mirage is markedly different from fighting in Assassin's Creed Valhalla or Assassin's Creed Odyssey; Basim swings his sword and dagger in wide, deliberate arcs that - while devastating - can leave him open to counterattacks from the nimble guards. Attacking and dodging will both drain Basim's stamina, and if that runs out, it'll leave him briefly unable to do either - although parrying can restore some stamina, meaning it's a smart choice to master the tight timing window to pull off a good parry. Where Eivor or Kassandra could charge headlong into battle and quickly dispatch any number of enemies, players will need to be a little more careful and strategic when fighting as Basim.
Once we'd dealt with the guards and retrieved Kong's goods, our old buddy let slip that he was about to attend an event where Baghdad's richest (and potentially most sinister) citizens would soon gather: The Grand Auction, or Da'irat Al-Mal, where rare fineries could be found - along with Basim's real target, a secretive individual known as the Treasurer.
Getting an invitation would mean doing another favor for Kong: recovering the rest of his goods from a bigger, more heavily guarded warehouse, this time inside a heavily fortified compound. If you're wondering why Basim would do all this just to convince an old friend to give him an auction invitation, these favors have another purpose: they're both crucial steps in the investigation of a target known only as the Harbormaster - the corrupt official putting the squeeze on Kong - and the Harbormaster is himself a step in Basim's investigation of the Treasurer. It's a complex web of conspiracy, and we now had a sizable strand to pull.
The confiscation warehouse was protected by a Marksman - an archer who could threaten Basim's eagle, Enkidu, and deprive us of our eye in the sky until we eliminated him. Once we'd found a way up to his perch and silenced him with a quick stab to the back, we found he was far from the only threat. Enkidu's eyes revealed that the compound was crawling with guards, each of whom presented tempting targets for throwing knives, Hidden Blade takedowns, and conveniently placed jars of flammable oil. If they raised the alarm, however, they'd become relentless - Basim is a capable fighter, but Baghdad's guards are deadly and will overwhelm him quickly if he's outnumbered. If that happens, it's better to flee, using smoke bombs and hiding spots to break their line of sight until they call off the chase.
In addition to danger, the compound was full of clues to the identity of the Harbormaster - who was revealed as Al-Kullulu, a member of the sinister Order of the Ancients. He had seized Kong's goods as part of a larger blockade on foreign shipments, with the aim of finding one specific ancient Chinese hairpin at the order of the Treasurer. Flanked by guards and bags of spices, he wasn't difficult to find - and by creating stinging red smokescreen from his surroundings, we easily slipped in, took him out, and secured our entrance to the Grand Auction.
Located in Baghdad's sprawling Bazaar, the Grand Auction is the setting for a Black Box mission - a large-scale assassination in which Basim will need to explore, sneak, and deceive his way to his target before setting up a unique kill. Searching the mazelike halls and balconies of the Bazaar yielded opportunities to eavesdrop on conversations from hiding, which in turn revealed elements of the Treasurer's identity - and be aware, there will be a few spoilers for this mission from this point on.
The Treasurer was an Order member fixated on getting her hands on that ancient hairpin. It had slipped through her grasp before, but now she had a chance to get it during the Grand Auction. At this point in the mission, events can go a couple of different ways; if Basim has the money to bid, he can win the auction and claim the hairpin. If not, don't worry - the Treasurer won't get it, either. Instead, it becomes the property of another merchant, who is too busy gloating about his prize to keep a watchful eye on it.
However Basim gets his hands on it, the hairpin is his ticket to a tense performance of trickery and a bloody finale - which we can't reveal just yet. In a short amount of time, however, this investigation arc brought us from Baghdad's street-level business dealings and low-level shakedowns to the beating heart of the city's materialistic corruption. It let us explore Baghdad as a cosmopolitan hub of trade, and pushed us to use a wide range of Basim's skills along the way, with a finish that felt more earned for all the legwork we'd put into it.
It's also just a small part of the Gordian knot of conspiracies and secrets that your Hidden Blade will slice through when Assassin's Creed Mirage launches on October 5. Assassin's Creed Mirage will be available for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Amazon Luna, and will be available on day one with a Ubisoft+ subscription. For more on Assassin's Creed Mirage, check out our developer-narrated gameplay video, and find out more about how players can discover more about Basim's world through the History of Baghdad feature.