In many ways 'Assassin's Creed Mirage' is a return to the origins of the series. The aesthetics of 9th-century Baghdad evoke strong memories of The Holy Land in 1191. It’s reminiscent in scale too, with the city covering only around 2.4km2 and around 13km2 total playable area, it’s orders of magnitude smaller than all of the most recent 'Assassin's Creed' games – the second smallest of the last four games after 'Mirage' is 'Assassin's Creed: Origins', set in Egypt with a map of 80km2.
The combat follows the familiar loop from the most recent games too: dodge, counter, hit, finisher. The similarities stop here though. Gone is the incredible variety of weapons from 'Origins', 'Odyssey', and 'Valhalla'. Sure, you can get other weapons in 'Mirage' than those you started with, but they’re all either swords or daggers for your off-hand – so actually the same as the ones you start with. The versatile bow has been replaced by throwing knives, blow darts, and other gadgets with a series of unusual – even for 'Assassin's Creed' – upgrades. Flaming or poison arrows don’t seem so farfetched, but a knife that dissolves an adult human body in seconds is a bit much, and it’s also kind of game-breaking once you unlock it.
Considering the supposed return to basics approach, the stealth and assassination gameplay is as satisfying as ever. Carefully surveying your quarry, looking for unguarded routes into their base of operations, strategically taking out a guard at the perfect time so you won’t get caught when hiding the body, this is really why we keep coming back to the series and it’s all still there. Until you unlock the body-dissolving throwing knife. Once you get that, simply stand out of view of the guards and regardless of how many are around, barring the heavily armoured enemies who are already rare, just start throwing knives and asking questions later. As long as you quickly and accurately follow up with a throw on any guard alerted by the first hit, the area in general will remain unaware of your presence. All challenge is removed from the game with this one item.
Ironically, a criticism from some people about the 'Origins', 'Odyssey', and 'Valhalla', was that due to the massive size of the games, it felt like you were doing the same thing over and over again. The idea of having the smaller map and (much) shorter playtime was to avoid this boredom, and keep things more interesting and varied throughout your playtime – all of which is undone when otherwise tricky assassinations are made trivial by your knife.
The graphics are, at best, not an improvement over the previous games. PC hardware has significantly improved in the last few years, and developers should now know how to get the most out of the current console generation, yet 'Assassin's Creed Mirage' looks very similar to 2017’s 'Assassin's Creed: Origins' when it comes to visual fidelity. For a triple-A release from a publisher of this size, it really should be better. During conversations the camera has a habit of setting up in weird angles, making your character seem either tiny or massive.
Overall, 'Assassin's Creed Mirage' feels less like a return to origins, and more like many steps in the wrong direction. The idea of simplification is clear, and the motivation is understood, but the execution is poor. With all that being said, though, it’s still an 'Assassin's Creed' game, and the basic formula remains unchanged, and fun. If you play this because you enjoy the gameplay and the world that Ubisoft has built over this series of games, you’re likely to enjoy it regardless of its faults. While they are numerous, even combined they don’t have enough of a negative impact on the game to make it unplayable. Sure, some people won’t like it, but others will love it.
We’re somewhere in the middle.