Following on from the enjoyable, if a little boring The Hidden Ones, Curse of the Pharaohs is Assassin's Creed Origins' second expansion, and it's a lot more ambitious. Once again, protagonist Bayek -- now getting on in years -- is informed of ill happenings off in a different part of Egypt. This time, he's journeying East to a region that's home to the Valley of Kings -- a burial site where many of the nation's most prominent rulers were laid to rest.
In a not-so-historically-accurate twist, four of these pharaohs have risen from their graves and are causing havoc throughout the area, slaughtering townsfolk and giving bandits, overzealous soldiers, and corrupt officials an opportunity to carry out their dastardly plans. Basically, everything's gone to sh*t, and Bayek's going to have to clean up the mess.
If the premise sounds mental, that's because it is. Curse of the Pharaohs almost reaches Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare levels of insanity, with the expansion barely acknowledging the fact that what's happening is completely crazy. The experience is all the better for it, though. For the first time in Assassin's Creed's history, it feels like the developers have been given free reign, allowing for some of the most imaginative design that the series has ever seen.
This is where the expansion's afterlife areas enter the equation. The pharaohs may be causing chaos in the physical world, but in order to fully put a stop to them, Bayek has to journey beyond death. The soul of each awakened ruler resides within their own plane of the afterlife -- whole new locations that are roughly the size of an entire city from past Assassin's Creed titles. Needless to say, this is a pretty big slice of downloadable content.
Each afterlife has its own visual quirk, and they're all a joy to explore. From the golden fields of Nefertiti's realm that seem to stretch on into eternity, to the harsh, ruined deserts of Ramesses the Great, these locations are glorious to behold. As is the case with the main game's recreation of Egypt, the environmental detail on display is often stunning, and combined with some superb art direction, these maps are easily the highlight of an already solid expansion.
That said, Curse of the Pharaohs is still more than happy to stick with Origins' core gameplay blueprint. As accomplished as its main gameplay loop may be, those looking for something fresh on a fundamental level might be left disappointed. You'll still be clearing enemy camps, looting treasure locations, hunting boss animals, and completing side quests, all while following a somewhat disjointed story. You don't try to fix what isn't broken, but outside of the afterlife, proceedings can certainly feel a little stale.
Fortunately, there's a lot of powerful loot up for grabs. Each pharaoh comes with their own unique legendary weapon that drops when they're defeated for good, and several side quests reward you with top tier gear. And honestly, you might need the help. There are some really great boss fights to get stuck into throughout the expansion, and finding the best way to approach them can be tricky at times. But of course, that just makes victory all the sweeter.
Assassin's Creed Origins: Curse of the Pharaohs is a great expansion that does a fantastic job of bringing ancient Egypt's spiritual side to life. Channelling the creativity of a clearly talented team, the DLC breaks the series' historical shackles and provides a memorable adventure packed with cool boss encounters. Curse of the Pharaohs is right up there with the best that Ubisoft's franchise has to offer.