You may remember Basim Ibn Ishaq from Assassin's Creed Valhalla — a seasoned killer who enlisted Eivor's help in tracking down key members of an ancient cult. Basim was one of the game's most intriguing characters — and one of its only actual assassins — and so the prospect of getting to relive his past in Assassin's Creed Mirage should immediately appeal to fans of the grizzled antihero.
Mirage takes place roughly 20 years before the pivotal events of Valhalla. In the beginning, Basim is little more a lowly thief, combing the streets of Baghdad for trinkets — but he's convinced that a greater fate awaits him. Naturally, it's not long before he's snapped up by the Hidden Ones, and whisked away to their hideout in the mountains, where he learns the ways of stealthy stabbings and deadly swordplay.
The story revolves around Basim's first real mission: the eradication of the cult that has seemingly wormed its way into the heart of Baghdad. A fairly straightforward tale in the grand scheme of things, and one that clearly harkens back to a simpler time for Ubisoft's series. Track the bad guys down and give them a good gouging — what else is there to say?
The game's structure is quite engaging. You're given a selection of 'cases' to work through in order to identify each assassination target, and although the objectives are deceptively linear, watching a case gradually come together as you collect evidence is enjoyable.
Outside of that, though, Mirage's storytelling is disappointingly flat. This is mostly down to the characters rather than the overarching plot, as they really struggle to show any kind of memorable qualities throughout the game's 20-ish hour runtime. They're just dull as dishwater, and while we understand that assassins are expected keep their feelings in check, the result is a cast that barely registers on an emotional level. Only Basim, in his underlying uneasiness and repeated nightmares, comes across as remotely interesting. Not even the villains can salvage things, despite their best efforts to be cartoonishly evil.
Thankfully, the title's stealth-based gameplay manages to hold everything together. Compared to the colossal open worlds of Odyssey and Valhalla, Baghdad feels comparatively tiny, but its dense city streets present the perfect opportunity for the return of proper parkour. Without a doubt, this is the series' best platforming since Unity, with Basim proving to be an agile runner. Barring some frustrating, classic Assassin's Creed moments where he'll jump exactly where you didn't want him to go, sprinting across the rooftops and ducking through alleys feels great.
Now then, the stealth itself. Given that Odyssey and Valhalla felt more like action RPGs than... well, Assassin's Creed, Mirage's clear focus on more subtle pursuits is refreshing. Which is funny when you think about it, because this is exactly the kind of gameplay that felt so desperately tired before Origins overhauled the franchise.
The iconic hidden blade is king once again, as one-hit stealth kills are the easiest way to deal with enemies. There are no power levels and no overriding stats — it's just Basim, his weapons, and an assortment of handy tools like throwing knives, smoke bombs, and noisemakers. If you've been demanding a return to the old ways, Mirage is probably the game that you've been waiting for. It's a well realised revival of what made the franchise click in the first place.
Having said that, the mechanics can be a bit... basic. It's been a long time since Assassin's Creed was traditional Assassin's Creed, and the process of ghosting through a fortress or systematically stabbing every guard in a mile-wide radius has hardly changed outside of tighter controls and additional tools.
That's not necessarily a complaint since, as mentioned, the formula still works, but it's a good thing that Mirage is a comparatively short instalment. By the end of the main story, the stealth system is teetering on the edge of tedium; you can only hide in a pile of hay or create an obvious environmental distraction so many times before the loop becomes braindead.
And if you're caught in the act, you'll have to tangle with the game's similarly basic combat. Exacerbated by the fact that there are only a handful of enemy types to contend with, fighting feels very stripped back after Eivor's escapades. Only ever equipped with a sword and dagger, Basim's abilities never really evolve. The kill animations are cool, but that's pretty much the sole highlight of a distinctly one-note system.
It also doesn't help that even the lowliest grunts refuse to flinch when struck with standard attacks — which is particularly unsatisfying — and so dodging and parrying are essential. As such, skirmishes quickly devolve into waiting games, where you've got little choice but to dance around your foes until they finally decide to strike. Much like in older titles, a successful parry can leave your opponent open to an instant kill, and once you've got the timing down, it's all rather trivial — although there is fun to be found in watching Basim eviscerate a whole encampment's worth of corrupt guardsmen, stealth be damned.
Moving on from the topic of bloodshed, it's worth noting that Mirage isn't a huge improvement on Valhalla in a graphical sense. Baghdad and its surrounding countryside looks lovely when sunsets roll around, but it's another case of a PS4 game looking a bit nicer and running a bit better on PS5. Character models still have that clay-like quality to them, too — although the costume design and art direction in general is typically top.
Fortunately, technical performance is buttery smooth on Sony's current-gen system. Aside from some nasty screen tearing in the city's busy centre, it's a slick 60fps at almost all times, which bolsters the already responsive parkour controls.
Assassin's Creed Mirage sets off in search of its roots, and it finds them — both for better and worse. Undeniably basic in its approach to stealth and combat, it feels oddly dated in terms of design, but it's also a refreshing reminder of the series' original strengths. Ultimately, it's a solid sandbox title, and it successfully scratches the hidden blade itch that was so clearly absent in Odyssey and Valhalla.