When it comes to downloadable content, the Assassin’s Creed franchise tends not to do too badly, in my opinion. There are certainly some entries that have embraced the plague of pathetic balance-breaking microtransactions – Black Flag immediately springs to mind with its option to purchase upgrading material rather than plunder it in-game like an honest pirate – but the series has its fair share of substantial DLC that adds to each base game. Some add smaller missions like The Da Vinci Disappearance for Brotherhood, giving that little bit extra longevity to a game. Others opt for larger, sprawling additions, all but old-fashioned expansions, like Freedom Cry’s micro-campaign that gave the pirate quartermaster-turned-assassin Adewale a moment in the spotlight, or Syndicate‘s Jack the Ripper epilogue, giving the player control of the titular murderer during his spree in London.
The Hidden Ones is, thankfully, an example of the latter.
The Hidden Ones (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Base game: Assassin’s Creed: Origins
Released Jan 2018 | Developed / Published: Ubisoft
The year is 38 BCE, 4 years after the end of the base game. Bayek, now nearly 50, is still embroiled in establishing his Hidden Ones in Egypt, causing trouble for the Roman occupation while his former wife has taken the name Amunet and harasses the invaders from within Rome itself. Bayek receives an urgent message from Tahira, his trusted lieutenant, and leader of the bureau in the Sinai; his presence is requested after the unusual deaths of a pair of Hidden Ones and a recent spate of rebellions is obstructing the group’s efforts. There he meets the rebellion’s brash but charismatic leader, Gamilat, and learns that a Roman general called Rufio commands the Roman forces in the region. Bayek agrees to assassinate Rufio and his commanders, offering a chance for Gamilat’s rebels to grow in strength.
You might agree that the plot isn’t especially engaging, though that’s not too dissimilar to Origins. Though the rebellion is in the fore, primarily The Hidden Ones is about Bayek and Amunet’s journey to craft and codify what will become the titular Assassin’s Creed, and it is the events in the Sinai that set them in place. How open the Hidden Ones are in their actions, how much overt impact they have, and what cost is too great should they achieve their goals form the key dilemmas that the pair face; when Bayek looks over what they have wrought towards the end of the story and asks quietly whether the two have done good, tellingly Amunet has no answer for him.
As before though, the real strength in the writing is Bayek’s character. Gone is the man wracked with guilt over the death of his son, and nor is he as consumed by revenge as before. Instead he’s more akin to the Ezio we saw back in Revelations – older, wiser, and dedicated to recruiting new “shadows” to his cause. In some respects, Bayek is now more like a father than ever, guiding, helping, and teaching his new disciples with care and a calm, firm hand. An early sequence as he instructs a new recruit to push away their fear and anger, and instead simply jump headfirst into one of the franchise’s signature leaps of faith echoes his failure to do so with Khemu from Origins. This time, Bayek has learned his lesson, and doesn’t push or cajole; he assuages their fear, presents them the choice, and falls, waiting on them to decide their own fate.
That said, there is an air of cynicism about the whole thing. The Sinai is a harsh and grim place, with Egyptians toiling under Roman enslavement, and interestingly Bayek often fails to judge his targets. During the events of Origins, no matter the person Bayek would run the Feather of Ma’at along them, allowing them to be subsumed by the Duat and judged by Anubis. In The Hidden Ones, his victims often surprise and attack Bayek, almost as if in challenge to his faith, both to the old gods of Egypt and to his new Creed.
The Hidden Ones’ new region is the Sinai. One major city, Arsinoe, stands as a hub for Rome’s occupation on the Egyptian peninsula, where Egyptians are enslaved by Romans and local collaborators and are forced to dismantle the relics and monuments left by dynasties past. Obelisks and statues lie strewn about the city in states of disrepair, while temples are surrounded by scaffolding as the walls are ripped apart. In a corner of the city, the slopes of the pyramid of Amenmesse once more see slaves scurrying up and down it but now they carry the stones away, laying bare the tomb of a pharaoh to be plundered by Roman invaders. Further down the coast, the Walls-of-the-Ruler squats amidst the mountains, a staggeringly vast fortress from which Rome coordinates its domination of the native populace. Much of the Sinai is mountainous, and Bayek spends far more time scrabbling up and down rock walls and peering into hidden valleys than in the base game, though the southern tip of the region is given over to a desert and players can sail the Red Sea up and down the length of the peninsula.
Nothing new is added to The Hidden Ones in terms of stuff to do in the overworld. It really is just more Origins; there are encampments and forts to clear out, ruins to plunder, stone circles to rest in and animal lairs to hunt through. A handful of side-quests are sprinkled about, which continue the rather good event writing from the quests of the main game; though there aren’t many, the quality tends to stay high thankfully. One involves an enjoyable traipse across the region, while another requires the player to think a little in solving a riddle, but the real gem has to be the side-quest that contains a direct callback to events and a character or two from the main game. To say any more would be spoiling but suffice it to say I found it thoroughly enjoyable to work through.
I do have a small point of contention. As much as I was entertained by The Hidden Ones, it should be noted that I did also find it a slightly glitchy experience. Obviously your mileage may vary but I did encounter bugs a few times that saw the game stop recognising or triggering any interact prompts, which required a reboot to fix each time. It’s not a game-breaking problem by any stretch, and it was an easily addressed one at that but it was a slight pain nonetheless and is worth bearing in mind.
In the end, The Hidden Ones is more of what we already were given in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and that’s frankly a good thing. The core gameplay is still as high quality as its base game, just condensed into a smaller, new space. Though there’s less to see and do in the Sinai, that’s to be expected; what is there is solidly enjoyable, and given the price of entry is relatively low, for the few hours I spent in The Hidden Ones, I’d say it was certainly worth it.
4/7 – GOOD. Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.