Ubisoft games are understandably knocked for having a lot of filler content. Often, though, one of their gargantuan open-world epics will hide a wonderful line of sidequests. It’s taken me some time to appreciate an extraordinary set of them in Assassin’s Creed Origins, a set that helps show off areas of the game players might otherwise never visit.
The game contains more than a dozen papyrus scrolls scattered throughout its massive recreation of ancient Egypt. Each scroll contains a hint about an item hidden in the game and names a section of Origins’ massive map where the treasure is generally located. You read the scroll, think about the hint and go exploring. The mechanics aren’t complex, and similar treasure hunt sidequest lines have existed in games like Assassin’s Creed Rogue and Red Dead Redemption. What’s startling about them in Origins is the scale at which they operate and the beauty they lead players to see.
For example, there’s a papyrus scroll that suggests that the player cross to the east bank of the Nile to find a treasure hidden near a certain tree. That may seem like nothing special, until you absorb a few facts.
First, the hint is sending players to a massive mountain at which there is nothing else to do. Origins has more than 100 character-based sidequests, dozens of enemy bases to attack or plunder and numerous hidden tombs. I’ve done most of that stuff in some 80 hours of playtime and none of it sent me to this mountain. The mountain has no quest icons on it. For my first 60 or so hours playing the game, I just assumed it was backdrop, something for some remote Ubisoft studio—Ubisoft Moon Colony or something—to build to keep themselves busy and maybe earn some tax credits. Without this papyrus quest, there’s no reason to cross the river, no reason to climb the mountain.
Second, climbing the mountain is an enjoyable experience that leads to one of the best views in the game. You can see about half of Origins’ play area from the summit. Check out that vista in the shot atop this post.
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Third, the puzzle plays out in a wonderfully naturalistic way. Once you climb the mountain and look down, the tree you’re meant to find is conspicuous. You could possibly have spotted it from the river or with your eagle Senu, but the game tempts you toward climbing a mountain to spot a tree. That’s an enjoyable flow that, for lack of a better way of putting it, doesn’t feel very video game-y. I like it.
Note that I don’t even remember what the reward was. Papyrus mysteries lead you to rare or exotic weapons, some of which are better than what you may have after 60 or 80 hours of playtime, some of which are not. I don’t care, because, cheesy at is sounds, the best reward for these quests are the wonders they reveal in the game’s world.
Some papyrus mysteries are less impressive, bringing you to fairly ordinary areas to claim pretty basic items. The first ones I did failed to dazzle me, but later ones I’ve tracked down have more consistently amazed. There are ones that involve great leaps or deep dives underwater. There’s a good one involving tracking an irrigation system and another involving a colorful, well-populated island that seems to serve no other purpose in the game than to hide a single treasure. My favorite one so far involves the movement of the sun across a massive valley which—this is a theme—contains nothing else of gameplay importance, no other quests, no other reason to visit it.
Many of the papyrus puzzles are impressively grand and wonderfully inviting. Like the coins in Super Mario 64 so many years ago, they serve as an enticement for the player to explore, to see areas of a magnificent game they’d otherwise never do. I highly recommend them.