Assassin’s Creed Origins is not a game about Egypt. It’s not a game about Rome, or even about the first days of the Assassin Brotherhood. It’s a game about a husband and wife.
What follows is best read if you’ve completed the game’s story.
Origins takes a while to get going, but once it does, it appears to be settling in to a familiar, tropey setting. Your son Khemu, pure and innocent and loved by his parents, has been murdered by tyrants, and you will presumably spend the game hunting them down.
Because you’re quickly introduced to your wife Aya, and because every time the pair see each other during the first half of the game they’re consumed by lust, you get the feeling this is a very solid couple. It feels like they’ll work together in a very predictable and video game way, overcome the trials ahead of them, gain closure and, in a very video game way, find a happy ending in the justice they’ve handed out.
But that doesn’t happen. As the game progresses we learn that both Bayek and Aya are imperfect people, and that their relationship is as flawed as each of their contributions to it.
Aya is not Bayek’s trophy. Bayek is not Aya’s champion. Both are equally capable with a blade and bow, both are brilliant tacticians and both are able to inspire those around them to join in great deeds. It’s why they initially seem so perfect together, because they’re so alike. Neither party plays the supporting role, they’re true partners.
Yet Bayek’s adoration towards his wife has papered over the cracks of his son’s death, and blinded him to the scale of the journey they have undertaken. Aya, meanwhile, finds that as her responsiblities within a fledgling Brotherhood increase, they have replaced the space in her attentions once reserved for the man she once tore strips off every time she saw him.
The death of their son Khemu may have inspired Bayek and Aya to greatness, and helped shape the fate of the entire series, but it also ate away at their marriage until there was nothing left. The more vengeance Bayek gains by killing off those responsible for his son’s murder, the thinner the remaining bonds between he and his wife become.
We see the first cracks in their union begin to appear once Aya’s responsibilities as Cleopatra’s commando secret agent increase. Just past the halfway mark of the game, Bayek meets his wife as he always has, full of joy and adoration, only to be met with coldness and distance from Aya, whose attentions are being drawn elsewhere.
It’s not a temporary blip, a narrative pothole for the pair to overcome. Things only get worse from there.
Origins ends on an incredibly, and unexpectedly bittersweet note. We see the first days of the Assassin Brotherhood played out the screen, laying the foundation for everyone from Ezio to Edward Kenway, and it should be an inspirational moment! We should feel excited to see where it all began, and to have shared in that journey.
But it’s also so sad. Bayek loved Aya more than anything, more than the world itself, and the way she chooses Egypt over her husband visibly crushes him (shout out to the facial animation in this game). By the end, when the two say their final goodbye on the beach as Aya heads off to Rome to kill Caesar, the political events of the world are taking a backseat in terms of impact, because it’s Bayek and Aya’s relationship that propelled this game, not the tale of Cleopatra and Caesar.
There’s a story of responsibility here, I get it. These two, once seemingly the perfect couple, have placed righteousness and country above their own hearts, and millions will be unknowingly thankful for their sacrifice.
A sacrifice that’s a crushing one to contemplate. I’m no assassin, and I’m married to a woman who can’t shoot a Roman from across a courtyard, and yet I still love her with all my heart. The idea that something can come along and supplant that, make me walk away from what I thought had been the primary facet of my existence in exchange for days spent risking my life for others, breaks my heart.
Which is probably the point.
It would have been so easy for Bayek and Aya’s tale to wind up like so many other video game romances, with a happy ending and a goal achieved. But life is rarely that simple, nor is marriage, so it was refreshing—if also gut-wrenching—to see Origins deal so capably with the theme.