I’ve played and completed every mainline Assassin’s Creed game, and though some have undoubtedly been weaker than others, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all.

I was a bit worried then, when after 2015’s brilliant Assassin’s Creed Syndicate it was revealed that the series would be taking a year off. Big changes were promised, and while it was clear improvements should be made, there was always the risk that Ubisoft would change too much, alienating fans of the older games. My fears were allayed somewhat when I managed to get my hands on a small slice of Assassin’s Creed Origins gameplay at an Xbox One X event a month or so before launch, but now I’ve been able to sit down with the game at length I am overjoyed. Assassin’s Creed Origins goes beyond my expectations. In fact, I’d say it’s the best Assassin’s Creed game ever made.

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Okay, so perhaps its story doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Ezio’s grand drama spread over three instalments, but Assassin’s Creed Origins hits the hardest where it matters: the gameplay. Thrown into battle the moment you gain control of the action, playing as new protagonist Bayek, you realise that the laid-back, counter-heavy combat of the previous titles has been thrown out the window, replaced with combat that somewhat resembles Dark Souls. The right shoulder button now performs a light attack, with the right trigger being used to land heavy attacks and guard breaks. Locking on to your opponents is highly advantageous, allowing you to more effectively, block, parry and dodge enemy attacks. And when at range, multiple bow types allow you to remain lethal providing you have enough arrows.

Melee weapons range from standard swords to grand scepters, each having their own movesets, and thanks to the introduction of skill trees, new abilities can be learned throughout your adventure to give you more ways to dispatch your foes. The result is that combat in Assassin’s Creed Origins is much more tense and involving. When undetected you can make use of tools or arrows to skillfully thin enemy numbers before moving in to eradicate others with your hidden blade. And when all-out conflict does initiate, you need to be much more aware of your surroundings, making sure enemies don’t somehow get behind you for some free stabs. Unlike Dark Souls, Assassin’s Creed Origins‘ combat doesn’t have to be too taxing though; thanks to multiple difficulty options and some nifty adrenaline-powered Overcharge abilities, you’ll rarely find yourself at an impasse.

There will be times where’ll you’ll find yourself like a fish out of water, however, as another major change to the Assassin’s Creed formula is that it is now essentially an RPG. Story quests have recommended levels, prompting you to explore and complete other activities until you’re strong enough to take them on. As you level up you’re able to equip more powerful weapons and shields, while obtaining materials by hunting, looting and dismantling unwanted equipment allows you to upgrade your base stats. It limits your freedom to some degree – wander into a region with a recommended level that’s a few higher than yours, for example, and you’ll probably find yourself dead in a matter of minutes – but with a map as vast as that of Assassin’s Creed Origins, it’s a great way to direct your adventure.

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Nearly every aspect of the Assassin’s Creed formula has been tweaked in some way to simply make Assassin’s Creed Origins more fun to play. Despite all the changes, it still feels like Assassin’s Creed though. You’re still sneaking about – though now more conventionally rather than hiding in plain sight – assassinating evil-doers and helping out townsfolk along the way. Assassin’s Creed Origins even picks up a new modern-day story arc which, while not as compelling as the main event, piques my interest. Ubisoft has a done a great job of extracting the DNA of the Assassin’s Creed series and splicing it with elements of other games like Dark Souls and The Witcher to enrich and deepen the experience it provides.

The real star of the show though, is Assassin’s Creed Origins’ world. As already mentioned, it is vast, but it is absolutely teeming with things to see and do. You can get lost for hours in between story missions, just exploring and seeing the sights. You might not expect it, but there’s a great deal of variety in the locations you can visit. Running around Alexandria, for instance, you’ll be wowed by the stunning architecture and display of wealth, while in Giza you can stare in awe at the Pyramids. Elsewhere, you’ll find lush fields, arid mountains, formidable forts and poverty stricken slums. Some questionable NPC path-finding issues aside, Assassin’s Creed Origins’ depiction of Egypt feels like a living, breathing world. You never get the impression that a piece of land has been copied and pasted to save time, and given the size of the map, when you realise that, it blows you away.

Getting around the world on foot has never been easier, and you can summon a camel or a horse pretty much anywhere if you want for a quicker pace. When you do reach an area of interest you can send out your eagle, Senu, to get a literal bird’s eye view of what’s ahead, scoping out enemy placements and the locations of treasures or materials. You get the impression that the developers of Assassin’s Creed Origins are proud of their work and want you to savour it. And it’s something you’ll take great pleasure in doing so, especially with the game’s much improved mission design.

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No longer do you find yourself trying to keep within a small circle around target to eavesdrop on their conversation or other similarly limited and frustrating goals. In Assassin’s Creed Origins, each mission feels like its own confined little story full of adventure, combat and perhaps a little manual labour or investigative work from time to time. They’re free of trial and error for the most part, with even escort missions being very lenient on how close you need to your ward. Again, Assassin’s Creed Origins just wants you to have fun at your own pace, and it’s all the better for it.

With a stream of post-launch content bolstering what it is already an epic 50-hour-plus adventure, Assassin’s Creed Origins is one of the most engrossing and awe-inspiring experiences of the year, especially on Xbox One X where the visuals are pushed to the max. You can nit-pick all you like about the odd funny glitch here and there and some duff NPC dialogue, but Assassin’s Creed Origins is a near flawless open-world gaming experience. After a year’s absence, Assassin’s Creed is back and it has been reborn. And I’ll happily admit that I’ve got egg on my face, because it’s better than ever.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.