- skip to “Review Proper” to avoid Origins endgame details.)
At the close of Origins, I was torn. Aya -- now Amunet -- is essentially the architect of the Brotherhood of Assassins, or as they’re known throughout Origins and The Hidden Ones, umm, “the Hidden Ones”. And while we play the main game as “Bayek of Siwa” 98 percent of the time, throughout he never feels
like a member of the Brotherhood. Even at the end when he suggests (read: declares) his ragtag group of hooded friends become a force for the people to combat the puppeteers of the Order, it feels reactionary to the events that have just unfolded. In truth, Origins is at odds with itself where motivation is concerned, as brilliant as it is.
Bayek is already a man of the people as a Medjay. He follows – hopelessly – Aya because she’s the love of his life, and his murderous spree isn’t so much a means to destroy the secret Order of the Ancients, rather it’s to avenge the death of his son, Khemu. Aya plays emotional cat and mouse with Bayek throughout the Origins experience; herself a puppet for Cleopatra and Caesar’s political machinations. And when she chooses a life in the shadows at the game’s close over their relationship, it presents as a metaphorical hidden blade to the heart of both Bayek, and the player. So his continued bolstering of the Brotherhood feels borne out of emotional necessity rather than a logical, figurative leap to the creation of an antithesis organisation to the looming New World Order.
Frustratingly, Bayek’s now empty life hollows the Hidden Ones experience. And it’s especially jarring as you close in on the DLC’s endgame content when Aya arrives on the scene, and nothing has changed, other than her own advancement as a gun assassin. To put this into philosophical perspective, Aya is Tyler Durden to Bayek’s Jack (and his broken, aching heart).
So as content that pushes the game’s timeline some four years after the end of Origins, it’s highly recommended you finish the base game first. Doing so will make the above spoiler content both readable, and make sense. And will also mean you’ll have a better understanding of the narrative component to The Hidden Ones.
The playspace we have here is Sinai, a (real-life) peninsula of the Red Sea that sets itself apart from greater Egypt in Origins thanks to its mountainous, craggy makeup. From a set piece design perspective, it’s gorgeous and helps continue painting a larger-than-life picture of Ancient Egypt. Half-finished (demolished) pyramids and temples riddle the land, while we get another glimpse at active and abandoned quarries in equal measure. You’ll even see quarry workers moving stone. Take that Giorgio A. Tsoukalos
As a slice of content, you get four more Senu synchronisation points, a few like-for-like Phylakes (now called Shadow of the Scarab), two new stone circles and the usual mix of hidden treasures, papyrus puzzles, Roman and bandit fortification points to clear and so on. Largely, The Hidden Ones is just a small (heh) slice of Origins. A few of the game’s quests go out of their way to engage the player in different ways (the Gertha questline is fantastic) and perhaps more refreshingly, the challenge ante is upped with some of the bigger forts featuring massive numbers of soldiers and less player-friendly stealth gameplay options. Verticality messes with line-of-sight and less symmetrical design makes it harder to remain essentially undetected, forcing the player to think even more creatively about how to tackle these new strongholds.
If you have finished the base game by this point, chances are you’re hovering around the level 40 mark. The Hidden Ones raises the level cap to 45 (with March’s forthcoming The Curse of the Pharaohs raising it again to 55), and each of the main and side missions found throughout The Hidden Ones throw tons of XP at you. So, if like me, you started the new content already at 45 and already had your skill and ability tree mapped out with your favourite, fully upgraded weapons by your side, it means you can fast track a full ability tree sweep. Or, you can throw a lot of love into the Master Abilities. My Master Warrior level is currently at 14 points (I’ve played all content on Nightmare, too). So this DLC has really been helpful in making my Bayek a monster of a fighting machine.
That said, however, it’s a bit short-lived at just a few hours of focused content, and then depending on how you play, an hour or more of completionist activity. Moreover, Sinai isn’t a true geological inclusion to greater Egypt in the sense that you will need to load the space through Fast Travel. It’s probably the most petty slight against the content, because it’s full of detail and space, but the feat the team pulled off with Egypt being as open and ungated as it was in the first place, would have been amplified to the nines here. But there is only so much technical wizardry we should expect from teams of this open-world development nature.
And really, on its own you’re only paying about $15 for a few hours of detailed, heavy XP-delivery content that beautifully compliments the majesty of Origins. We’re also a short while away from the Educational add-on Discovery (one of the most exciting prospects I’ve ever heard of in a game of this nature), and the next major DLC The Curse of the Pharaohs (which threatens to take the game into Undead Nightmare-esque territory). And a Season Pass for access to all of this and a few other perks is under $50.
A few missed beats appear when you abandon Sinai for Egypt and Egypt does not appear to reflect the four years that have passed in the new content, while the addition of the Assassin’s Bureau is welcome, due to the shorter nature of the new content, it represents more as a bit of Assassin’s Creed fan service than anything. In all, with a decent playspace added to the base game, just having more content and an Egypt that reflected the passage of time would have been a bit more than welcome.
All told, however, the price is beyond right and The Hidden Ones ties up its own short narrative with excellent writing and another standout performance from Abubakar Salim as Bayek. That we’re griping most here about wanting more suggests what they gave us was pretty much on-point anyway -- we just want seconds. (Please, Ubisoft, can we have some more?)