In Assassin’s Creed Mirage, 9th-century Baghdad is at the centre of the Islamic Golden Age, a time when science and the arts flourished. But peel back its precious gilding, and all is not well. A shadowy group called the Order Of The Ancients plots world domination, while rival secret society the Hidden Ones works to wrest the Iraqi capital from their control. It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as Ubisoft’s 2007 stealth-action franchise – and shows Mirage is here to play the hits, rather than debut new material.
Even the protagonist, Basim, is a returning character from 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Mirage takes place 20 years prior to his adventures in Anglo-Saxon England, and picks up with the talented street thief as he is haunted by visions of a demonic jinn. When a botched heist draws the Order’s ire, Basim is whisked away from Baghdad by the Hidden Ones, who hone his deadly fighting skills. Upon returning to the city as a trained killer, Basim is tasked with ridding Baghdad of the Order Of The Ancients’ corruption – no small feat, considering the cabal works anonymously.
Mirage’s main quest is divided into a number of investigations, which involve gathering leads and killing Order lackeys until a ringleader can be unmasked and assassinated. The game rarely deviates from this format, which means it can sometimes feel repetitive – though some compelling hooks, such as a conspiracy of murder and book-burning at Baghdad’s House Of Wisdom, make for a gripping tale.
Yet it’s also a short one. Mirage has been designed as a throwback to earlier Assassin’s Creed games – it’s significantly shorter and more linear than the open-world sprawls of Origins and Odyssey. This allows for tighter, faster-paced storytelling. We finished Mirage in just 14 hours before diving into its optional activities, but expect to double that playtime if you’re keen on exploring.
It’s not just the size and length of Mirage that feels nostalgic. You’re encouraged to be as stealthy as possible, as fighting guards head-on usually results in a gory death for Basim. Combat is simple yet brutal: when an enemy attacks they will briefly flash red or gold, revealing whether they should be dodged or parried. You’re only given a split-second to react though, which means battle is a challenging test of your reflexes. When there are multiple swordsmen out for Basim’s blood, it becomes difficult to manage and a quick exit is usually advisable.
Stick to the shadows, however, and Basim is unstoppable. One of Mirage’s new features, ‘Assassin’s Focus’, lets you kill up to five enemies in the blink of an eye, while smoke bombs, poisoned darts and throwing knives prove powerful tools. Because combat is so difficult, avoiding it feels doubly rewarding. You’ll find yourself observing guard patrols, hiding in haystacks, and killing sentries with the Assassins’ signature hidden blade. There’s constant pressure, as one mistake could blow the whole job and put every soldier in the area on high alert.
Mirage’s stealth works best during major assassination missions, where you’re given multiple ways to infiltrate a building and reach your target. A currency of Scholar, Merchant and Power tokens – earned by pickpocketing citizens or completing assassin’s contracts – can be used to tip these missions in your favour. In one, we paid a band of mercenaries to attack a heavily fortified government building, then slipped in unnoticed during the chaos. In another, we had no tokens to spare, and had to skulk around a prison’s walls until we found a crumbling section to crawl under.
As for Baghdad, the Round City is one of Ubisoft’s best settings yet. Besides looking gorgeous, it’s fantastic to explore. The streets are bustling and lively, while parkour in Mirage requires a little more precision than in recent AC games – though it can be clunky, and there were a few times when poor Basim plunged to his death instead of grabbing a nearby handhold. Meanwhile, a notoriety system means the city’s inhabitants react to your presence – too many brazen sword fights will result in citizens recognising you and calling for guards, and you’ll need to tear down wanted posters to keep elite soldiers from hunting you.
Yet there are some brief stumbles. Missions where you have to tail someone are now even more tedious than in past games, as failure means you’ll have to wait until the next in-game day to try again. Some of the game’s animations and characters look a bit rough around the edges, and anyone who didn’t play Valhalla will be left confused by the story’s conclusion. Yet on the whole, Mirage does exactly what it sets out to do – plays the greatest hits of Assassin’s Creed, and leaves before it gets stale.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage captures the series’ early days without feeling derivative. The results are gripping: the decision to emphasise stealth pays off massively, and you’ll love sneaking around the vibrant streets and rooftops of Baghdad. Whether you’re a die-hard follower of the Hidden Ones or this is your first time wielding a hidden blade, Mirage is an exceptionally exciting adventure.
- Stealth is sublime
- A straightforward story that offers a great entry point into the series
- Baghdad is a brilliant setting
- Parkour controls can be iffy at times
- Tailing missions and following slow characters is a bore
- The investigative main story can feel formulaic at times