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Cover Story

Meet Assassin’s Creed Origin’s New Hero – And His Eagle

by Jeff Cork on Jun 11, 2017 at 05:32 PM

The Assassin’s Creed series is filled with memorable heroes, including Altair, Ezio, Edward, and Evie. The latest game in the franchise stars Bayek, an Egyptian warrior who isn’t a member of the Assassin Brotherhood. There’s a good reason – he hasn’t founded it yet. We spoke to the creators of Assassin’s Creed Origins to learn more about this character, who is an instrumental part of AC lore. We’ve also got exclusive details on his animal companion, Senu, who is the living precursor to the series’ iconic Eagle Vision.

When we meet Bayek, he’s already established in his world. He’s not an assassin in training or a young person looking for adventure. He’s in his 30s, and secure in his role as a Medjay. According to Origins’ developers, the Medjay were essentially the police of ancient Egypt. They were originally Nubian mercenaries, but over a long period of time they were absorbed into Egyptian life and served as pharaonic guards, security, and other peacekeeping roles. Origins takes place in a time of transition, around 40 B.C., when Rome scrambled to control Egypt while Cleopatra VII ascended to power. Bayek is the last of his order, though he’ll form a replacement that will last millennia.

“He’s a well known and respected man,” says creative director Jean Guesdon. “I won’t spoil you the entire story, but he’s a man of value that for some reason has to leave on a hunt for targets for a mysterious group.” We don’t know much about Bayek’s personal life at this point, such as whether he has a family of his own, or if his desire to create family among warriors speaks to personal loss. It’s also difficult to gauge much about his personality, even after spending several hours with the game. He’s clearly determined to track down these targets – a man codenamed The Crocodile in the mission chain we played – so most of his interactions with NPCs were confrontational. There were moments of flirtation and generosity, too, though he seems like an intense person all around.

“We’re not a sequel of the previous games, so we felt like the story that we wanted to tell, the need to build this brotherhood, we wanted something that was maybe a bit less light,” Guesdon says. “He’s older. He’s not this young adult in the story enjoying life like Edward [Kenway] was. Edward fit perfectly because, ‘I want to be a pirate, no rules! Yahoo! Fun!’ But after a while he would turn around and say, ‘OK maybe having some rules is not so bad, having some structure is not being in prison. ‘That was the story of Edward. In our case, we wanted the story of one man who was already grown up but had to adapt himself to changes.”

Bayek is from Siwa Oasis in Egypt, a place that has some historical significance. “The starting point being Siwa was interesting, because it was the first place that Alexander the Great visited when he came 300 years before, so there’s something here that ties itself to history,” Guesdon says. “This oasis is quite remote. It was Egyptian but on the verge of Egypt. He’s not Nubian per se, he’s Egyptian. He’s rougher. He’s a proto assassin. There’s nothing religious, but it’s the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is for us the Old Testament of Assassin’s Creed.”

Bayek is agile and capable of scaling buildings – it’s still Assassin’s Creed, after all – but he carries himself with a tension that is more reminiscent of Connor from Assassin’s Creed III. This is a man who can remain hidden, but can handle himself in open combat, too. Players can change his weapons to include larger two-handed axes and hammers, but his starting arsenal includes a shield. That defensive element is necessary, since the combat is more focused on action and skill than in past entries; ignore the block button at your own peril. It took a while to figure out how to implement the shield into the character design, since it’s not an element that’s been explored in the past.

“You told me Jean, ‘You should put the shield on the back,’” recalls art director Raphael LaCoste. “And I was like, ‘Really? Are you crazy?’”

“For a long time you said, ‘You look like a Ninja Turtle!’ but you did your magic,” Guesdon says. “We tried to have a small shield on the arm that was always there, and it was super dynamic because it was always there and you don’t have to grab it. But it wasn’t looking really like a shield, and you didn’t get the sense that you were being protected.” It works surprisingly well, and also feeds a small detail that highlights Bayek’s ingenuity: When players block incoming fire from archers, Bayek can then yank the arrows from his shield and they’re added to his own quiver.

One of the things that will probably be most rewarding to longtime AC fans is getting a glimpse of how traditions like the feather ritual, cut finger, and leaps of faith got their start. From the start, players will have the precursor to the sense-heightening Eagle Vision at their disposal. Bayek isn’t alone during his journey – he has an eagle companion named Senu.

It’s only appropriate that Bayek has an affinity toward birds of prey, considering the origins of his own name. Keeping with AC tradition, the name “Bayek” is a loose translation from the hieroglyphic for “vulture” or “falcon,” bik. Bayek meets Senu early in the game, and the bird gives Bayek a better set of eyes.

“It makes sense narratively because of the importance of the eagle in the franchise, it makes sense as a tool for the player to understand the world at a much bigger scale and see it in a way like never before, it makes sense on a more tactical level to tag your enemies and prepare for your fight,” Guesdon says.

Players deploy Senu with the d-pad, and then take full control of her. She can hover with the press of a button, which enables her to tag enemies and other interesting sights. They’re all relayed back to Bayek, when he resumes control. When you have control of Senu, you can also highlight tagged enemies and see their paths. It’s useful for trying to avoid detection or knowing when to take on individual guards. Ships and other vehicles can also be highlighted, so you can set up ambushes. Senu can be upgraded to distract and even attack enemies, too, so Senu doesn’t have to be a passive observer to the action.

If you press the stick in to activate the traditional Eagle Vision, you’re in for a surprise. Instead of muting all of the colors and highlighting enemies, the effect is far less noticeable. Objects that can be interacted with will flash for you, but it’s no longer a mode that presents enemy information in stark detail. That’s what Senu is for, after all.

She’s a valuable addition to the game, but her ability to track isn’t what excites everyone on the team. “The big achievement on Senu is the animation,” LaCoste says. “You can’t do any motion-capture animation, so Sonia [Pronovost] on the team did all the animation by hand of all the feathers, the head, the eyes – everything that’s animated.”

Bayek can still climb tall structures to get a better view of his surroundings, but Senu’s presence has shifted the importance of viewpoints. “What we wanted to do with viewpoints is keep the idea that there is this classic element of AC that we love, but we wanted to give it a different taste,” says game director Ashraf Ismail. “Yes, you can have these viewpoints that do kind of give you a broad perspective of the world around you, but they’re actually used for something else. It’s actually a way to increase Senu’s detection capacity. The idea is that you’re sort of training your eagle when you go up there. In all AC games there’s always an eagle flying around. The idea is that this is the birth of that element. We wanted to keep the mechanic, but give it a flavor that was a little different.”

Come back throughout the month of June to see more exclusive features and videos on Assassin’s Creed Origins. You’ll see how the new take on Eagle Vision is just one of many fundamental changes that are coming to the latest game in the long-running series.