The hooded figure slowly creeps over the walls of an Arabian palace bathed in dusk, and with a quick stab silences an unsuspecting guard forever. Shortly afterwards there is suddenly a commotion in the yard. The workers, incited to rebellion, use their noise to lure the otherwise cautious foreman out of his cover to check on everything from the balcony. At that moment the figure jumps down on him from above and assassinates him. The assassin’s plan worked.

The cleverly staged assassinations were once the heart of the “Assassin’s Creed” series. For its 15th anniversary, “Assassin’s Creed Mirage,” which will be released on October 5th, returns to these roots. And in several ways. But as much as it awakens nostalgic feelings in the test, unfortunately it cannot reverse the changing times.

The idea sounds great at first. Since “Assassin’s Creed Origins” in 2017, the games in the series have increasingly moved away from the former core of the series. Instead of assassinations, the focus was increasingly on action; the compactly told, exciting stories of the first parts gave way to increasingly epic tales that quickly consumed hundreds of hours of play. And accordingly, fewer and fewer players even finished them. “Mirage” was supposed to turn back time – and return to its old strengths.

This applies in several respects. The most obvious is the setting: “Mirage” takes place in ancient Baghdad around the year 800, so it has a very similar setting to the very first part of the series from 2007. A homage to the original, as already confirmed by developer Ubisoft. The gameplay is also backpedaling a bit. While the predecessors like “Odyssey” or “Valhalla” were gigantic role-playing worlds with sometimes huge battles, the new part focuses primarily on the small region around Baghdad and again puts stealth in the foreground. And should also give more weight to the story, which is significantly shorter at around 15 to 20 hours.

The gameplay, which is more focused on stealth, works well at first. In the Viking part “Valhalla” you could storm through the front door with an ax and slaughter the entire fortress, but you have to be more careful with the new main character Barim. The high-ranking assassination targets can often only be lured out of hiding using tricks, such as starting a small workers’ revolt as described above. But there isn’t too much freedom in how to proceed. Usually there are only a few options left to tackle the goals.

If you fail at sneaking, it’s usually not a big problem. You can also manage a group of just a few enemies in close combat. As soon as all the guards who have become alert have been eliminated, the rest go back to doing their rounds. The intelligence of the opponents often leaves a lot to be desired: As long as they don’t see it clearly, they remain calmly standing even when their colleague is dragged a meter further into the bushes and stabbed. This makes the game more accessible for casual players, but tension rarely arises.

That’s a shame because the story itself isn’t particularly captivating. “Mirage” would have been the perfect opportunity to compensate for one of the biggest weaknesses in Ubisoft games. While other series such as “God of War” or “The Last of Us” showed that captivating and emotional stories can also be told in video games, Ubisoft continued to concentrate on “Assassin’s Creed” and the “Far Cry” series focused on creating an even larger world in which players could lose themselves in endless distractions. And then they themselves were overtaken. “Horizon: Zero Dawn”, “Red Dead Redemption 2” and “Spider-Man” demonstrated that even sprawling game worlds allow for strongly staged stories.

“Mirage” could have turned things around. A more compact world, but an exciting story told – that could have quickly filled the series with new life. Unfortunately, despite some of the main characters having strong voices, it doesn’t work. The production feels almost exactly the same as it did 15 years ago. While other modern games can often leave you breathless or generate deep emotions, the very classically told journey through the hot desert of Baghdad largely leaves you cold. Unfortunately, the fact that the main character Basim, who was introduced for the first time in “Valhalla”, doesn’t really want to be likeable doesn’t help either.

“Assassin’s Creed Mirage” wants to go back to the roots of the series – and unfortunately seems a bit outdated as a result. The game is quite fun, the beautifully designed world is pleasantly compact, and the focus on stealth actually brings the series back to its beginnings. But the production is simply too old-fashioned. A few years ago, “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” would have been a clear buy recommendation. But the gaming industry has evolved. And the actually laudable step back was unfortunately not used sufficiently by Ubisoft to restart.

If you really want to play an assassin again or are simply looking for a slightly shorter story, you should still take a look at the title. Also because of the price: Right from the start, “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” is significantly cheaper than other top titles at 50 euros. The next “Assassin’s Creed” titles with hundreds of hours of playtime are already in development.