When I started Assassin’s Creed Origins after installing this latest DLC, I had to roll my eyes. Taking up a third of the main menu screen was a masked, undead mummy. I mean, zombies? Really? Did Assassin’s Creed finally reach out for video game’s lowest hanging fruit? The answer is, “yes” with a “but.” In The Curse of the Pharaohs, Bayek of Siwan finds himself meeting face to face with the restless spirits of Egypt’s most famous and powerful rulers. They have been agitated after an artifact from Those Who Came Before was unearthed in the latest in a long line of tomb defiling by Romans and those desperate to make a buck.
Set four years after Cleopatra’s return to the throne, the greed of the Greeks and Romans has once again caused problems, this time in the famous city of Thebes - home to the temples of Luxor and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, the final resting place of Nefertiti, Ramesses II, and King Tutankhamun. Bayek’s arrival is marked by the presence of long dead Pharaohs rising up from the Duat to slaughter innocent civilians in seemingly random attacks. The appearance of these shadows and a creature calling itself the Faithless One is connected to an artifact believed to have been stolen from a tomb which, naturally, has people thinking the attacks are the work of a good, old-fashioned curse. Bayek ingratiates himself with different types of people, from architects to shady merchants, in his quest to find the relic and the truth of why the old kings and queens are restless.
If you love Egyptian mythology and find its spiritual culture and practices fascinating, then The Curse of the Pharaohs is for you. Although the Romans are still around, Thebes feels a little more isolated from the rest of the game, which means there’s a stronger focus on how the Egyptians lived day to day in their worship of the gods and their reverence for the queens and kings that brought prosperity to the land. The Valley of the Kings was my most favorite area because of all the tombs that were open to explore (though sadly, none of them are nearly as big and complex as those found in the base game). The coolest part of the DLC, however, is how Bayek’s quest for the artifact takes him to the Duat and the Aaru, the Field of Reeds. Here, Bayak must confront the unquiet spirits of Queen Nefertiti, King Ramesses II, and the most famous of all, King Tutankhamun, in their personalized and extremely photogenic versions of the afterlife. Visually, it represents a nice change of pace from all the deserts, mountain regions, and large lakeside cities you’ve explored for hours on end. The afterlife home of Nefertiti, for example, is an endless field of tall reeds dotted with towering totems carved in her likeness and tall ships gliding through the fields as if it were water.
Beyond Bayek's travels to the afterlife, a new map to explore means more side quests, gear to obtain, forts to conquer, civilians to rescue, and lots more thieving bandits to kill. The game’s side quests continue to be fun short stories to work through and earn the additional experience points to reach the new level cap of 55. The curse plaguing Thebes has summoned the armies of Anubis and adds a much-needed palette swap for the countless bandits and soldiers you've battled for who knows how many hours. They look really cool but are no more different and challenging than any other grunt. The Shadows of the Pharaohs are a different story. These ghostly monsters have been brought to life by the cursed artifact and will periodically make an appearance in populated areas not far from your current location. Designed to be like mini-bosses, these encounters are entirely optional in light of the fact that there's no punishment for skipping them nor do they impact the game in any spectacular fashion. And, after a period of time, they’ll just go away with or without your intervention. So there’s really no need to drop whatever you’re doing to fight these guys - chances are, the armed warriors in its vicinity might actually do that for you.
There have been moments where the Shadows have played to my advantage. The land of Thebes features more than a few sprawling temples you’ll need to infiltrate and believe me, there's no better way to cover your approach than to have a fearsome undead Pharaoh spawn in front of patrolling guards. The Shadows themselves aren't particularly difficult to fight as long as you evade their attacks and use the nearby guards as distractions. And finally, replacing the Phylakes is a solitary warrior named the Faithless One, an armored, Anubis-looking figure that patrols Thebes looking for Bayek. At the maximum level, he's a force to be reckoned with. Thankfully, Thebes is big enough a place that unless you're actively seeking him out, there's little chance you'll bump into him outside of a story quest. And until you hit level 55, it’s a good idea to steer clear out of his way.
As the final piece of DLC, The Curse of the Pharaohs rounds out an attractive and full-featured edition of a bold new direction for Assassin’s Creed. Not only does the new content add hours of new gear and things to see and do, I was really enamored by its thematic departure from the main game and its first expansion, The Hidden Ones. I mean, what other game lets you tumble with King Tut? Although I haven’t played the Discovery Tour all the way through yet, I would love if there was to be another tour exclusive to The Curse of the Pharaohs, if only to go into greater detail about the Ancient Egyptian’s religious and burial practices. While I still miss the form and function of the older Assassin’s Creed games, I can’t deny that Origins and its DLC has made for a compelling adventure that offers a whole lot of value.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.