Assassin's Creed tries to be a series about history, but over the last decade it hasn't been afraid to get a little loose with that. We've had a tyrannical King George (Washington), and a bizarre hunt for Jack the Ripper, but it's the series latest dalliance with fiction - Curse of the Pharoahs - that's become my favourite historical diversion.
After the slight disappointment of Origin's more-of-the-same first expansion, The Hidden Ones, Curse has been a joy to play through. Where Hidden's map felt drab and claustrophobic, Curse opens back up again to the kind of experience that made the base game so much fun. There's plenty of water, and open expanses, and even a nice big city (Thebes) to hang out in.
Curse begins with Bayek in town to help track down a precursor artefact that's fallen into the wrong hands, and spends its first few hours playing out as a regular old Assassin's Creed game. You meet some folks, you ride your horse for a bit, you use an eagle to spot a bunch of guys then shoot them in the head with an arrow.
Then it gets weird.
Long-dead Pharaohs of Egypt, dressed in armour and carrying huge weapons, start turning up randomly across the map and massacring civilians. Your investigation of this madness soon takes you outside Thebes to another famous Egyptian locale, the Valley of the Kings, resting place of Kingdom's great leaders. And it's here, not the sprawling capital, that the real action takes place, because this is not a game about undermining the political rule of foreign invaders.
It's a game about the Egypitan afterlife. Something which you only spoke about in the main game, but here, you get to literally run around in it, sliding through cracks between worlds that appears inside the tombs of some of Egypt's most famous pharaohs.
I don't want to speak in too much detail about what happens in there - they're a wonder to experience for the first time - but I will say that you visit a number of them, and each of them is its own beautiful, self-contained Assassin's Creed map, complete with lookouts and sidequests. When you consider that the "real world" map the expansion is based on is also pretty big there's a lot to explore and soak up here.
I don't want to spoil the kind of things you meet while you're in there, either, but like, think about it: you're in the Egyptian afterlife. There's some strange shit walking around, some of which you can talk to, some of which you can't.
Each afterlife world has its own theme and design, and after running around Egypt for a few dozen hours in the main game, it's so much fun seeing such new and bizarre sights in the same universe.
If you were hoping for something new from this outside the setting, I'm sorry to report that the missions you'll be performing here are mostly the same as you've been performing since Origins first released. Most simply involve going to a location, scouting it out then killing some guys, while others ask you to do little more than walk around rooms investigating objects. Some of the afterlife missions get a little creative depending on the theme of that world, but those are rare exceptions.
At least in Curse the overall structure is a bit different. Rather than having you murder your way through a group of villains like both the base game and Hidden Ones did, Curse instead asks you to travel to four worlds of the afterlife and defeat a boss at the end of each one.
This helps the whole game feel a bit more digestible, less of a slog than the others could tend to be, especially when you were made to halt your progress to level up on sidequests (which I didn't have to do nearly as much here). Curse plays more like a game with a handful of clearly-defined chapters rather than a rambling single open-world campaign.
In terms of how it plays Curse of the Pharaohs is more of the same, then, but the key here is how different it feels. The afterlife stages are breathtaking to behold, a welcome change from palm trees and desert rocks, and the way your quest is contained within each one makes them feel like little acid-fuelled holidays away from the politics of ancient Egypt.
I loved each one of them (and enjoyed the Thebes overworld map, too), and as far as Ubisoft's wild deviations from Assassin's Creed's historical snowglobe worlds go, this is by far my favourite. Unlike The Tyranny of King George it's a fun and appropriate addition to the main game's adventures, and unlike Jack The Ripper it's a large new area (well, areas) of game world to explore.
Maybe that's the key here: if you're going to go crazy with Assassin's Creed, go full crazy.