Baghdad, once the center of the world, is set to be brought back to life by video game company Ubisoft in their latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The game, titled Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, is set in 9th century Baghdad and aims to recreate the vibrant city at the height of its power.
During this time, Baghdad was not only the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate but also a hub of intellectual, cultural, and scientific greatness. It boasted one of the first astronomical observatories in the Islamic world and its library, known as the House of Wisdom, rivaled the great Library of Alexandria. Scholars from across the Islamic world, as well as China, Africa, the Byzantine Empire, and other regions, would travel to Baghdad to learn and exchange knowledge.
However, the city’s prestigious history has faded from public view, often overshadowed by modern-day conflicts like the Iraq Invasion. Historian Ali Olomi, who consulted with Ubisoft for the game, explained that popular culture tends to see Baghdad as a backdrop to war rather than a lived place. He believes that bringing the city’s grand history to life in a video game is an exciting opportunity for a wider audience to learn and appreciate its significance.
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage follows the main character Basim Ibn Ishaq as he becomes a master assassin and navigates the political turmoil of the time. The game incorporates the Zanj Rebellion, led by enslaved Africans, as a significant plot element. The characters will converse in Arabic, with Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar providing the voice for Basim and Iranian American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo portraying Roshan, Basim’s mentor.
Ubisoft’s attention to detail in recreating medieval Baghdad is impressive. They worked closely with historians and experts to ensure authenticity, even tailoring the Arabic calligraphy in the game to match the font and aesthetic of the period. The labyrinthine streets and alleys of Baghdad are a perfect fit for the freerunning gameplay style of the Assassin’s Creed series.
Historian Ali Olomi praised the design team’s dedication and their ability to bring medieval Baghdad to life. He believes that the period in which the game is set is so full of drama and intrigue that little exaggeration is needed. Real-life characters, such as Ali Ibn Muhammad, also make appearances in the game, adding to its historical immersion.
For many, contemporary Baghdad is a familiar but war-torn city. However, the medieval Baghdad portrayed in Assassin’s Creed: Mirage offers a glimpse into a vibrant metropolis of intellectual and cultural brilliance. It allows players, and a wider audience, to appreciate and learn about the city’s rich history. As Olomi states, “To see it come alive vis-a-vis a video game is really thrilling.”