Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ Abubakar Salim Still Wants a Bayek and Aya Sequel

Exclusive: Abubakar Salim talks directing his new game Tales of Kenzera: Zau at Surgent Studios as well as his unfinished business with the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Abubakar Salim
Photo: Nick Morgulis for Den of Geek

When Assassin’s Creed: Origins was released at the tail-end of October 2017, it came during a moment of transition and epiphany for the long-running video game franchise. After being launched a decade earlier, almost to the day, there had been a new Assassin’s Creed title virtually every year from the game publisher Ubisoft. Until 2016. Due to spending so many years returning to the same formula, Assassin’s Creed developers realized they needed time off; they needed to regroup and reimagine; they needed bold change in what their vision of the future could be.

Abubakar Salim could relate. Fresh out of a classical education at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Salim did not necessarily anticipate discovering a career in video game voice acting and motion-capture, yet his casting in the central role of Assassin’s Creed: Origins as Bayek of Siwa had a life-altering effect.

“I never knew that you could have a career in games before actually working in it,” Salim says while stopping by the Den of Geek studio at SXSW last month, “even though—and I always say this—I got into acting through video games. The stories and the characters that were being portrayed, these experiences that you are essentially playing and going through, that was my way into stories and way into that whole world.”

In the case of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the world in question cast Salim opposite Alix Wilton Regan as Aya, the woman who along with Bayek launches the Assassin’s Creed back in the time of Ptolemaic Egypt and during the last days of the pharaohs under the reign of Cleopatra VII Philopater. The result was intoxicating for Salim as well as, eventually, fans who regularly credit Bayek and Aya as among the best protagonists in the series.

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“I think on the acting side, because you’re working in a Volume where nothing looks like it [is supposed to]—my sword is essentially just a long stick, my shield is a dustbin lid—it made me feel like a kid again, and that really sparked my love for imagination and playing and storytelling.”

It came through with a central performance that Assassin’s Creed fans rank alongside Roger Craig Smith’s vocal performance as Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin’s Creed II and Matt Ryan’s Edward Kenway in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. In fact, for many fans, there was a pronounced and vocal expectation for Bayek and Aya to return in another game—just as Ezio wound up appearing in three Assassin’s Creed titles, and Capt. Kenway at least saw his son’s journey continue across several other AC installments. Yet when 2018’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey rolled around, Bayek and Aya were nowhere to be found as the series pivoted even further back in history, with that chapter taking place during the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece.

Still some fans hold out hope to see more of Bayek and Aya. Salim is one of them.

“I want a sequel, man. Like I’m ready!” the actor laughs. He goes on to say he would “100 percent be there” if Ubisoft went back in that direction before adding, “I think it’s one of those things where, yeah, it just didn’t feel like the story was finished yet. So I would jump at it.”

Assassin’s Creed: Origins certainly didn’t offer total closure. While by story’s end Bayek and Aya tearfully decide to go their separate ways, ending their marriage in the grief of losing a son and in a commitment to start a new creed on different continents, we never really see how that Creed is fully launched—or, for that matter, the end of Aya’s mercurial relationship with her onetime goddess queen, Cleopatra. In fact, the final mission of the game is Aya leading the assassination of the pharaoh’s Roman lover, Julius Caesar.

When asked where that story could go next, Salim offers, “Probably Greece, actually. I know we’ve already kind of touched upon Greece in Odyssey, but I think there could be something really cool about jumping in at that timeframe as well and seeing what that looked like.”

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It might be interesting to see the Hellenistic world falling fully to the might of Rome, but we might humbly suggest taking that a step further and going to ancient Rome itself. Other than a fairly limited ending scenario in Origins, ancient Rome has not been explored by the AC franchise—appearing as ruins in 2010’s Renaissance-set Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood doesn’t count—and in addition to Aya setting up shop on the Italian boot, civil war is only right around the corner with the rise of Mark Antony, Octavian… and eventually their own wars where all things Cleopatra are concerned. So much internecine violence is a ripe breeding ground for a video game.

Of course Salim is likewise aware these days of the greater potential and opportunities of video game companies, with the actor founding his own via Surgent Studios, which is producing games, film, and television.

“The connecting tissue between them all—film, TV, games, theater—is storytelling,” Salim explains. “And it’s the love of storytelling and using the right medium to tell that story. And I think something we really want to push for and champion is this love, and how can we tell them in the most interesting ways, using the medium that respects it the best way?”

For example, Surgent is currently developing Tales of Kenzera: Zau, a new game with deeply personal meaning for Salim given its basis on Bantu mythology from central Africa and the memory of his father.

“At its core it is about grief,” Salim says of Tales of Kenzera. “It’s about this young kid who’s going through the journey of having lost his father, and it’s very personal to me and resonates to my journey after losing my father. But it’s within a world that kind of looks at Bantu mythology and legends, and the tales of it all. It’s very inspired by the stories that my Dad told me as a kid. And so I decided to essentially take this really cool concept and world and bring it into something that’s really human, and tell it through a video game and using the medium to essentially accentuate that.”

Exploring a more humanist—not to mention diverse or international—perspective is an opportunity that Salim recognizes is only beginning to be tapped by games as well.

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“Like any industry, it takes time to evolve, right?” Salim considers. “It begins with a bunch of friends making stuff, cool stuff, and then the technology evolves. And as time and stories evolve, the interest of the audience evolves. We want to hear it more from other places and different perspectives. And I think that is something that naturally happens and naturally comes through. We are naturally curious animals.”

Curiosity for Tales of Kenzera: Zau will not have to wait much longer as the game is due out on April 23 on PC, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. For those wanting a conclusion to Bayek and Aya’s storyline—or to see what an Ubisoft Assassin in the Roman republic might look like—the wait will be longer.