Assassin's Creed Nexus Successfully Translates AC's Earliest Adventures Into First-Person
If you already have a Meta Quest VR headset, Assassin's Creed Nexus may be worth picking up.
Assassin's Creed Nexus really surprised me. Granted, I didn't really know what the virtual reality game from developer Red Storm was prior to playing it. Was it a glorified tech demo? A cinematic movie-like experience with interactive elements? Turns out, Nexus is shaping up to be pretty much what I've always hoped for: a first-person Assassin's Creed game. I got to play about an hour of Nexus at a preview event on a Meta Quest 3 headset, experiencing two levels of Ezio's sections, and I was amazed by how much it felt like playing Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Given how different Connor and Kassandra's games are from Ezio's, I'm curious as to how their respective sections in Nexus will play, but I'm intrigued to try them after enjoying my time with Ezio.
In Nexus, you play as a spy working with modern-day Assassins Shaun and Rebecca to infiltrate Abstergo Industries. Abstergo--a front for the Templar Order, an organization hellbent on controlling free will--has uncovered that Ezio, Connor, and Kassandra all encountered a commonality over the course of history and are trying to identify it. Not wanting the Templars to get a leg up, the Assassins send you in undercover to partake in the search, hoping you'll be able to sleuth through history faster than anyone and get the information back to the Assassin Brotherhood first. Your trips into the past will see you play as Ezio about two years following the events of Brotherhood, Connor during Assassin's Creed III, and Kassandra almost 20 years after Odyssey's conclusion.
I didn't get to see much of this story play out. It certainly sounds very interesting--I think the modern-day elements of Assassin's Creed are at their best when made into a spy thriller. Hunting for answers through history is a fun gimmick, but it's not all that exciting on its own because, without an outside force adding urgency, it doesn't feel like there's a need to figure things out quickly. Adding a dose of subterfuge and tense espionage has helped boost the quality of the modern-day storyline in the past--with Black Flag being the best example--so I'm hopeful the same is true here.
The Ezio sections I played lacked the witty back-and-forth I expect from the charismatic Assassin, though I chalk that up to Ezio primarily interacting with Antonio, the far less interesting thief contact he has in Venice. I know that, based on the timeline of events, Nexus occurs after Ezio's sister, Claudia, has stepped down from her position as the Madame of Rome's Rosa in Fiore and so Rosa has already left Venice to go take Claudia's place, but I really missed Rosa's presence as Ezio made his way through Venice. This may be a specific exception since Rosa's voice actor, Lita Tresierra, died in 2010 and Ubisoft has gone out of its way to remove Rosa from any Assassin's Creed sequels, but it does make me a tad worried about the other sections with Connor and Kassandra. I don't want Nexus to utilize familiar faces just to have them--if you're going to bring back certain characters, make sure they're the ones fans love. If not, it's an opportunity to make new ones.
All three characters supposedly play roughly the same so players don't have to learn a different set of mechanics for each protagonist. Though an option to move by teleporting through a level exists, I opted for the more traditional control scheme, which handles similarly to a first-person shooter or Dishonored, albeit one in which you have to actually lean in real life to look around corners, move hand over hand to climb buildings, and actually flick your wrist and lunge forward to plunge your hidden blade into someone's neck and perform a stealth kill. Combat is similarly more involved--you can unsheath your sword to carefully block and parry incoming strikes or grab your crossbow (or in Connor and Kassandra's case, a bow) from your back with one hand, a bolt with your other hand, load, pull back, aim, and fire.
It's a little overwhelming at first to remember where everything is kept on your person, especially in the midst of a heated fight, but over the course of the hour, everything began to click and by the end of the demo, I was blending into crowds to tail a target, clambering over rooftops, and silently assassinating guards (almost) as easily as in any other Assassin's Creed game. All of these actions become a smidge more difficult within the confines of first-person since your only view of what's around you is whatever you're choosing to look at. Combat, especially, is harder since you have to actually face a target to block or parry them. If you're surrounded--heck, if you're facing just two people working in tandem on either side of you--you're pretty much dead.
In other Assassin's Creed games, this wouldn't be an issue given the ease with which protagonists can typically deal with threats (Ezio and Connor being especially adept at mowing through crowds). Nexus heavily incentivizes stealth, more so than Ezio's original adventures did since he was an untouchable parry god who could cut his way through a crowd of a dozen guards like it was nothing. The few times I was spotted by a large group of enemies, I only ever lived by blindly swinging my sword and happening to get lucky or running away with a smoke bomb and disappearing into a crowd to plan my next approach.
I think the biggest surprise I had playing Nexus (besides not throwing up after doing a Leap of Faith---good golly the vertigo on that) was that the game features an open-world setting. These levels are nowhere near the size of the games they're based on, but at least as far as Venice is concerned, the map looks exactly like a specific section of the Venice map from Assassin's Creed II. I full-on stopped in the midst of the demo to gawk at a city street and bridge after I recognized it from a memorable Assassin's Creed II mission. It looked exactly the same but I was walking along the street and over the bridge like I was there. Then I accidentally walked face-first into a random woman and she sneered at me. It was great!
You can explore the space at your leisure, climbing buildings, exploring the streets, and finding collectibles that dive further into the history of the city and the time period. The section I played featured multiple objectives and I could pursue them in whatever order I wanted, taking time to gather supplies between missions or scout out an area before diving into the next chapter of the story so I'd know the guard rotations ahead of time. The two objectives I played before my demo concluded were distinct as well. The first saw me infiltrate a market full of people where any assassination would be immediately noticed and I had to carefully make my way forward to steal a valuable mask, which I could nab from a chest by either using a key I could pickpocket off a guard captain or picking the chest's lock. I opted for the latter and it was delightfully tense to calm my frantic movements to pick the lock while I could hear the approaching footsteps of the next guard rotation. The second objective saw me needing to climb a tower to reach some fireworks at the top, dodging the curious glances of guards and relying on my crossbow and throwing knives to pick them off carefully one by one. The mission was made all the harder with how intelligently the guards responded sometimes, investigating in the direction of sounds, grouping up if a body is discovered, and sounding an alarm to put everyone on higher alert.
Like I said at the top, Assassin's Creed Nexus feels like playing Assassin's Creed. The objectives I got to play through feel like missions I would have had to do as Ezio back in Assassin's Creed II or Brotherhood but made more difficult through the limitations of first-person. If you already enjoyed playing Brotherhood, III, and Odyssey, I think you'll enjoy what Nexus has to offer. I have some misgivings about the story since I didn't see much and that which I did see involved a supporting character who wasn't all that memorable the first time we met them back in 2009. But I think the gameplay part of Nexus is already looking to be a solid experience that has a chance of successfully translating Ezio, Connor, and Kassandra's adventures into virtual reality.
Assassin's Creed Nexus is set to launch for Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest Pro, and Meta Quest 3 on November 16, following up Assassin's Creed Mirage which launched in October. In GameSpot's Assassin's Creed Mirage review, I gave the game a 6/10, writing, "Assassin's Creed Mirage is a true prequel to Valhalla, only able to tell a compelling narrative arc for Basim with the knowledge of what he becomes later in life. At the very least, you don't need an encyclopedic understanding of Assassin's Creed to appreciate Basim's growth from a young street thief to a duty-bound assassin to a truth-seeking detective as he looks into the interconnected investigations that unlock the enjoyable Black Box assassination missions. And though uninteresting characters mar the experience, an emphasis on social stealth and a history-rich city curate a fun (and educational!) gameplay loop."