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Hands-On: Assassin's Creed Nexus Promises An Impressive VR Spin-Off

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR impressions - screenshot

Assassin's Creed Nexus feels like it shaping up as a strong VR adaptation for the popular action-adventure series. Alongside a recent hands-on preview, we interviewed Ubisoft to learn more. Here are our full impressions:

This isn't the first time I've tried Assassin's Creed Nexus. A short demo during a pre-Connect event provided a quick introduction to the streets of Venice, but I didn't see much of what this world offered. Visiting Ubisoft Leamington recently gave me a second chance, playing once more on Quest 3. Though the full game features three assassins - Connor, Ezio and Kassandra, only two of Ezio's missions were playable.

What followed felt like I entered the Animus itself, seeing that digital world spring to life around me as I selected memories (missions) for the Venetian assassin. In Nexus, Abstergo Industries seek lost Isu artifacts that the trio unknowingly encountered, and you're working with the Brotherhood to stop them.

Beginning with a tutorial mission, I'm pleasantly surprised by how similar this feels to the main entries despite the first-person gameplay shift, and that's especially true with parkour. You can jump between pillars, swing across bars, grab onto pipes, and pull yourself up window ledges to raise yourself up with ease. Everything feels natural, and good level design means nothing felt particularly out of place.

Using stick-based artificial locomotion and only a light vignette, movement felt great, though you can feel an active "aim assist" when jumping between platforms. I even attempted the series' famous leaps of faith, jumping into piles of hay from great heights and taking no damage, though Nexus features a fear of heights option for anyone that may find this uncomfortable.

Combat will feel familiar for anyone who plays many VR action games, particularly with weapon placements. A crossbow can be grabbed from over your shoulder alongside throwing knives from your chest, and I particularly enjoyed taking out rooftop guards from afar with the knives. Good sound design complements these actions and, for those who prefer getting up close, you can grab the sword from your waist for melee attacks.

So far, everything feels well-adapted and that's all useful for those who prefer action over quieter methods, though nothing beats stealth assassinations with the hidden blade. Flicking your wrist while holding the trigger activates this intuitively and jumping toward enemies for air assassinations was highly entertaining.

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR impressions - screenshot

The environment opened up significantly in the second preview mission, which takes place halfway through the campaign. I could freely explore the streets of Venice, find collectible lore items and even tackle timed parkour challenges for a quick mini-game. You can't explore the entirety of Venice in a single mission, certain areas are restricted but there's still considerable freedom.

This second mission is where I really dived into stealth, as Ezio's tasked with tailing someone and stealing a valuable item. Hiding behind bushes or even blending in with crowds provides suitable cover, though trailing and stealthing through the warehouse lacked suspense. Being spotted gives you a brief window to hide and even if there's little subtlety in your actions, the suspicious NPCs just continue on their way like nothing had happened.

Upon being spotted during this tailing, they simply stood around as I hid behind cover, seemingly dumbstruck after I 'vanished.' It makes these sections rather easy and I'm reminded of PS3/Xbox 360-era stealth games, though it's worth noting this differs in high-security areas as guards will ring the alarm bell to call in reinforcements. I also appreciated the visual touch of seeing the hood's edges around your screen during stealth segments.

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR impressions - screenshot

Still, it's highly impressive that Ubisoft has pulled this off on standalone VR hardware. I can't directly compare Nexus on Quest 2 against Quest 3 yet, though the latter surprised me with what it's accomplishing. The streets of Venice were filled with NPCs who feel like an active part of this world, even if several character models looked rough and the resolution could be slightly sharper. Overall, the presentation is helped by some impressive draw distances and I'm certainly keen to see more.

Going Back To The Start

Several days after visiting Ubisoft Leamington I spoke with David Votypka, Senior Creative Director about Assassin’s Creed Nexus. Discussing Nexus over a video call, I asked about the challenges involved in translating a traditionally third-person series.

"We essentially have 15 years of Assassin's Creed games that established lots of mechanics that fans expect. They would be justifiably disappointed if they weren't in the first VR entry," Votypka tells me, stating that developing the breadth of these mechanics in VR was the biggest challenge. "In VR, I have a very clear feeling of how these things should play. We all know them very clearly from the AC games but there's a lot of them. Climbing, air, assassination, parkour, all these different types of weapons."

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR impressions - screenshot

Is this familiarity why Ubisoft also chose returning assassins over a new character? We're told there are various reasons behind this decision.

"At first, we were thinking, 'What if we did a new setting and it's a new assassin, but what about the other AC games?' We didn't want to conflict with their future plans, so that might be tricky," Votypka explained, revealing it was the game director's idea to use multiple assassins. "That was a really intriguing idea because with playing [Assassin's Creed] in VR for the first time, to be able to go back to the roots of the series with Ezio, for example, seemed like a really nice sort of serendipity between a new platform for the series. You get to go back and start from the beginning, in a sense, but in a whole new way."

Votypka added that playing three assassins in one game was also intriguing because it's never been done before. But why Connor, Ezio and Kassandra specifically?

Ezio was the obvious choice as a fan favorite, who doesn't want to play as  Ezio? Connor is also a popular one, his Colonial America setting is one of the most popular and really compelling. For Kassandra, we wanted to choose a more recent assassin instead of only starting with the earlier ones. There's a lot of fan love for her and she has some really neat history and story to her. We felt this gave us good diversity across types of assassins and settings.

Ezio's story take place in 1509, placing this between Brotherhood (1499-1507) and Revelations (1511-1512). Connor's missions are set between 1775-1777, mixed in with events from Assassin's Creed 3. Kassandra missions take place between 405 BCE and 403 BCE, nearly twenty years after Odyssey finishes and during the Thirty Tyrants rule.

"We put her in this setting where these tyrannical, horrible men were ruling Athens and that's the main crux of her storyline."

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR impressions - screenshot

There's a lot of content included here, something I could evidence during my preview and Ubisoft previously described Nexus as a full-length game. But just how long does it need?

"It's not a 60-100 hours open world like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, it's more like the campaign structure and game length that you find in the early games."

Quest 2 versus Quest 3 Differences In Assassin's Creed Nexus

So what are the differences between Quest 2 and Quest 3 versions of the game? Votypka says it is mainly visual upgrades.

"You're getting further draw distances and higher detail. The filtering is crisper, so the textures look crisper on Quest 3," he explains, praising the pancake lenses and citing resolution improvements.

Regarding framerate, I'm told Nexus hits 90Hz on Quest 3, but Votypka couldn't confirm the exact details for Quest 2 except that it is above 72Hz. That would leave 80Hz as the only remaining option, but we've asked Ubisoft for official clarification. 

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR impressions - screenshot

Finally, I questioned if there's any chance we'll ever see Nexus on other platforms like PC VR or PSVR 2. While he doesn't rule it out entirely, he doesn't confirm any plans, either.

"Right now, we're focused on the Quest. You never know what will happen in the future, but we don't have anything to announce on different platforms at the moment."

Assassin's Creed Nexus arrives on November 16 for the Meta Quest platform, playable on Quest 2, Quest Pro and Quest 3.

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