Assassin’s Creed Nexus offers VR freedom rarely seen – Preview

Assassin's Creed Nexus is shaping up to be a solid VR adventure buoyed by impressive freedom of choice.
assassin's creed nexus vr

Assassin’s Creed Nexus is a wide open playground. A virtual reality experience that feels, miraculously, like it completely understands the appeal and scope of the technology. Since VR headsets descended on the mainstream, there have been countless baby steps to genuine success, with an array of games harnessing strong elements of VR potential: weapons prowess, climbing, adventuring, and unique narrative quirks. But finding a game that does all these things well, and in a way that doesn’t induce the dreadful sense of an impending vomit, has been rare.

Read: Meta Quest 2 review – A stepping stone to the future

Nexus feels like it could be the warm and welcome soup at the end of this experimentation; a broth made from excellent ingredients, cooked to perfection, as VR has matured. In a one-hour preview session with the game playing on the new Meta Quest 3, I came away very impressed by everything it encompasses. From its swordplay and stealth mechanics to its freedom of choice, it really does feel like Nexus is brimming with fresh, well-designed ideas that reflect the very best of VR adventuring.

Leap of faith

assassin's creed vr nexus gameplay
Image: Ubisoft

Upon completing the brief tutorial of Assassin’s Creed Nexus, you’ll find a welcome sense of familiarity in the adventure. Movement and weapon play feel natural and reflexive. You’ve got a sword by your side, a blade at your wrist, and eventually, a mini-crossbow over your shoulder. Each is harnessed with a sleek grabbing movement. You’ll reach down, grab at your side, and your sword manifests. You won’t always need it, but the ease of access is handy, and aids the virtual assassin fantasy that Nexus offers.

Other elements of the familiar will be more obvious to those who’ve played past Assassin’s Creed games. In the seventh chapter of Nexus, where most of the preview session took place, I embodied Ezio Auditore, famed Assassin and Venice menace.

As you arrive, you’re greeted by the warm sights and sounds of the Italian Renaissance, first depicted in the beloved second entry of Assassin’s Creed. It looks and feels incredibly faithful to its original counterpart, complete with flower-filled streets, brick buildings, wandering citizens, and plentiful opportunities to soar high above your enemies.

Read: Playing Assassin’s Creed 2 in 2022 is a strange experience

A core stumbling block of VR games is that even the slightest oddness or friction will immediately push you out of the action, and well into the uncanny valley. My worst experiences in VR have often come about due to minor quirks: textures that don’t load in (causing momentary breaks in reality), stuttering hands, or even the lack of physical body.

Nexus avoids these pitfalls at nearly every turn, with both the tutorial and mid-game mission being smooth, polished examples of a matured and genuinely quite beautiful VR world – perhaps one that’s learned important lessons from its predecessors.

On the Meta Quest 3, the game was extremely crisp and impressive, with even text appearing with sharply clean lines (a common foible with past VR headsets), and the action playing out with zero stuttering or strangeness. There’s also the fact that you actually have a complete body in Nexus, fully dressed in Assassin robes. It makes the entire experience feel more realistic, and papers over some of the inherent oddness of exploring a seemingly physical world while stationary.

The experience isn’t perfect – some textures still flutter out of existence, and VR graphics haven’t really advanced past a last-generation blockiness for standalone devices like the Quest – but Nexus feels like an exciting next step regardless.

Your world, an oyster

assassin's creed nexus preview
Image: Ubisoft

The design of Venice in this game is incredibly clever, and a major standout feature. It’s wide and open, and it provides ample opportunity to experiment. As Ezio (and presumably, as Kassandra and Connor in other chapters as well) you can free roam through the streets, exploring every nook and cranny, both vertically and horizontally.

With the Meta Quest 3, I had no trouble wandering, even with zero comfort settings turned on. There are vignettes available to focus your view, and a teleporting option for those who experience discomfort, but I found neither was necessary for Nexus – despite frequently using this feature in other VR games, like Horizon Call of the Mountain.

The speed of movement and clarity of the game’s world makes it easy and comfortable to traverse, even when that travelling involves running and jumping across rooftops and precarious beams at high speeds. This experience was also aided by that aforementioned freedom of choice.

In Assassin’s Creed Nexus, nearly every brick and ledge is climbable. You don’t actually have a linear path to follow, as is common in many VR games. Rather, you can make your own way through a city using climbing mechanics (move hand, grip, move hand, grip, as standard) – and in that way, you can actually deploy stealth tactics to move through and/or escape battles.

In one particularly memorable mission in Venice, I was able to avoid combat entirely by climbing my way slowly up to a roof embattlement, crawling my way past crates and obstacles, killing a guard by deploying my hidden blade (hold button and wrist flick), and then leaping my way over fencing, to climb freehand up to a hidden fireworks crate. By the time the guards on the rooftop nearby noticed a dead body, I was hand-over-hand halfway up to the fireworks, having gotten away with my dastardly deed.

It wasn’t the only way to complete the task, either.

Any way you want it

ac nexus gameplay preview
Image: Ubisoft

Nexus offers a range of options throughout multiple missions, with no one technique being preferred over any other. You can take your time, hiding behind crates, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. You can also rush headlong into battle, wielding your sword in a parry-and-attack based combat, where you must defend yourself and wait for the right moment to strike. Or, like me, you can take the tactical option, and utilise well-placed handholds to foist yourself out of harm’s way, leaving enemies none the wiser to your approach.

In adopting this freedom, in a world that feels comfortable and satisfying to explore, Assassin’s Creed Nexus accomplishes a twofold goal: it feels like a true Assassin’s Creed experience, and creates a sense of VR immersion that has felt lacking in similar games.

The Assassin’s Creed adventures have always been about exploration, experimentation, and freedom. Against a backdrop of Venice, the Nexus preview proved it has the potential to harness all of these necessities, in a way that doesn’t feel like cheap gimmickry.

Given this preview was only a brief window into the world of Assassin’s Creed Nexus, questions still linger about its novelty, and whether it can continuously innovate on its action in different ways for its different protagonists, and provide a reason for longer and further-reaching quests. But even as a taster, this preview revealed strong, memorable, and ambitious action. It certainly made it seem like Nexus could live up to its potential, as both an essential Assassin’s Creed tale, and an innovative VR experience.

Assassin’s Creed Nexus launches for Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3 and Meta Quest Pro on 16 November 2023.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.