Assassin’s Creed Shadows preview – Squelchy and blood-red

Assassin's Creed Shadows is an exciting new direction for the franchise, packed with engaging encounters. Here are our first impressions.
Assassin's Creed Shadows

I’ve been an Assassin’s Creed fan since the very beginning, but I’d grown weary of it over the past few years. Like many, I felt that the series needed a dramatic shakeup following 2015’s Syndicate, but I never got on particularly well with the country-sized worlds and action-RPG mechanics of what followed (though I still finished them all, and even got the platinum trophy in Odyssey). 

After over a decade of being the most loudly demanded setting for a series instalment, Assassin’s Creed Shadows will finally give fans the opportunity to sneak and stab their way through feudal Japan later this year.

I got to watch a roughly 45 minute live-played presentation of the upcoming game in Los Angeles over Summer Game Fest weekend, and franchise fatigue be damned, I was seriously impressed by what I saw.

Much like the aforementioned Syndicate, Assassin’s Creed Shadows features a pair of protagonists. Yasuke, a male African samurai based upon a real historical figure of the period, and Naoe, a Japanese female shinobi. While Yasuke fights like the heavyset armoured swordsman you’d expect, it was explicitly noted in a slide during the presentation that Naoe is every bit the “natural fit for Assassin’s Creed.”

Assassin's Creed Shadows
Image: Ubisoft

Gameplay kicked off with Yasuke on horseback, descending from a wooded highland into a village. The presenter talked about how Assassin’s Creed Shadows features all-new weather and seasons systems, and the sense of humidity felt through the short journey was impressively tangible. 

Tonally, the Assassin’s Creed series has always flitted around a little between being deeply serious and kind of goofy, but combat has stayed more or less grounded. It was much to my amusement then, when Yasuke initiated a fight with a few guards while wielding a huge two-handed spiked club, and proceeded to smack them around like in Looney Tunes, but with a level of bursting bright red blood that would make Ed Boon blush. The fact that all of this was accompanied by a kind of Eastern-infused beatsy score that the Wu-Tang Clan would vibe with made it all the greater. Choices were made here, and I respect them. 

Once Yasuke had fought his way through to his actual target and began his assassination, Assassin’s Creed Shadows’ colour palette drained out – all except for that bright, bloody red.

The way I’ve long preferred to play Assassin’s Creed games is in the actual spoken language of each game’s setting, at least when possible. The sheer tonal wildness that Assassin’s Creed Shadows presented through these 10 minutes made me hope that it features the option to play with the Japanese-accented English voice track – deliberately de-synced from the mouth animations though so as to deliberately feel like a bad movie dub. Please Ubisoft. *Please*.

It was after this kill that we were introduced to Naoe, and the two established their next goal: get inside a castle and assassinate its lord. A choice was given to the player as to whether they wanted to barge through the front door as Yasuke or sneak in as Naoe, with the latter being chosen, so as to demonstrate her gameplay.

Assassin's Creed Shadows
Image: Ubisoft

Naoe’s approach to the mission was, unsurprisingly, very much in the traditional Assassin’s Creed style. She can climb, stealth kill, fling knives, use eagle vision – everything you’d expect. She also packs a cool chain weapon that can be used to assault enemies like Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. She can crawl on her belly to sneak around, which is a new thing for the series, and can even crawl into shallow pools to hide, breathing through a bamboo pipe as she does.

In a continuation of the chop-socky samurai tone set during Yasuke’s earlier brawl, Naoe can assassinate by stabbing enemies through traditional Japanese shoji doors, and can even leap up and cling to the rafters of buildings while foes pass by cluelessly underneath.

Read: Ubisoft Forward 2024 – Every major game announcement

Assassin’s Creed Shadows will let you alternate freely

After Naoe had her successful run through to the target, the Ubisoft demonstrator ran it again as Yasuke.

It was unclear if Yasuke actually cannot sneak or use eagle vision, or if the demonstrator was just choosing not to do so, but his approach through the castle was so blunt that he actually charged *through* doors and walls, like the Rhino dashing after Spider-Man. Why bother being subtle when you’re a wall of shockingly agile muscle, I guess!

The two characters and their play styles each seemed fun and creatively satisfying, both with equally engaging encounters, and I’m glad to see that Ubisoft are promising that you’ll be able to freely switch between the two throughout the adventure. 

Sadly, what wasn’t shown was any of the broader Assassin’s Creed narrative, though I know I’ve always been in the general minority, being into that stuff. I long for a return to the balance of historical and present day adventure that the first few instalments featured all that time ago, but I’m a total sicko like that and not normal. It’s fine. I’ll deal.

I left the presentation feverishly keen to lay my hands on Assassin’s Creed Shadows, and that honestly surprised me. It’s not reinventing the Ubisoft formula by any stretch, but it really looks to be presenting a more lush, stylish, and focused packaging of it than has been seen in several years.

I’d found Valhalla to be an egregiously long slog, and Mirage to be a little less satisfying than former GamesHub editor Edmond Tran did, but just when I thought I was out, they’ve pulled me back in! Oh, and it’s very squelchy too. The blood. Like stepping on ketchup packets.

Assassin’s Creed Shadows is set to launch on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Mac on November 15th, 2024.

Check out the extended gameplay walkthrough from Ubisoft Forward 2024 below.

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Jam Walker is a games and entertainment journalist from Melbourne, Australia. They hold a bachelor's degree in game design from RMIT but probably should have gotten a journalism one instead. You can find them talking entirely too much about wrestling on Twitter @Jamwa