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Assassin’s Creed Shadows’ blend of old and new is a recipe for success

Yasuke trains outside in Assassin's Creed Shadows.
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This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Assassin’s Creed Shadows was officially revealed a couple of weeks ago in a beefy cinematic trailer showing off its dual protagonists, Yasuke and Naoe. It’s a big moment for fans of the series, as Shadows is finally the Feudal Japan Assassin’s Creed game fans have been asking for since it was teased back in the very first entry in the franchise in 2007.

Does it live up to that long wait? Ahead of today’s Ubisoft Forward stream, I saw an extended gameplay presentation for Assassin’s Creed Shadows that gave me a much better sense of what to expect this fall. The team behind it is looking to blend newer series entries like Valhalla, Odyssey, and Origins into the more traditional Assassin’s Creed titles from over a decade ago. And that seems like it could be a winning formula.

Out of the shadows

During the presentation, I saw both of Shadows‘ playable characters in action — and they’re quite different from one another. Yasuke’s Samurai stature and hulking physique command respect from villagers when he walks by. They bow to him, move out of his way, and clearly show signs of admiration. His combat skills also match this, giving him access to actions like a shoulder charge to break down doors or knock enemies off balance.

Yasuke stares down an enemy in Assassin's Creed Shadows.

His attacks are brutal, precise, and deadly. During the presentation, I saw him battle some corrupt samurai in the streets. Their lifeless bodies piled up as he knocked them over and tossed them around. He’s a force of nature; breaking pots and other parts of the environment. The street was left in ruins by the time he was done.

Yasuke seems to get his own musical motifs too, making him even more distinct. The battle was accompanied by a funky musical track with a strong beat, with classical Japanese elements peppered in. It’s a slice of modernity within the historical setting, creating a unique and exciting presentation. I’m hoping more of the music in Shadows hits the highs of that little song I heard during the presentation.

Of course, Shadows still has a bit of jank to it (this is still Assassin’s Creed, after all). Character movements are a bit stagnant; some animations stutter or seem off at times, but it’s an in-development build. Hopefully the full game will get a bit of a cleanup when it’s official released later this year.

Dynamic duo

After the battle, I saw Naoe, Shadows‘ Shinobi hero, in action. In a castle siege mission, Naoe ran along rooftops, using her grappling hook to stay aerial and nimble. While Yasuke busts through doors and leaves ruin in his wake, Naoe hides in the shadows, taking down enemies in stealth without being detected. The team even showed off a new mechanic made possible by its advanced lighting engine: You can now take out lights to provide extra cover in the night.

A character select screen appears in Assassin's Creed Shadows.

Naoe has a lot of deadly tools at her disposal, from throwing knives to a kusarigama for close encounters. She can even perform non-lethal takedowns on people. At one point, she went prone and crawled into some shallow water, pulling out a bamboo reed to breathe and stay hidden. When the enemy got close to the water, she jumped out, assassinated him, and took off into the night.

Both Yasuke and Naoe’s playstyles seem viable for the entire game, and you focus on whichever suits you best. Outside of a few story moments, you’ll never be forced to swap between characters. However, you do have the option of doing missions with either hero. You’ll choose who you want to play as before each one starts. I saw the same castle siege mission from Yasuke’s perspective where he knocked down the front door and fought his way to the target. Rather than hiding, he pulled out a rifle and started shooting explosive red barrels (Yasuke is not the strong and silent type).

A shinobi gets ready to jump on an enemy in Assassin's Creed Shadows.

That’s not the only dynamic that’ll shake up missions. The development team mentioned a dynamic weather and seasons system that will add variety. Sometimes you might be out on a mission during the day, but then a sweeping thunderstorm rolls in that will obscure enemy vision, as well as your own. I didn’t see much of that during my presentation, but I’m curious to see how it will add new options and emergent stories to playthroughs.

It’s interesting to see Ubisoft blending two distinct playstyles in Assassin’s Creed Shadows. Whether you’re a newcomer to the franchise or have been playing since the original, Shadows aims to elevate the experience without forgetting where it came from.

Assassin’s Creed Shadows launches on November 15 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Mac, PC, and Amazon Luna.

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