Assassin's Creed Nexus VR

Platform(s): Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Red Storm Entertainment
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2023


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Meta Quest Preview - 'Assassin's Creed Nexus VR'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 18, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR is the first VR title of the franchise that allows players to embody master assassins and physically perform their iconic actions in first person.

I wasn't expecting much when I popped on the VR headset. Sure, we've all seen the slick CG trailer and the "yes, it's a VR game" screenshots showing the player's hands awkwardly placed in frame, but really, how authentic could an Assassin's Creed game feel in VR? I was coming into the Nexus VR demo having recently finished my Assassin's Creed Mirage playthrough, so stealth and sneaking were absolutely on the brain.

Suffice it to say that the development team absolutely nailed it. After playing the two demo levels (one training level and one game level), I left the Ubisoft offices trying to figure out how I could fit a VR play space into my apartment.

For someone who doesn't regularly play VR (the last headset I personally owned was Nintendo's all-red Virtual Boy), my first steps into Ezio's shoes were a bit disorienting. I quickly got to grips with both the environment and the controls.

Moving around within Nexus VR was surprisingly natural. I used one of the hand controllers to move back and forth, but to look around, I just used my head. Grabbing and interacting with items was done by moving my virtual hand into range and then pressing a button on the controller to grab and releasing the button to let go. This extended to other interactions as well, like climbing a ladder or using a sword in a fight.

It was the natural movement that really made everything snap into place for me, as I wasn't just "playing" Ezio. I was Ezio. The illusion presented by Nexus VR is a lot like what I would expect the modern-day Assassin's Creed characters experience when they enter the Animus in the mainline games. It's an analog that also works for the Nexus VR experience, as you get briefing information from other, modern-day characters before entering a mission.

If I had to identify a specific moment when Nexus VR "clicked" for me, it would probably be part of the training mission. I had to escape from a courtyard, which meant either sneaking past the guards or assassinating them. Were I playing a traditional Assassin's Creed game, I would've whistled to get the guard to walk over before taking him out. While you can whistle in Nexus VR, I didn't have to do that. Instead, I simply grabbed a nearby goblet and tossed it to where I wanted the guard's attention. No one told me to do it. There were no tooltips hinting at it. It was just one of the things in the environment, and it behaved like expected.

Moving into the main mission, I was given the freedom to explore Venice as Ezio. One of the first things I noticed was that the team hasn't forgotten the historical roots of Assassin's Creed. Shortly after starting the level, I found a historical fragment that offered background information on the markets. It was a nice touch to see that included.

Exploring the open environment of Venice felt like wandering around a virtual city, only with parkour superpowers. To parkour, I had to start running and then look at where I wanted to go. It's a semi-automated system, but it works well. For those times when you can't quite make a jump, it's also possible to reach out with your hands and grab a ledge to pull yourself up. When I say pull yourself up, I mean it. You need to grab the ledge and then physically push your arms down to climb up.

Weapons are available for use in Nexus VR, with Ezio having access to the hidden blade, a sword, and a crossbow. Using weapons is modeled after their expected movements. For example, to use the hidden blade, you have to press a button and then flick your wrist to deploy it. Once deployed, make a stabbing motion with your arm when behind an enemy. The crossbow and sword are similar.

To fire the crossbow, you first have to pull it out by reaching to your shoulder. Then you have to grab an arrow from your quiver (again, reaching to your shoulder), place it in the crossbow, and nock it. After that, just aim and fire. There's a slight bit of aim assist going on in the background, but you won't notice it when playing. As for the sword, you pull it from your holster when you want to use it. Fighting with the sword didn't feel quite as natural as using the hidden blade or the crossbow, but that could've also been my inexperience, as this was my first time playing.

Back to the open world, the mission had me trailing a target across town and then breaking into a location to steal a mask. It's a fairly standard Assassin's Creed-style mission, but playing one never quite felt like this. When trailing a target in one of the mainline games, I'm always looking for the next blend location or hiding place. In Nexus VR, I was moving to natural hiding places and peeking around corners to stay out of sight. I probably looked very goofy to someone watching my actions in real life, but in-game, it was legit. It didn't feel like a game (moving from one safe spot to another); it really did present the illusion of sneaking and staying out of sight.

After the target reached his destination, I had to follow him inside and make my way to a secure area to steal the mask. This meant avoiding guards, so I was climbing over boxes, crouching, and carefully moving around as I looked for a path to the target. This is also where I really started to use the enemy tagging option. Looking at an enemy for a few seconds tags them, so you know where they are even if you're not looking directly at them.

The mask was in a locked chest in an interior room. A guard had the key, so my options were to steal the key or pick the lock. I opted to pick the lock, which kicked off a minigame involving the two hand controllers. It wasn't terribly difficult, but the tension was real, as there was a practical time limit. The guard was on his rounds and coming back soon. Thankfully, I managed to get the mask, but the alarm was raised. My final task was to escape with the mask and my life.

Sneaking out was more challenging than sneaking in, as all the guards were on high alert. My first attempt resulted in a desync, after I faced off against an armored guard and lost. After reloading, I was sneakier and took out a regular guard with a dagger throw to the head before avoiding the armored guard and quietly exiting the building.

One important thing to note about Nexus VR is that the game looks a lot better in motion (and in VR) than it does in screenshots or even in captured video. The Meta Quest 3 visuals are not on par with a high-end gaming PC, but they don't have to be. When playing, I didn't notice the difference. In fact, my immersion level was high enough that I noticed my adrenaline kicking in. That's not something that ever happened with one of the mainline games.

Because Nexus VR is limited to the Meta Quest hardware, the story isn't required viewing for the overall franchise. At the same time, it is a complete story and a complete game. After I spent an hour with the two levels, it's clear that Nexus VR is not a tech demo. It's an immersive experience that is sure to appeal to fans of the franchise. If it was this much fun playing in a limited play space, I can only imagine what it would be like in a professional VR center with room-scale play.

The only real question about Assassin's Creed Nexus VR is how well the story ties together the three different assassins (and time periods) that you play, as well as the overall variety of the missions. If Nexus VR can keep things interesting from start to finish when it launches on Nov. 16, 2023, it'll likely be a must-own title for Meta Quest owners.

Editor's Note: The Assassin's Creed Nexus VR demo was played on Meta Quest 3 hardware at the Ubisoft office.

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