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 2 Review - 'Assassin's Creed Nexus VR'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 17, 2023 @ 12:05 a.m. PST

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.

The Assassin's Creed franchise seems like a perfect fit for VR. Get past the overarching storyline of Templars and Assassins waging a near-timeless war against one another, and there's the underlying premise of living through the adventures of notable characters from long ago through the use of technology that closely resembles a VR setup. Ubisoft has dabbled with VR in the past, but the publisher is finally bringing one of its tentpole franchises into the space with Assassin's Creed Nexus VR.

The story emphasizes the battles between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templars in the near future. You play as a hacker who's loyal to the cause of the Brotherhood and works undercover for the Templar's company of Abstergo. Your new Abstergo boss, Dominika Wilk, has discovered that an artifact called the Antikytheria Mechanism contains ancient technology that is far too advanced for its time, so it may be part of a bigger machine known as The Eye. She theorizes that the key to unlocking the artifacts is in the memories of three previously explored assassins. Abstergo wants you to retrieve the data by living through the memories, but the Brotherhood wants you to plant logic bombs to destroy the data so it remains a mystery.

The Brotherhood-versus-Templar war was an interesting wrinkle when it was introduced in the first game, but it's been background material for so long that few people care about it now. That doesn't change in Nexus, as you aren't given too many reasons to like or care about the characters on either side, and nothing really shakes up the narrative. It's a sound decision to go with three existing characters versus new ones, since the game doesn't have to spend time to ensure that you'll like the protagonists you inhabit. The adventures are side missions that take place a little before or after certain events in the characters' lives. Although the game doesn't flesh out the characters, the side adventures are nice for those who want to spend more time with these assassins.

Before talking about the rest of the game, we must acknowledge that Ubisoft went above and beyond to ensure that it can reach a broad audience in the VR space. Character movement can be done by using the analog stick on the left controller to point to where you want to go using a warp system. Turning is either handled smoothly or in increments, and not only can you adjust the intensity of the dark aura that becomes visible when you move, but you can also adjust the type of aura. Those with a fear of heights can activate a grid to show where the floor really is, and the intensity of grid lines can also be adjusted. Some actions, like ducking, can be done with the press of a button if you have a hard time physically doing it, and the game even compensates for those with shaky hands. The game can also be played while standing or sitting — and with as much space as you can afford. In short, the availability for every possible comfort option sets up a standard that you'll wish all VR games would follow.

There are a few signature elements that form the basis of a typical Assassin's Creed game, and Nexus nails just about all of them. The first is the environments, which feel like throwbacks to the early games in the series rather than the later ones. The near-future setting remains small and constrained, but the three environments are sizable enough. They seem small when viewed from above, but they're spacious when viewed at ground level or slightly above that. The population density isn't as thick as something like Assassin's Creed Unity, but there's still a good amount of people walking about and going about their lives, so it feels alive. The side activities are in line with the mainlines games, so it feels like players can keep busy.

With the environments comes traversal, and the team has done an excellent job of translating the main game's movement into VR. Parkour is the main mode of travel and even if you turn on every VR handicap, you still get the same sensation of swinging on poles or climbing up walls and ledges. It helps that there are plenty of surfaces that the game deems climbable, and that isn't restricted to flat ones; you can reach back to grab a ledge that's up and behind you. Getting to the very top of the level to take in a scan of the area is completely doable, and the infamous leap of faith into a haystack is also faithfully re-created. You'll be doing it often, but each moment when you're climbing feels amazing to the point where you'll only walk normally if you have no other choice.

Puzzle-solving has been pared down a bit, but it remains a well-done part of this game. The puzzles aren't very complicated, as most involve finding the right object in a room or combining two pieces into a key for something else. A few involve hitting or destroying key objects to prevent a trap from going down, but there's nothing that qualifies as a brain-teaser. One of the more interesting puzzles occurs in the near-future segments, where you need to place cubes in a certain configuration to create a secure connection. The depth-based puzzles have been seen before in VR, but this one goes into the AR space, as the VR elements are overlaid against the real-world backdrop, giving you a better sense of immersion since you can actually see your home.

Stealth is another big part of the game, and it is also done well for the most part. The standard stuff is available, from ducking behind pillars to peeking over barriers, and it all feels nice and intuitive. There are moments where it feels like you're moving the environment rather than shifting your body. Bows and arrows, crossbows, throwing knives and tomahawks are good for dispatching enemies from afar, and while you can pull enemies toward you or push them their doom, the hidden blade is still the coolest surprise way to kill an enemy. The motion of hitting a trigger and flicking your wrist upward is awesome, and the kills are neat instead of being overly gory. It feels satisfying, like they ported the wholesale experience of the main games rather than truncating it to specific parts and activities.

Combat is the final piece of the game that's considered important, and the game doesn't shine as brightly. The main issue comes from the swordplay, which relies heavily on parrying and creating openings to get in a clean hit. The mechanics work fine, as you aren't missing hits and won't find yourself being unable to block or parry strikes. The combat lacks any weight, and a variation to your hits don't seem to make much of a difference. The game takes it a bit easy, as enemies may crowd you at times but rarely attack all at once. The ability to push enemies away or take a quick stab with a hidden blade add some depth to the combat. It's a decent fighting system but feels lacking when you see how everything else in the game is handled so well.

VR has been around for a while, so it's good to see that VR games are slowly shifting away from quick arcade-like experiences into something more substantial. Nexus is no different, as the average amount of time you'll spend in the game equates to roughly 15 hours, depending on your skill level and whether you partake in some of the side-quests. When compared to the more recent titles in the series, Nexus is a tad shorter than Assassin's Creed Mirage and nowhere close to games like Assassin's Creed Valhalla. That's good, since the game can quickly exhaust players, depending on how acclimated they are to VR. Having it go any longer would actively hurt the game, since the pacing seems fine for a mission or two and then ducking out for a break.

With the release of the game set just a few weeks after the release of the Meta Quest 3, it would be logical to believe that this is one of the games that would be used to showcase the powerful new headset. While we don't have a Meta Quest 3 on hand to use with the game to see for ourselves, we still have the Meta Quest 2, which shows off the limitations of the device and how well Ubisoft and Red Storm pushed its limitations. The textures on objects, for example, are pretty muddy, and there are visible seams on some parts, but it is easy to tell what you can interact with and what you can use to climb up surfaces.

The character mouth animations remain limited when you're far away, and even though the character model variety isn't present for guards and civilians, there's a good deal of them present, so the environments never feel empty. The use of AR segments when unlocking some codes in the real world still remains, and even though the effect gets hurt by the fact that the cameras on the Meta Quest 2 are only in grayscale and blurry, these segments remain cool. Perhaps more important is the fact that the lower-spec hardware doesn't mean that the frame rate dips, since the game runs smoothly. Lower frames never become a cause for motion sickness.

The use of the Meta Quest 2 might also be the cause of some issues we encountered in the game, but you'll need to check other reviews from Meta Quest 3 users to see if they're universal. Load times are much more noticeable, as you'll spend a decent amount of time staring at black screens when transitioning from one major environment to another. In some cases, moving quickly through indoor areas causes instances where you'll see an in-game grid appear before it gets filled in a few seconds later with the rest of the environment. Their appearance somewhat fits in-game when you consider that you are using a virtual reality device to get through a person's memories, but it is a shame that it happens fairly often on the last-generation headset.

Though imperfect, Assassin's Creed Nexus VR is a solid game for fans of VR and fans of the series. The smaller scope in terms of level size is offset by the fact that each environment remains dense with people and activities. The stories are fine, but the ability to play as three well-known assassins makes up for that. More importantly, it hits all of the hallmark moments of the series and does immersion well if you can forgive the weightless combat. It'll be interesting to see if Ubisoft tries to port this to other VR platforms, but as it stands now, the game is worth checking out if you are a current or prospective owner of any of the more recent Meta headsets.

Score: 8.0/10

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