Assassin's Creed Nexus VR preview: The ultimate Assassin fantasy

Assassin's Creed Nexus VR preview: The ultimate Assassin fantasy
Images via Ubisoft

Written by 

Joshua Boyles

Published 

17th Oct 2023 17:00

Virtual Reality has come a long way since its inception around a decade ago, finally worming its way into the households of gamers around the globe. You know it’s finally gone mainstream when even Apple is hopping on the bandwagon, albeit in its own augmented way.

That said, the untethering of VR has finally allowed bigger development teams to take those risks in creating dedicated experiences for the headsets, not just cobbled-together ports of games that were made for a flatscreen. While games like Skyrim and Fallout technically work in a virtual format, it’s clear that they’re not handcrafted for the medium. 

On the contrary, Assassin’s Creed Nexus breaks the mould, acting as one of the first times that a major AAA franchise has arrived in the goggles of VR as a dedicated, hand-crafted experience. After trialling Nexus for over an hour at a recent preview event, we’re excited to share that, if you’re lucky enough to own VR equipment, this next instalment in the AC franchise is well worth getting excited about.

What is Assassin’s Creed Nexus?

Fireworks in AC Nexus VR
Click to enlarge

Assassin’s Creed Nexus isn’t just the first Assassin’s Creed game to arrive in VR, but it’s also the first Assassin’s Creed game to feature three playable Assassins in the same game: Ezio, Connor, and Kassandra, all with their original voice actors returning.

You take on these three characters from the first-person perspective, going about the day-to-day activities of an Assasin in the Brotherhood. That means parkouring across rooftops, performing leaps of faith, and of course, completing assassinations.

It wouldn’t be an AC story without the usual Animus trickery going on, with you actually experiencing these historical avatars through Dominika Wilk, a new modern-day protagonist played by Hollywood’s Morena Baccarin. With Animus technology closely resembling VR in the game, it’s certainly the most meta use of VR I’ve seen yet (pardon the pun).

I am the night

Leap of Faith in AC Nexus
Click to enlarge

What’s so striking about Nexus VR from the moment you load it up is how freeform it all is. Outside of the tutorial mission that you start in, the game presents you with open-world snippets of historical locations, whether that be Venice, Ancient Greece, or Washington.

Although not truly open-world by design - each mission has its own little pocket of the world to explore - Nexus feels as though it is, with a vast sense of scale hitting you the moment you spawn in. Right from the get-go of our demo mission, which took place about halfway through the game, we were able to scale walls, free-run marked-out paths, and leap across gaps to our heart’s content.

Once you get the hang of it, it all feels surprisingly natural, which is a testament to what Ubisoft has managed to achieve with this foray into VR. Free-running is achieved by holding down the sprint and jump button while simply looking at where you want your character to jump next. Climbing is done by pressing the grip buttons on the Quest’s controllers, which simulates grip in real life. If an object has a sharp edge, you can probably climb it in Nexus VR.

This is all taken to the next level when you realise that you can throw yourself into the air while hanging from a wall, eventually letting you scale walls with unbelievable speed. It surprised me how instinctive it all felt, too. My gut was wrenched when I first fell from a Venetian rooftop before I instinctively (and successfully) reached out to grab the ledge to pull myself back up again.

It’s hard to explain in words, but playing as an Assassin in Nexus VR just feels right. This is compounded by all of your Assassin gear being kept on your person. Your sword is kept on the right hip, throwing knives on your chest, smoke bombs on your left hip, and a crossbow on your back alongside its ammo. An early moment when I accidentally got caught during a stealth section meant I had to reach for my sword. With only a split second to do so before the enemy cleaved me in two, I managed to quickly whip it out and parry the blow without even looking down to see what I was doing. It’s easily the coolest I’ve ever felt while playing VR, although I’m sure I didn’t look it to any on-looking Ubisoft demo-ists.

Remix that

Tailing mission in AC Nexus
Click to enlarge

As for what you’ll be doing in Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR, it seems to have more of a stealth lean than I anticipated. We only played the tutorial and an additional mission in our preview, so other mission objectives will of course vary. However, our mission in Venice saw us casing out a specific enemy and following him to a fish market.

I won’t lie, my first thought when this mission objective showed up was 'oh no, not again'. I’d literally just criticised Mirage for including dated tailing missions in my review, and here I was about to do another one in VR.

The thing is, it only took a few seconds of tailing this guy through the streets of Venice for the cynicism to drain away. There’s something completely exhilarating about stalking someone from the first-person perspective, especially when you’re surrounded by a surprisingly accurate recreation of 15th-century Venice.

The physicality of VR means you can properly use the environment to stealth your way around, physically crouching behind crates, or peeping through small holes in the woodwork of a market stall. Even blending with other NPCs feels more natural than it does in the flatscreen games - oh yeah, social blending is back again.

While I can’t speak completely on how action-oriented the rest of Nexus is (I spent so long mucking about with parkour that I ran out of time to complete the mission I was tasked with, oops), the stealth elements in Nexus VR are arguably some of the best we’ve seen in recent Assassin’s Creed games. Ezio can bring his hands to his mouth to whistle, or throw plenty of items like bottles strewn around the world to distract guards. Since your limbs and hands are entirely independent of your body, you can distract with one hand and reach out to steal a key from a guard’s belt at the same time. 

And I haven’t even mentioned the concerning amount of satisfaction that comes with pulling the trigger and flicking out your wrist to engage both hidden blades. Plunging these into an enemy's neck brought more joy than I’d care to admit, fully cementing the fantasy that you’re living out as a Master Assassin.

Everything is permitted

Crossbow in AC Nexus
Click to enlarge

As you can probably imagine, free-running over rooftops at great heights in VR is enough to churn even the most seasoned stomachs, never mind leaping off them into precarious hay bales. Thankfully, Ubisoft has implemented an impressive array of accessibility features to ensure the game can be enjoyed by most people.

Standard in most 3D VR games, there are your usual alternative methods of movement. By default, the left stick moves your character around like it would in a normal game, which can feel a little strange when you’re standing still IRL. Teleporting controls are here in full, letting you jump between static locations through the levels should you prefer. There’s also an option to enable a set of cube grid lines to help with scaling the tall building heights, which are practically essential when it comes to convincing your brain to perform a leap of faith for the first time.

Outside of pure comfort options, there’s another set of quality-of-life features that can make the experience more enjoyable for some. If you’d rather not spend your time reaching up and down to scale walls, there’s an option to automatically run up them. In addition, if you’d rather not reach all over your body to grab specific gear items, there’s an option to select a radial menu and grab them from there.

Ubisoft is completely aware that VR players like to enjoy their games in all manner of different ways, and has gone over the top to ensure that Nexus VR is accessible to the vast majority of players. I played my entire one-hour demo without any assists at all, but I’d be remiss to say that I could have done with a few enabling towards the end of my session.

Worth a stab?

Stabbing someone with the hidden blade in AC Nexus
Click to enlarge

We’ve only played an hour and a bit of Assassin’s Creed Nexus, but we already can’t wait to play more. As someone who previously owned a HTC Vive but sold it due to the large space needed and the cumbersome lighthouse tracking system, I’m half-inclined to shell out for a MetaQuest 3, which totally elevated the experience.

Ubisoft seems to have completely understood the assignment when it comes to adapting a well-known franchise for the two, magnified screens. Not only does it deliver the ultimate fan service by letting players fully embody their favourite characters, but it elevates the concepts of Assassin’s Creed in a way that only VR can do.

Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.

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