We have had thirteen mainline Assassin’s Creed games released since the series debuted in 2007. We have twenty six of them if you count all of the offshoots and this title. It’s taken that entire time and that many games to deliver the player fantasy of a first person Assassin’s Creed game, but could a game aimed at Meta’s newest mobile VR platform be the right platform to deliver on the promise of putting us in the Animus for real? Let’s jump into the Meta exclusive Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR and experience history in a completely new way.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – this game is exclusive to Meta’s two headsets, the Meta Quest 2 and brand new Meta Quest 3. I’ve played the game extensively on both, and there are a lot of improvements when jumping to Meta’s new platform beyond just the graphics. Sure, those graphical improvements are extensive, but Quest 2 is no slouch. Just because you have the older headset, you aren’t locked out of this adventure. Just know that those improvements are at the “system seller” level – if you have a Quest 3, this is the game you bought it for.
There are a lot of differences between the Quest 2 and 3, but the bulk of them are graphical. The Quest 3 has a more stable framerate throughout, and other than the introductory area, I didn’t see visible framerate drops anywhere in the game. Thankfully, the Quest 2 isn’t unplayable by any stretch, but there are a few hiccups here and there that might cause issues. I suffer from nausea and there were a few moments that made me pause. Beyond graphics, the load times are a little better, though thankfully loading is infrequent enough where it’s not a huge differentiator. Is this going to look better on PlayStation VR2? How about PCVR? I mean, probably, if that ever comes to pass. Truthfully? It doesn’t matter.
Many of Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR’s characters look straight out of the PS3 or PS4 era. That overly plastic look with characteristic facial animations and gaze control – you know the one. I hate to say it, but I’m just being honest. Beyond that, it’s not that you are in the Animus – no, you are IN ancient Italy. You are looking over the white sands and blue houses of Greece. You can practically smell the harbor in Boston. Once you get over that initial shock of the not-so-hot character portraits, it’s the last time you’ll think about the graphics. No, you’ll be busy doing things you thought were impossible in VR (that is, unless you played Sairento, but I digress), and you’ll soon be experiencing the world of Templars and Assassins in a whole new way.
This isn’t Ubisoft’s first foray into the world of VR. In fact, they have made some of our absolute favorite VR games, including Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Eagle Flight, Transference, and Werewolves Within, just to name a few. There’s even a much-anticipated Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell VR game coming. Suffice it to say, their teams are not new to the world of VR, but they don’t pump out games non-stop. They seem to be very picky about what games they bring to life, and this latest game is no exception. Not tied to an upcoming game, but more a celebration of the franchise, this game focuses on three major characters you can infer from my locations mentioned a moment ago – Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Ratonhnhaké:ton (better known as Connor Kenway), and Kassandra of Sparta(Sorry almost nobody picked you, Alexios). You’ll play as each of these storied heroes from history as you work to the location of the Antikythera mechanism, a mysterious object commonly believed to be the first analogue computer. Review of this game aside, please take a moment and read up on this device – it’s a technological marvel of humanity that defies all logical explanation.
So the story goes (and without ruining it, rest assured), you are put in the shoes of a hacker that’s been hired by the Abstergo Corporation to find the location of the Antikythera so it can be retrieved by the group. Your boss is Dominika Wilk, played by Morena Baccarin, and she’s a professional climber on the corporate ladder. What does she want? Well, it won’t be anything good, we know that for sure. Naturally, because Abstergo has very lax recruiting procedures, you’ve been approached and recruited by series instigator/all-star support team Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane! They want you to infiltrate Abstergo, do the work they are hiring you to do, but when you synchronize the data they want, also detonate logic bombs that will seal off that critical data forever, hamstringing them before they can uncover the location of the artifact. Beyond that, well, that’s for you to discover. Let’s get started with the tutorial level captured on the Meta Quest 3.
VR is always tough for some folks, and I’ve suffered nausea with smooth movement in the past. You can see the framerate hiccups I mentioned earlier in the video above, but thankfully that bit of chop was short lived. You can also see that by default the “smooth” turning is enabled. I honestly cannot imagine anyone tolerating that smooth turn well, so either turn physically to turn in game, or enable full snap turn so you simply turn 45 degrees (or more) instantly. Your stomach will thank me for it. Truth be told, there’s actually an incredible amount of comfort options that you can tweak and adjust. There are some presets to make it all easy, but if those don’t work, there are even more hiding underneath. Naturally, in a game about assassins leaping off of high buildings and into waiting straw bales below, there’s even a handful of progressive options to help your brain cope with that if you happen to be afraid of heights. Being specific, you can turn on all sorts of various guides and grid shapes that will help your brain understand that you aren’t actually moving, and that the ground isn’t rushing to meet you. I’ve gotta say, though, you need to try the Leap of Faith without all of that – it’s one of the coolest moments in VR I’ve experienced in recent memory.
Once you’ve completed your tutorial level you’ll head to Ezio’s ancestral home in Monteriggioni, Italy. You’ll expand on your parkour skills by running a short race on the rooftops – an optional mission type. You’ll use the rope pulleys to ascend rapidly, or amble up ladders or wall outcroppings to reach those rooftops, as well as performing your first sync. That sync is super cool as well as it zooms out and shows Ezio’s small castle village in a sort of tilt-shift photography tiny model way that was cool to see. If you are getting a picture in your head that makes Nexus sound like it has more in common with the earlier games than the more recent ones you’ve got the right idea. This game is all about assassination and exploration, and frankly, that’s where it belongs.
Assassin’s Creed, especially the earlier ones, is about a trio of pillars – parkour, stealth, and assassination. Even the earliest moments of Nexus, all three are present and accounted for. There are VR games that do all three of these, but few that do any one of them well. Nexus manages to overcome that, lacing each into a cohesive package that makes it play as well or better than many of its flat-screened AAA counterparts. And like those earlier games, Nexus features a fully-featured storyline, complete with twists, turns, and a mystery to unravel.
If freerunning at high speed, as is often the case in the creed series, is making you nervous in a VR setting, I’m happy to report that it’s actually not only nausea free (at least in my experience), but absolutely enjoyable. Hitting the A button on your right hand you’ll jump, and doing that while running will cause you to leap to the nearest ledge, post, or other item that is sticking out. That’s not to say it’s just a handful of predetermined places where you can climb – no, pretty much every surface awaits. If you can’t grab onto something horizontal, you can often grab the sides of a pole, post, or pillar, and use those to ascend instead. Frankly, I found very few instances where climbing wasn’t a viable option in solution to a problem. When you do reach the top, bouncing across the rooftop just somehow works. And hey – if you can’t get the hang of it, an accessibility option to enable auto-parkour exists to fill the gap.
More recent games are massive open worlds, seamless and frankly daunting. Nexus instead focuses the gameplay and gives the player freedom, but with more of an open map than an open world. Once you are past the initial areas, you’ll suddenly get a massive sandbox with optional missions, story elements, and everything in between. I was immediately reminded of games from the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood era – a fond memory indeed, and with no live-services infection in sight. You’ll be climbing churches and ancient structures in no time. If that still makes you nervous, then you’ll be happy to know that all of the racing around at high speed is entirely optional. Heck, if you don’t want to climb a single thing or use the rooftops, other than synchronization, you don’t technically have to leave the ground very often. The choice is entirely yours.
Not every activity requires bouncing around on the rooftops – there’s plenty of things to do at ground level. Lockpicking is very tactile as you slowly rotate rings into each other, the pins falling into place. As you twist the controllers it all feels very familiar but VR is just somehow cooler. Similarly, getting the attention of guards by making the whistling motion with your thumb and index finger and then actually whistling is just pure fun. After roughly two hours you’ll get the chance to start easing folks of their burdens with a little bit of pickpocketing. It works very similarly to the way it works in Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. You can even throw dice with some famous folks, strum or blow into any instrument you find, and interact with most everything that seems relevant to do so. It doesn’t feel haphazard, instead making the world feel more alive.
It wouldn’t be Assassin’s Creed without puzzles. While the game is ENTIRELY too eager to highlight the answers way too quickly for my tastes (why can’t this be a toggle?!), there are blow dart traps, planetary alignment puzzles, music boxes, and elemental puzzles to play with. It very much feels like a full flat-screen Assassin’s Creed in that way, and I’m glad to see that Nexus didn’t just fall backwards into the tech demo pit.
To help with accessibility, and frankly to help stave off nausea for those who suffer severely, you can play seated, standing, stationary, or at room-scale. To test this out I tried the game in an 8 foot square space with plenty of space to step in and stab targets. That’s just pure unadulterated VR magic, and frankly I’d argue the very best way to play. I also tried it out in, let’s call it “apartment broom closet” room scale – a 2 foot by 2 foot space. Yep, I could only take a single step forward to silently stab a guard in the neck, but it’s almost equally as satisfying. Standing for hours can be hard on the feet and lower back, so I become a seated Master Assassin. The game is certainly fun this way, but not quite as much. Still – the fact that it’s even possible is a testament to the team’s commitment to accessibility. Whether you use teleportation, snap turns, vignetting, free movement, or a combination of any or all of it, it’s all here – well done.
The series has always had incredible soundtracks, and Nexus is no exception. Chris Tilton steps in the incredible large boots of the likes of Lorne Balfe (secondary composer on Assassin’s Creed Revelations, and primary on Assassin’s Creed III), Jesper Kyd and Richard Désilets (composers on the original games inhabited by Kassandra and Ezio), and thankfully he’s able to deliver. Assassin’s Creed OST fans will have plenty to look forward to. Similarly, Baccarin’s performance as your boss is expertly delivered, but it’s great to hear the three primary protagonists relive our favorites.
Your arsenal in Nexus starts off decidedly small, and on purpose. While you get used to the mechanics of the game, you are often limited to your sword and hidden blades. As you begin to hop between the antagonists, you’ll gain access to some familiar weapons including a crossbow, recurve bow, throwing knives, smoke bombs, tomahawk, and more. Each one changes the dynamics of combat, though there’s always the attack and counterattack method present in the series. Enemies will attack high and low, and you can use your weapons to block in the correct area to repel the attack, and doing so enough can even stagger them, opening them for an often-lethal counterattack. There’s even some attention to detail here for fans as Ezio has two blades having attained the rank of Master, Connor has a pair of blades having re-established the Colonial Brotherhood, but Kassandra has just one at her disposal. Flicking your wrist to deploy those blades is never going to get old. There are more easter eggs for longtime fans, and not just in weapon choice, but those are for you to uncover over the course of the 15 or so hours it’ll take to roll credits on Nexus.
If there is one element where you could call Nexus weak, it is in the combat pillar. Enemies are happy to take their turn attacking you one at a time, and always in easily-predicted and highly-telegraphed patterns. Even the tutorial repeats the pattern three times. That isn’t to say there isn’t danger – when enemies are flanked by archers and foes can attack you from behind at a moment’s notice you’ll need to be fast on your turns to ensure you don’t end up dead and reloading your last synchronization point.
One aspect of Nexus that I have to point out could use more work is optimization. While it never dipped to the point of nausea, the framerate is highly inconsistent. The Quest 3, as powerful as it is, just isn’t up to the task. The Quest 2 fares about as well, even with its reduced graphical fidelity. If I had to venture a guess, the dips are into the 60s. I can’t be sure, but it is highly visible. Every time it’d hitch, I just wish I was playing the game on PSVR2 or PCVR. I’m hoping that further optimization patching post launch will help iron things out, but I have my doubts.
Ultimately Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR delivers precisely what I wanted out of a virtual reality version of the venerable series – a first person game about high flying assassins and impossible hay jumps. The team has done a fantastic job delivering precisely that, and I’m hoping it’s not forever locked to Meta’s platform – this is a game everyone should have the chance to experience.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
Assassin's Creed Nexus VR
A showcase of what’s possible in VR, Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR delivers a completely unique foray into the world of Templars and Assassins, but in a first person perspective, and frankly, there’s nothing quite like it. While the Quest 3 isn’t up to the task, making for some wobbly frame rates, the game is thankfully a nausea-free experience you’ll want to experience.