The long-running Assassin’s Creed video game industrial complex has finally reached Japan – and I’ve been waiting. Assassin’s Creed Shadows is set in feudal Japan, in the late 16th century, to be precise, at a time of political upheaval that birthed the ninja. While I didn’t get to play Shadows, at Summer Game Fest 2024, Ubisoft offered a hands-off gameplay demo, revealing how the game will play with two different but equal protagonists.

If you missed the initial reveal, Shadows’ protagonists are Yasuke, a powerful outsider samurai who can strike the armor off enemies, and Naoe, an assassin/ninja with a killer “sickle on-chain” kusarigama and those traditional AC killing methods — she has a wrist blade.

Instead of choosing a single character to play the entire game, you can switch between the characters for assassination runs and exploration segments. I prefer my assassinations stealthy, so I was surprised by how intrigued I was with the beastly Yasuke.

Yasuke is based on a historical figure: An African man who served as a retainer to the Japanese lord Oda Nobunaga for roughly a year. Naturally, this is Assasin’s Creed, so the team has taken some liberties with historical fact. Here, he plays the part of an outsider, a foreign-born samurai walking a path of honor. He’s also a powerhouse. What he lacks in parkour elegance and dive drops, he makes up in having the power to cut down powerful enemies, charge through doors and enemies and scare the crap out of locals. As Yasuke walked through a village in the demo, villagers rushed to get out of the towering samurai’s way, bowing respectfully at the side, while children just gawped, frozen still.

As the duo fight to end the corruption rife in Japan, they’ll learn hints and tips on where to find their next assassination target. These will narrow down where you need to search. Once you’ve identified where they are, the characters can then task NPC recruits to hoedown exactly where, although this mechanic wasn’t explained in any detail.

Later in the demo, Yasuke cuts down some abusive guards and goes head-to-head with another samurai, and I got a deeper look into how Yasuke fights. He’ll have a range of weapons, and this time, he was swinging a hulking club, cracking skulls and armor alike.

After Yasuke wins his duel with the samurai opponent – with swords – he’s joined by the other main character, Naoe, the assassin. She moves like an assassin, vaulting up walls and kicking off surfaces before launching her grappling hook into roof awnings directly above her. Like the most recent AC entries, she can utilize Eagle vision for a better view of enemies and obstacles. A new addition in Shadows is the ability to kill light sources like lanterns and fires, so Naoe can easily get up close and assassinate. She’s not the only one with upgrades – I also saw Yasuke wielding a musket-style single-use gun during the demo too.

The game is very pretty, too. I say this as a huge fan of the style of Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima. Ubisoft’s take is a more detailed one: there are more people simply living in this feudal Japan. The shifting seasons and weather make for even richer environments, too. In a later assassination attempt during the demo, Naoe had her infiltration interrupted by a torrential downpour. I’m not sure yet whether this will affect visibility dynamics, but hopefully, it will have some effect on how you play Shadows.

I’m intrigued. I’ve long carried a torch for the cult ninja series Tenchu. It offered its own takedown animations (in PS1 graphical glory), grapple hooks and stealth gameplay. It also offered two different characters: a speedy kunoichi assassin and a powerhouse ninja with samurai moves. Doesn’t that sound a little familiar?

Assassin’s Creed Shadows will land on November 15, coming to PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac and iPad.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest 2024 right here!

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