I watched the same mission play out in Assassin's Creed Shadows in two very different ways and now I can't stop thinking about the possibilities

Assassin's Creed Shadows
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

As I watch a mission unfold for a second time in Assassin's Creed Shadows, it's never more apparent that the upcoming adventure set in Feudal Japan puts the freedom to choose our approach at the forefront. With the goal of assassinating a daiymo in a castle, I at first get to see shinobi protagonist Naoe's stealthy path to complete the objective. Using a grappling hook to silently swing into the complex with ease, she utilizes the shadows to hide from foes, throws a Shuriken to snuff out a light to cloak her presence, and has the signature Eagle Vision ability to keep tabs on the location of nearby enemies. When she chances upon an innocent bystander who happens to notice her, Naoe is able to use her grappling hook to perform a non-lethal takedown to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Once the quarry is in sight, she goes fully prone through a shallow pond and uses a bamboo stick to breathe, before delivering a stylish killing hidden blade blow. 

Switching over to Yasuke, it's an entirely different story. Since he can't parkour across rooftops like Naoe, he instead rocks right up to the entrance and smashes his way through the gate in broad daylight. The Samurai's imposing presence is on full display and everyone knows he's here. Landing hits with a sizable war hammer, Yasuke is a true force to be reckoned with, and it's not long before the same quarry is taken out - albeit in a less subtle fashion at the end of a Katana blade. The contrast between the pair is immediately obvious, with both offering different ways to tackle the same overall goal. Who you play and how you play in Assassin's Creed Shadows is ultimately left up to you. 

"If you want to be only one character, you can for most of the game," associate director Simon Lemay-Comtois says in an interview with GamesRadar+. "So we're not really strong-arming anyone to switch back and forth. There are setups that are definitely better with Naoe, such as, if there's a bunch of bandits in a cavern that is very, very dark, sure you can go with Yasuke, but if you go with Naoe, it'll be quicker because it's in the dark. So there are some hints like this, but other than story missions that are particularly tailor made for one or the other, we don't specify who needs to be played at this moment, it's up to the players." 


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Geared up

Assassin's Creed Shadows

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

The approaches don't just boil down to stealth for Naoe and action for Yasuke, though. During my hands-off demo, I see how both characters offer up multiple approaches themselves thanks to their unique arsenal of melee and ranged. As Lemay-Comtois says, the weapons feed into making both protagonists more distinguishable, and "the size difference between our two characters ensures that there's no gear that can be shared between the two." 

In one instance, Naoe mixes up her approach with a blend of action and stealth, using a throwable weapon to take out a guard one minute, and swinging her chained Kusarigama weapon at multiple enemies in combat the next. Likewise, Yasuke is kitted out with an array of Samurai weapons, from a ranged Teppo rifle that will draw attention with a bang, to his Katana that allows for close-quarters duels, along with the mighty war club that brutally smackdowns enemies and in some cases even sends them flying. Just from this showing alone, I'm already excited to discover how I can chop and change my approach throughout Shadows to see how different it will make missions and the overall experience feel. 

Weathering the storm  

Assassin's Creed Shadows

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

But my excitement extends to more than just the dual protagonist setup. The off-hands demo begins with a moment of calm. Yasuke arrives in Fukuchiyama, and steadily makes his way through some fields on horseback before he dismounts and draws the attention of the locals. As a well-known figure, his reputation precedes him and villagers are quick to bow out of respect or quickly get out of his way. The entire scene showcases just how beautiful and alive Ubisoft's take on Feudal Japan looks, but it also demonstrates that Yasuke is set to bring us into the setting from the unique perspective of an outsider. 

The cherry blossom trees that decorate the area immediately catch my eye, as does the light rain that falls down on Yasuke as he explores. Lemay-Comtois, who guides us through the session, explains that Assassin's Creed Shadows features a dynamic weather system with seasons that mark the passage of time throughout the adventure. As well as making the world feel more detailed and alive, the weather conditions can also present unique opportunities for both Naoe and Yasuke during missions. We see first-hand how Naoe uses a storm that's brewing to her advantage, with the gray clouds offering more cover as she tries to reach her assassination target. 

"It was a couple of programmers who said, 'we want to try something really, really cool, and we won't tell you what it is until it's ready'," Lemay-Comtois says of the dynamic weather system. "And then they showed it to us, and we were like, 'yes, we're going to use that, and we're going to inject gameplay into it'. So that's a technological leap - we wanted to do this for many, many games, and couldn't. Now we have the computing power, so let's try it, and now it's a fully realized, fully simulated weather [system]."  

Lighting also plays an important role, with the team trying to "push stealth forward" by ensuring that "the sun and the moon cast shadows that are usable for the player". While Yasuke doesn't have the agility or small stature of Naoe - who's said to be the smallest assassin in any Assassin's Creed game so far - Lemay-Comtois says that if you really try, he can use a little bit of stealth and make use of the shadows, too. 


Assassin's Creed Shadows

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

"We ourselves wanted to push the exploration to be more engaging to the player"

Simon Lemay-Comtois

I only got to see a snippet of what's in store for us in Assassin's Creed Shadows, but it already appears to be putting a different spin on what's come before while still feeling very AC. I love the way the dual protagonists will let us decide how we want to experience assassination missions, but they still embody the hallmarks of the series - bringing together the action we've seen in RPG entries like Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Assassin's Creed Odyssey, with the stealth focus of earlier games and Assassin's Creed Mirage.

The team is also trying to do things differently to encourage exploration, with investigative quests. As you go about a mission, you'll learn more information about your target that you'll have to piece together in order to locate them. As Lemay-Comtois explains, this has been done to try to make your time in the world feel more purposeful: 

"Early on, we decided to break the rules as much as we could on the conception of Assassin's Creed Shadows," Lemay-Comtois says. "So we tried to go and change the formula as much as we could. That's one of the places where we've heard the criticism, we ourselves wanted to push the exploration to be more engaging to the player, to want to discover things rather than just sinking into something and being fed information. So it's something new that we try to work into the game. And since it's working, we kind of built it throughout all the quests and the missions that you can do in the game. Now, I will say there is still a guided mode that players can opt into, which is more classic. It will tell you where to go and stuff like that, but the basic mode, our new exploration loop, is more about playing Sherlock Holmes a little bit and having to work for the reward at the end." 

I was already excited about the concept for Assassin's Creed Shadows, but now that I've seen it in action for the first time, I'm itching to get stuck in and play around with both characters. Plus, if you're anything like me, you'll be happy to hear that you can pet a Shiba Inu and even encounter puppies. Yes, really. Puppies. Lemay-Comtois teases that "there might be more animals than dogs and cats to pet in Assassin's Creed Shadows" - I can't wait to step into the world and discover them for myself when the game releases on November 15.   

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.