Assassin's Creed Shadows protagonist

Assassin’s Creed Shadows Preview: Yes, You Can Pet The Dog

Oh, there are also guns. And grappling hooks. And you can decapitate your enemies. Yeah, if it wasn’t obvious already, let’s just get it out of the way: Assassin’s Creed Shadows is a bit bonkers.

And to be clear, that’s not a bad thing. Ubisoft’s flagship franchise is nearly 20 years old at this point, and while it’s certainly showing no signs of slowing down, one could argue that the series could use a bit of a shakeup. While stealth and free-running play first fiddle in the vast majority of Assassin’s Creed titles, recent entries like Odyssey and Valhalla have gone the opposite direction, putting an emphasis on combat and exploration and stripping away the core mechanics that helped put Assassin’s Creed on the map all those years ago.

Assassin’s Creed Shadows looks to offer up the best of both worlds, and it’s pulling this off by revisiting the idea of having two protagonists. This time around, however, these aren’t simply reskins of the same character. Instead, Shadows puts players in the shoes (boots? I’ll be honest, I don’t know what samurai and shinobi wear) of Naoe, a female ninja who is trying to find her place in a rapidly evolving world, and Yusuke, a foreign-born samurai warrior who is simultaneously accepted and isolated in his new surroundings.

Assassin’s Creed Shadows not always online

While I didn’t get a chance to go hands-on with Shadows, a few developers from Ubisoft Quebec walked us through the same section of gameplay to really hammer home just how different these two characters feel. Starting with Yusuke, it only took a few seconds to see how differently he is perceived by others. Shortly after arriving in the bustling castle town of Fukuchiyama, he’s met with an equal mix of reverence and fear; some townsfolk might bow in his presence, while others cower away in fear. Of course, it only took a minute or two before Yusuke found himself in combat with a few corrupt samurai, and this is when Assassin’s Creed Shadow’s brutality comes to light.

I won’t beat around the bush –– Yusuke hits like a tank, and the developers have not tried to downplay the gore. Starting out with his kanabo (translation: giant, two-handed war club), Yusuke quickly laid waste to his fellow samurai, with a few heads literally rolling on the ground by the end of it (I also caught a glimpse of a nearby oblivious NPC accidentally catching a devastating swing directly to his face, though as he flew off screen, I wasn’t sure if this was intended or not). All of this power does, as you’d expect, come with its own tradeoffs. Yusuke is a noticeably slow fighter, and while switching to his katana does speed him up a smidgen, he’s nowhere near as graceful or fluid as Ghost of Tsushima’s Jin.

And that’s where Naoe comes in. When infiltrating the town’s castle to assassinate a corrupt daimyo (read: Feudal Japan-era lord), she can make full use of the abilities you’ve come to associate with the series. As a nimble and light ninja, Naoe can hop across rooftops, scale walls, and use her grappling hook for both non-lethal takedowns and hiding on ceilings. She also has a few weapons to complement her hidden blade (the kusarigama, in particular, is a favorite of mine), and she has a few new stealth moves of her own, including crawling through shallow water while remaining hidden, complete with breathing through a bamboo reed.

On the second play-through of this same mission, I got to see how playing as Yusuke would unfold. True to his hulking size, Yusuke cannot hop from rooftop to rooftop or parkour his way to success, instead opting to systematically walk through the castle’s interior grounds, decimating anyone who comes in his way, whether it be with his trusty war club or his slightly-more-modern rifle. Oh yes, there are guns in this game, I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that earlier.

And it’s this dichotomy that has piqued our interest in Assassin’s Creed Shadows. The franchise has previously explored swapping out stealth and free-running in favor of more direct combat, but it’s never tried to include both of these distinct playstyles into one cohesive experience. And yes, while this is accomplished by simply giving the player the option to swap between Yusuke and Naoe, the world Ubisoft Quebec has crafted looks to take both of these playstyles into account. Where Naoe would silently climb over a locked gate, Yusuke would barrel right through it. When she decides to pick off enemies from afar with her trusty kunai, he opts to beat them to a bloody pulp, sending their bodies (and, sometimes, heads) flying through the air.

It’s not entirely clear whether Assassin’s Creed Shadows will succeed in having its cake and eating it too, but it certainly looks like Ubisoft might pull it off, and I can’t wait to determine that for myself when the game launches on November 15.