Shrinking the MAP, Expanding the Adventure: Why Assassin's Creed Shadows is Set to Thrill

As a pillar of gaming history and a series dedicated to immersive, sprawling historical environments, the Assassin’s Creed games have always been about “vast” open worlds. But as the series piled on the subtitles and the maps grew, the adjective became more “vastly” than “vast”, and size alone could not sustain the play experience and momentum of the series. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s absolutely enormous map might have been the last straw for some players. Now, Assassin’s Creed Shadows (out in May), which is being built by a completely different team, Ubisoft Quebec, promises adventure stripped down to its pure essence, where every move you make will feel intentional and exhilarating.

Compact Adventures Await in Assassin’s Creed Shadows

Assassin’s Creed Shadows is hewing a pathway to a smaller, but more purposeful and packed, game experience. In an interview with VGC this week, Simon Lemay Comtois, the associate game director at Ubisoft Quebec, revealed that Shadows would be scaling down the size that was shown off in Valhalla in order to go back to ‘Origins scale’. Reducing the amount of acreage would mean that, with each step, players are taking, there would be a purpose, a story beat and a discovery behind it.

A Move Towards the Mountains: Exploring the Geography of Shadows

Scale reduction is not the only way Shadows retains the signature mechanics of the game’s predecessors, though this strategy is so pervasive that it can be easy to overlook anything else. Consider the reconfiguration of the geographic cartography, or the geography, in which the playable characters operate. As Lemay Comtois pointed out, Sucker Punch departs from the geographic limitations of previous games and elevates the action to the mountainous landscapes of Japan. But in many ways, it’s precisely what’s secluded in between these mountains that matters. Closed off by the transcendent mountain ranges, the valleys of Sucker Punch’s vistas are the sites of the game’s most compelling puzzles and mysteries. The decision to place most of the action in mountainous terrains and secluded valleys emphasises Ubisoft’s intent to make inhabiting every inch of the game’s world meaningful.

Why a Smaller Map in Assassin’s Creed Shadows is a Bigger Deal

So it felt risky to choose to zoom in on central Japan, and to place key sites such as Kyoto, Osaka and Azuchi in a network of valleys and landscapes so that players could experience a believable, real-world journey between these nodes. The trick was to find a careful balance between plausibility and playability.

Feudal Japan: The Perfect Setting for an Assassin’s Creed Tale

In an upcoming behind-closed-doors presentation for the media, Ubisoft exhibited Shadows’ Feudal Japan milieu in all its technicolour glory, doubling down on how the series’ penchant for adventure will still be part of an essentially accurate recreation of an important time period. Only assassination. And where better than in a time and region wracked with intrigue and conflict?

Looking Ahead: Assassin's Creed Shadows and Beyond

Released 15 November for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC, Assassin’s Creed Shadows embodies one of the innovative principles behind Ubisoft’s new design philosophy: to refine, not expand, the player’s experience. Creating ‘an immediate world where every path, every valley, echoes with the weight of history and the calling of adventure’ – that’s the challenge facing Ubisoft Quebec as it begins to reinvent the series.

Why Every Move Matters in Assassin’s Creed Shadows

Ubisoft Quebec’s vision for Assassin’s Creed Shadows is a courageous, yet necessary reexamination of what gives open-world games their power. By reducing scope to focus on one dense, narrative drama, each decision that the player makes is another step into a compelling work of historical fiction – a reminder that the strength of Assassin’s Creed has never come from the size of the map, but the size of the stories told on them.

With an eye on Feudal Japan’s broad appeal, and by accentuating the playable world’s geographical differences, Assassin’s Creed Shadows promises to offer a kind of epic of miniaturisation, a ‘tale of condensed grandeur’ in which story, exploration and strategy all come together in a package that’s as memorable as it is compact. By opting to ‘move’ into a smaller world, Ubisoft might well have developed a game that changes expectations of the franchise for the long term, and in so doing shown us all that, sometimes, less really is more.

Jun 13, 2024
<< Go Back