Unleashing the Shadows: The FORCE of History and Combat in Assassin’s Creed Shadows

For many years now, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been a time machine for gamers to hop through history’s portholes, slicing through centuries and civilisations with the skill and finesse of a Hidden Blade. And with its latest instalment, Assassin’s Creed Shadows, it promises to do that, whisking players into the past in the same breath as it also ups the ante on its blistering combat. As Ubisoft prepares to beam us into feudal Japan, history, fiction, stealth and violence, and the consideration of an ancient cultural setting have never looked as tantalising.

The Dual FORCES of Naoe and Yasuke

The clean, downward slices and whirling dance of Assassin’s Creed combat philosophy are embodied in two protagonists, played out against the verdant scenery and feudal order of Japan. A hands-off demo of around 30 minutes of gameplay from Assassin’s Creed Shadows showed off the twin-stick personas of Naoe and Yasuke – the shadow and storm, respectively – each with their own approach to combat. Their bellicose style both reflects the game’s story and gives the player choices in how to play by dressing up the historical playground.

Yasuke: Unbridled FORCE and Masterful Swordsmanship

It’s in a world under the boot of a shogunate that’s every bit as ruthless as it is corrupt, an unforgiving caste system, and Yasuke is a symbol of both hope and, well, a lot of power. The demo placed him teetering on the brink of town, ready to burst in and make a point with sheer muscle. That muscle forms the basis of a swordplay style in which Yasuke will have you chopping through enemies with more of what you’d best call the force of nature. That is to say, confrontations are perhaps the most straightforward they’ve ever been. Yasuke is committed to this approach even when you’re facing hoards of enemies, transitioning into a melee of finishing blows that scenes from samurai cinema might be proud to showcase.

Naoe: The Stealthy FORCE in the Shadows

Where Yasuke is direct with his actions, Naoe is the stealthy, secretive, strategic component to combat that the Assassin’s Creed series perfected over decades of refining its mechanics. Her arsenal includes the Hidden Blade, the iconic one-handed hidden knife, and throwable kunai, as well as a chained blade. The player is encouraged to move through and disguise themselves in the environments, evoking the early stealth gameplay of the franchise and indeed stealth games at their very beginnings.

Fusion of FORCES: Gameplay Dynamics and Combat Options

What is most fascinating about the gameplay demo of AC Shadows is the interplay of brute force and stealth in how players can choose to play the mission, which tasks them with infiltrating a daimyo’s Fukuchiyama Castle and assassinating him. The mission is entirely playable with both protagonists, and each approaches the same set of game obstacles from very different perspectives. Yasuke is all about brute force – he smashes through enemies, killing dozens of opponents with his sword alone, and punctuates those melee attacks with the occasional rifle shot when the need calls for it. Naoe, by contrast, is all about calculated planning – using her environment and tools to attack from stealth.

The Art of Combining FORCE and Stealth

Assassin’s Creed Shadows appears to mark the first step in a bold new direction for how it will treat the ambivalent status of its playable protagonists. It is one that challenges players to blend and switch between combat styles, without offering any hints of an easy-out – a combination that is genuinely surprising, and equally authentic to the characters and evocative of its time period. The thoughtful implementation of blended force and stealth should keep combat encounters genuinely fresh, offering up situations where unleashing pure melee could save the player from extremely tense “stealth run” situations, or even demanding thoughtful micro-strategy at the same time as break-neck action.

The FORCE Behind the Historical Fiction

Ubisoft’s creative decision to set Assassin’s Creed Shadows in a historically rich period of Japanese history, and one that is still relatively under-served by the video-game medium, is driven as much by literary license as it is by historical depth. By contrasting the shadowy but real life of Yasuke with the fictional stealthy assassin Naoe, the game showcases its ambition to blur the line between history and fiction in both narrative and gameplay mechanics, creating a playground for Eastern myth to co-exist with the brute, robust force of the samurai, and the lethal finesse of the shinobi.

Explaining the FORCE in Assassin's Creed Shadows

More than any other game, this Assassin’s Creed entry probes the idea of force not just as a component of its combat mechanics, but as an underlying narrative and thematic force. Whether as the irresistible force of Yasuke or as the inaudible force of Naoe, force – physical, moral or social – is the foundational power in the world. As players prepare to enter this dreamlike state of history, stealth and action, the disparate applications of force remind the player of the stakes, and of the revolution bubbling up from under the seams of 16th-century Japan.

And as Assassin’s Creed Shadows ramps up for its release on 12 November this year, it’s never been more ripe for the picking: blending historical intrigue with bombastic gameplay, Ubisoft’s latest is set to deliver a fresh dose of time-travelling force, both in the heat of combat and in its coupling with its story-core.

Jun 11, 2024
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