Assassin’s Creed Shadows interview: dragon mounts and Splinter Cell-style stealth

Associate game director says Ubisoft is finally doing feudal Japan justice
Yasuke and Naoe, Assassin's Creed Shadows' dual protagonists
Yasuke and Naoe, Assassin's Creed Shadows' dual protagonists / Ubisoft

After over a decade of fan demand, Ubisoft is doing it. It’s setting an Assassin’s Creed game in feudal Japan. So, why now?

As Assassin’s Creed Shadows’ associate game director Simon Lemay-Comtois tells us, the technology to do it justice didn’t exist before. After a thrilling behind-closed-doors presentation of Assassin’s Creed Shadows, we sat down with Lemay-Comtois to talk about the incredible world detail, Splinter Cell-like stealth, and surprisingly different playable characters.

GLHF: It’s a really interesting setting, and fans have been asking for this setting for like a decade. So why has it taken this long, and why do you want to set this game here now? 

Simon Lemay-Comtois: Why it has taken this long, I don’t know. There are multiple teams working on multiple ideas, and everyone kind of pursues what interests them. I guess, in terms of settings, a couple of developers at Ubisoft have been pushing for Japan. 

This time around, it worked out. I’m glad we made it, though, because, with the tech that we have now, we can actually render Japan in a way that is magical to the eyes, which we couldn’t do back on PS4 and those platforms. So you know it worked out. We’ve been wanting to make it, and now we get to make it the best way we could, and I’m happy with it, Honestly. 

The two characters are very different, vastly different. How hard was it to balance the two characters? 

It’s not that hard because I’ll give you an example. Yasuke is combat-oriented, so his deal is that he can destroy armor quite rapidly. And Naoe does not have the same kind of abilities to break armor and destroy. But when you use her in stealth, which is what her primary gameplay style is, she bypasses armor by stabbing in the neck, in the armpits, behind the knees, stuff like that. 

So when you play her in her element, she has a different balance and goes for different things than Yasuke does in fights. And when she’s stuck in a fight, then she doesn’t have the same amount of damage she can deal, so it takes longer for her to be able to go through a fight. 

Yasuka and Naoe from Assassin's Creed Shadows, standing side by side
Yasuke and Naoe play quite differently. / Ubisoft

And do you think players will be split 50/50 between them? 

I hope they are, but we know some players are going to be 80/20, maybe up to 95/5. That could happen. I think it’s fine, but the best way to experience Assassin’s Creed Shadows for me is to switch it up and see the matrix with one character. When you hit a wall, you go, ‘Let me freshen up,’ and then you see completely differently how you can tackle the same situation, and that’s a refreshing thing that you can do over and over. 

I’m interested in Yasuke, what’s his parkour like? Can he actually climb up rooftops? 

Yes, to a degree. He doesn’t have the same reach as Naoe. He doesn’t run up the wall, so he needs hand grips that are much lower than Naoe. Naoe can run and grab something and keep running. 

Yasuke has to essentially do a pull-up and a muscle-up on the edge of a roof. OK, so he can do some parkour, but he needs crates, and stuff on the way to kind of give him a step up so he can reach a roof. Once he’s on the roof, he is much slower. He’s more like ‘Oh no, no, no.’ If you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed, try doing a leap of faith with Yasuke and see what happens. 

Is he louder? 

Yes, very much. So he can crouch, he can go prone, he can run just like Naoe, but he’s a little bit slower and he makes a ton of noise when you do it as well. So, as he walked through the town, we could see people turning around. It’s based on the sound he makes, so they first turn around because of the sound, and then they realize it’s Yasuke, so they react. When you tackle a castle, and you run through, even if you go prone in grass, they might still hear you because he’s very heavy and full of plates. 

The map, is it separated by level?

If you go to places it’s going to be really difficult at first. You have to level up. There are some places that are much harder than others and it’s kind of dispersed around the map. But yes, there is endgame content that you should progress to, to be able to tackle this part. 

And what’s the max level? 

I don’t think I know that number, honestly. We tend to raise them with DLCs as well, but I don’t know. 

How big is the map compared to Valhalla? 

It’s smaller than Valhalla. The map that we have at launch is only the one map as well, so it’s closer to Origins, I would say. The landscape of Japan is full of mountains as well, so there are big mountains that you can venture into, but there’s not much for you to do. It’s very steep, very dense with forest, so much of the content is in the valleys of Japan.

Assassin's Creed Shadows screenshot
Shadows' map will be about as large as that of Origins. / Ubisoft

I bet there’s a nice eagle point at the top of a mountain somewhere.


Some of the stealth moves reminded me of Splinter Cell, like the wall-stabbing from Chaos Theory and the hiding in the ceiling. Was that an inspiration, Splinter Cell? 

Maybe, maybe not. I’m a stealth player, so there are things that make sense. Being able to vanish quickly, we only showed a couple things that now we can do. There’s more things that you can use to just quickly vanish. So, yeah, it’s reminiscent of Splinter Cell. I would grant you that, it makes sense in the context and with other setups we have different objects and things that you can use to vanish. 

Can you detail the light and shadow mechanic a bit more? We saw them snuff out a candle. How much do you lean into the light and shadow? 

A lot, I would say, especially in interiors at night. So big castles, big temples, and stuff like that are lit artificially at night, and we have a much darker threshold of darkness for Assassin’s Creed shadows. At night it’s dark. So, you know, NPCs cannot see as well as they can during the day, especially if there are no artificial lights there. 

So, with this, when the moon is running around the sky, the shadows shift. All of these shadows are available for you to hide into if you want. So if you have a full moon in a courtyard and there are no shadows for you, then you can’t. But as soon as it’s slanted a little bit and you have a projected shadow along a wall, you can actually sneak through there and no one sees you inside. 

It’s a very dynamic thing for exterior and interior. It relies on pools of light created by lanterns and those little fire pits in interiors.

Naoe from Assassin's Creed Shadows
Naoe can put out candles to remain hidden from enemies. / Ubisoft

If you snuff out all the candles and it’s completely pitch black, how do you see where you’re going? 

By squinting. So, the threshold is dark, but we ensure that the player can still see to a degree. With the eagle vision that Naoe has, you can actually highlight everything. It’s almost like a little bit of night vision. So the brightness is increased, and the enemies pop in red. So, with Naoe, it’s much easier to do this than with Yasuke. It’s a challenge, it’s not his element. So being in the dark is not necessarily an advantage for him. But you can try and deal with it if you’re looking for a stealth spin. 

It was surprisingly gory, like the decapitations, you could get coated in blood. How vital is that to the assassin’s fantasy?

I think it’s not an assassin thing, it’s a Japan thing in our case. So looking at death was a day-to-day occurrence in that period, and the way most people died in Japan during that time is clean decapitations. 

So we didn’t want to shy away from it, although you can turn off the violence if you want. There’s options for it. You can turn off the blood, you can turn off the dismemberment and stuff. So it’s more trying to be faithful to the war aspect of Japan at that period. Death was a common thing and decapitation was not a strange sight in Japan. 

Assassin’s Creed games are always historically accurate but they have cool mythological elements. Can you tease a mythological element? Is there a supernatural mount in the game? 

We do have mounts coming up, quite fantastical, like dragons made out of fire and stuff like that. So this is more of the ‘do you want to expand the visual of the game?’ It’s not part of the canon of the game. We’re not saying there were dragon mounts in feudal Japan. 

Does it breathe fire? 

It’s got antennas made out of fire, the feet put fire on the ground, and the tail. There’s fire everywhere. It’s a cool dragon. 

Griff Griffin


Griff Griffin is a writer and YouTube content creator based in London, UK.