It's a concept both straightforward and yet seemingly non-sensical: the experience of fully-fledged Assassin's Creed epic shrunk down to become a free-to-play experience on a mobile phone. But after hands-on time with Assassin's Creed Jade (now its final title, without the "Codename" moniker) today at Gamescom, I came away surprisingly impressed.
Jade is still in closed beta testing, with cut-scenes still missing and feedback from its first player test still to be implemented (more on that later). But as a smartly-made smartphone translation of Ubisoft's blockbuster franchise, it importantly feels like it ticks all the boxes.
As with other smartphone blockbusters like Genshin Impact, Jade is planned to be released for free with story content and further areas of the game added every three months - again, without charge. Optional cosmetics will be provided that you can buy with real-world money, however.
And here's a surprise - while Jade is centred on third century Ancient China, you'll also travel to other lands, including Ancient Greece, where you'll meet fan-favourite series protagonist Kassandra (a character able to pop up almost anywhere throughout the franchise's 2000-odd year timeline).
Movement feels familiar, with full control of your custom character protagonist and the ability to go anywhere and climb anything. Climbing is an on-screen button prompt, as is the all-important ability to assassinate. All the other usual abilities are present too - crouching to avoid an enemy's sightlines, taking cover in bushes and haystacks, whistling to attract attention, and the ability to launch light and heavy attacks while in combat.
I still would have preferred a controller, but that perhaps spoke to the fully-fledged experience on offer, backed up by impressive mobile visuals and a draw distance that offered a vast look across to the horizon when synchronising viewpoints.
My time with the game was limited, and largely focused on running through a set of linear story missions. But off the beaten track I could also forage for materials, and ride a mount through Jade's opening autumnal landscape.
The game's second closed beta test is coming soon, executive producer Andrei Chan told me today, with a new chapter of story and a new region. Feedback from the first closed beta is also being included, such as a reworking of the game's dialogue so it includes more Chinese influences, as its current American language prompted a poor response.
"We want to be very respectful of Chinese history and culture, while remaining honest to the freedom of the Assassin's Creed world," Chan said. Expect to see locations such as the Great Wall and most historical elements represented as expected, with a few exceptions for some leaders who died in mysterious circumstances, now ascribed to the series' proto-Assassins.
Jade's story sees your player character called to action alongside a couple of friends whose relationships will be key throughout the game's ongoing tale, which has been developed in close collaboration with the franchise masterminds back in Canada and France. Opening missions saw the game's trio of friends larking around, having races across rooftops. I'm sure tragedy isn't too far behind.
"In China there is a certain archetype of a chivalrous wandering hero - a wuxia - and it's a genre, often about a martial arts hero protecting the innocent, fighting injustice, often with a revenge plot," Chan concluded, when asked why its setting was perfect for Assassin's Creed. "Wuxia is very popular in China and it's also about freedom. Wuxia is about being free, and this is very close to the Assassins vs Templars - and our story is about wuxia and the Qin dynasty empire which was about order. So it's still the same dichotomy."
Assassin's Creed Jade still lacks a full release date, but is expected sometime in 2024 for iPhone and Android devices.