With Assassin’s Creed Rogue, the last-gen-exclusive half of this year’s two-part Assassin’s Creed series offering, Ubisoft is finally proving it’s willing to well and truly shake things up. It’s obvious that the Assassin’s Creed IP has grown a bit stale over the years, an unfortunate side effect of Ubisoft’s insistence on annualizing the franchise. Rogue, however, pulls the double duty of featuring yet another original historic setting and, for the first time ever, starring a Templar-aligned protagonist. But how well do Rogue’s ambitious new story and gameplay concepts translate into a genuinely fun experience?
In many ways, Rogue feels like a standard Assassin’s Creed experience that has had a lot of the fat trimmed off of it. The main story campaign is about half as long as that of a typical entry in the series (though it is still quite lengthy), there is absolutely no multiplayer component, and almost all of the core gameplay systems are borrowed from past games in the franchise. This can be either a good or bad thing depending on how you already feel about the series. If you enjoyed recent entries like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Rogue should suit you just fine. If, however, you have long since grown tired of the series’ poorly-implemented stealth mechanics and sometimes frustrating navigation systems, well…Rogue sadly proves that some of Ubisoft’s habits are hard to break.
Rogue’s shortcomings are certainly worth dealing with though if you’re a fan of the overarching Assassin’s Creed story. The game is set shortly before the start of the French and Indian War which pitted the settlers of the thirteen British-American colonies against the French and their Indian allies. Players take on the role of Shay Patrick Cormac, a young Assassin recruit who soon grows disillusioned with the Assassin’s methods and eventually joins their enemies, the Templar Order. Utilizing both unique weaponry and Templar assets, Shay must undertake the difficult mission of hunting down his former Assassin brethren in order to stop them from enacting a plan that could potentially kill thousands of innocent people.
Shay shares the spotlight with both fellow newcomers as well as familiar faces such as younger versions of Assassin’s Creed III’s Achilles Davenport and Haytham Kenway as well as an older, wiser Adewale from Assassin’s Creed IV and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry. Players also get to explore familiar locales from Assassin’s Creed III such as the Davenport Homestead and colonial New York as well as brand new locations such as the city of Albany and the Appalachian River Valley. The wilderness areas from Assassin’s Creed III do not return but players do get to explore several different parts of the frigid North Atlantic including frozen caves and vast icy landscapes.
The ship navigation system from Assassin’s Creed IV also makes a return with Shay’s vessel, the Morrigan. Much like in Edward Kenway’s Caribbean adventure, players can engage in ship to ship combat, board enemy vessels, and even utilize fun new weapons such as ignitable oil slicks and a “Puckle Gun” which is basically a rudimentary machine gun. The Morrigan can be upgraded and customized much like the Jackdaw from ACIV and I highly recommend that players take some time to do so early on since some of Rogue’s later naval missions can prove to be quite difficult if you undertake them with just the basic cannons and fittings.
On-foot navigation and combat hasn’t been tweaked too much from the format used in ACIII and ACIV but some noticeable changes do show up here and there. Shay’s unique air rifle allows him to fire a variety of different darts and grenades silently, giving players plenty of strategic options for tackling both stealth and combat scenarios. Stealth sequences can still be a little hit or miss if you’re aiming for a perfect run but fortunately the number of mandatory stealth encounters included in the story campaign is relatively low.
Since Shay is fighting Assassins, it only makes sense that Rogue’s one new enemy type, the Stalker, can hide in bushes and air assassinate Shay if he isn’t careful. Players can turn the tables on Stalkers by using Eagle Vision along with specific tools such as firecracker grenades but Stalkers also tend to pop up during chase sequences or other loud encounters, turning them from an engaging new threat into a frustrating annoyance. I admire Ubisoft’s efforts to turn the tables on players who enjoy striking from the shadows but I feel the company may have gone a little overboard with the total amount of times players have to deal with this pesky new enemy.
If you liked the meta-story of playing as an Abstergo Entertainment employee in ACIV, you’ll be happy to hear that the same exact concept returns in Rogue. Snooping around the virtual Abstergo Entertainment offices is not only something you do as part of the game’s story, it’s essential for truly appreciating just how in-depth and interconnected the entire narrative of Assassin’s Creed really is. Accessing different computers and solving the puzzles that allow you to bypass their security walls unlocks both text and audio files that further flesh out the various characters of not only Rogue but past Assassin’s Creed games as well.
In addition to hunting down computers to hack and data pads to find, completionists will have plenty to keep them busy aside from Rogue’s main story. Side-activities such as Assassin interceptions, building renovations, and gang hideouts allow Shay to spread the Templar influence and collectibles such as sea shanties, Animus fragments, Viking sword pieces, and treasure chests will keep players exploring Rogue’s world long after they’ve beaten the main story. Naval missions and harpooning also both make a return and many of the aforementioned activities have cool bonus outfits for Shay as rewards so no matter what you’re into, Rogue most likely has you covered.
As for Shay himself, he’s a likeable enough protagonist. He definitely has more personality than ACIII’s Connor and isn’t as grating as ACIV’s Edward Kenway. His one annoying habit of constantly saying the phrase “I make my own luck” (seriously, he says it like three times within the span of five minutes at one point) isn’t enough to detract from his heartfelt portrayal as a man who must struggle with the idea of putting his personal beliefs over his loyalty to his friends.
Aside from the par-for-the-course stealth and navigation issues I mentioned above (Shay has a knack for getting stuck on weird pieces of geometry) and the somewhat annoying implementation of the Stalker enemies, the only other issues I had with Rogue were minor faults, things like clipping issues or weird graphical glitches. Some frugal fans might also find it hard to justify spending $60 on what is essentially a watered-down Assassin’s Creed experience in many regards but I’d say Ubisoft did an admirable job of justifying Rogue’s price tag.
Despite the minor gripes I had with its gameplay, I’d still say Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is an absolute must-play for longtime fans of the series. The game’s narrative offers players a fascinating look into how things are done on the other side of the Assassin/Templar conflict and it also contains plenty of callbacks fans of past games will get a kick out of. Plunking down the same amount of cash for Rogue as they would a more “traditional” Assassin’s Creed game might not seem like a good idea for more casual players (and rightly so). But if you absolutely have to know every little detail about the Assassin’s Creed fiction, or if the idea of getting to play as a Templar tickles your fancy, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue won’t disappoint.