Review code supplied by Ubisoft
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360 and PS3
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Playing Assassin’s Creed: Rogue after tackling the supreme beauty of Assassin’s Creed: Unity is, to the say the very least, somewhat jarring. While Unity’s gameplay is still clumsy in its own right it highlights Rogue’s as being even more so, a series attempting to stay alive by adding more and more mechanics to its structure.
Whereas Unity aims to reinvent the series by returning to the series roots Rogue is almost a greatest hits collection, packing together the best elements of what has become a bloated collection of mechanics into something incredibly familiar but pleasing to anyone who has enjoyed the games up to now . More than anything else with its sailing and narrative it’s a very direct sequel to Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed III, finishing up the American colonial storyline with one of the most interesting stories the series has seen to date. To put it simply this is a game for people who have enjoyed the gameplay up until, not for the people who have grown fatigued with the increasingly hard to ignore clumsiness.
This time around you play as Shay Patrick Cormac, an Irish Assassin who turns Templar, a twist that doesn’t qualify as a spoiler since it’s one of the key selling points of the game and a focal point of the trailers. Unlike his portrayal in the trailers, though, Shay isn’t just a brutal killer out for some sort of bloodthirsty revenge, rather he’s quite a joker, an easy-going lad that’s difficult not to like. He’s never as interesting as Ezio or Arno or in some ways Edward Kenway, but he’s an effective lead character nonetheless. Despite his easy-going nature from the very start of the game he’s more questioning of the Assassin order than previous series leads, gently prodding the Creed and the purpose of himself and his brothers and sisters. The developers smartly don’t rush Shay’s turn to the Templars, opting instead to spread it out across the first few hours of the game which you spend as an Assassin making for a far more interesting and organic tale. A tragic event resulting in the death of innocents is what sparks Shay’s abandonment of the Creed, but then it takes some more time for him to become a true Templar.
Though the series started off by portraying the Templars as nothing more than the moustache twirling baddies over the past few titles we’ve caught glimpses of the inner workings of the Templar order, portraying them in less of a black and white manner and more of the opposite side of the same coin. With Rogue we get a full turn-around, the Assassin’s painted as a questionable force within the world while Shay is taken in by Templars who genuinely want to help the people around them. Some of the writing is stilted and time skips can make it feel like things are being rushed more than they need to be, a feeling reinforced by the relatively short campaign, but for the most part the developers manage to weave a fine tale. Be warned it’s really aimed for existing series fans as the timeline of Rogue fits in between Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag and the game’s storyline would seem like nonsense.
Naturally Shay’s turn to the Templars brings him into conflict with the brothers and sisters of his previous life, a driving force behind the narrative that’s never given the true emotional heft it needs, especially toward the closing stages of the tale. Likewise the events leading to Shay’s turn don’t quite manage to have the impact they should, failing to completely sell his loss of faith in the Creed. Even the fine work the writers do with humanizing the Templars throughout the game manages to get somewhat damaged toward the end of the story with what I personally believe to be a poor plot decision. However, the ending itself great, an unexpected twist which neatly joins together Assassin’s Creed III, Black Flag, Rogue and Unity into an intertwined narrative.
The story, then, never does capitalise entirely on its own premise which is a real shame, yet it’s one fans of the series won’t want to miss because it creates a strong bond between three years of Assassin’s Creed narratives while telling an enjoyable story of its own that gives us further insight into the Templar order. With any luck Ubisoft will continue to introduce shades of grey into the Assassin/Templar conflict.
As for the modern-day side of things you’ll once again find yourself wondering around Abstergo Entertainment in first person, hacking into computers between Animus sessions in order to fill in some extra backstory. It successfully adds even more to the complex Assassin’s Creed lore, but doesn’t advance the existing narrative in any meaningful way, much the same as Unity.
Rogue is built on the standard template we’ve come to expect from the series at this point, not counting certain changes within Unity, which means leaping around rooftops and hiding in improbably thick patches of foliage so you can stab people in the neck. New additions are few and don’t alter the feel of the game much, but do serve to gently refine the experience, though never enough to consider the game refreshed. Indeed perhaps the single most gameplay affecting change to be found in Rogue is the inclusion of Stalkers, people with the ability to perform aerial assassinations, hide in haystacks and generally make life miserable for you, providing the chance to out-assassin the Assassins. To combat them you can tune into Eagle Vision while listening out for the telltale whispers that indicate a Stalker is nearby. Fail to spot them and Stalkers will pop out and stab you, dealing pretty hefty damage in the process. So that’s what that feels like.
Shay does get his hands on some new toys, though. A handy grenade launcher lets him hurl several times of grenade, while an air rifle delivers sleep darts, berserk darts and firecrackers at range. Again, it doesn’t change the way you play very much, but they’re nice enough additions to the armory, even if aiming grenades feels awkward. However, given Shay’s Templar association it would have been nice to see a more strongly altered playstyle, but it’s business as usual.
Aside from the story sailing the high seas is the greatest part of the game, following in the wake of Black Flag’s outstanding pirate fantasy. Shay commands the Morrigan, a ship with a shallower draft than Kenway’s vessel allowing you to venture down rivers as well. Naval combat is still absolutely brilliant. Your ship, though easier to maneuver, has a palpable sense of weight and positioning for the best broadsides is key to combat. There’s a sense of mayhem and chaos in battles between yourself and some of larger ships or multiple opponents that’s wonderful. From your view at the rear of the ship cannons crack, smoke fills the air and waves can be used as shields against incoming fire, though storms seem far less common than Black Flag. By looking to either side of your vessel you can aim a broadside with the left trigger and fire it with the right, while the A and B buttons can be used to control ship speed for tighter turns or quick dashes. For longer range skirmishes there’s the mortar as well, plus some forward facing cannons that work in tandem with a ram. No game has yet to match the feeling of unleashing hell as a captain in the same way that Black Flag, and now Rogue, has.
This time around you’ll sail not only in open water but also in tight areas and freezing oceans where icebergs can be destroyed to create waves that can damage small ships. The occasional blizzard also shows up, creating the perfect situation for an epic battle with a hulking Man ‘o’ War with limited visibility.
Aside from that changes to the naval combat are minimal. Chain shot has gone for some reason, but in its place you can leave a trail of fire behind your ship which is, let’s face it, sort of awesome. Enemies will now also occasionally try to board you, forcing you to fight them off quickly, and icebergs can be used as cover. Like the rest of the game Ubisoft have chosen not to tinker with the formula too much, and while that’s a little disappointing there’s still a whole lot of joy to be gotten from just sailing around, fighting other ships and visiting the many little settlements and forts scattered about.
The cold isn’t just limited to the oceans, though, giving rise to a decent level of environment variety. Not only will you get to explore quite lush areas but you’ll also see plenty of snow and ice too, creating a nice diversity in the places you’ll visit. It looks pretty nice, too. There’s bluriness to distant objects and obviously Rogue doesn’t even come close to either the graphical power of Unity, or the Xbox One version of Black Flag, for that matter, but it’s still a looker with some tasty vistas. A few animation tweaks has also helped make the parkour system seem just a touch smoother.
To upgrade the Morrigan with better weapons and armor you need resources such as metal wood and cloth, all of which can be gained by either looting warehouses , capturing settlements or boarding enemy ships, done by blasting the crap out of them until they are dead in the water before swinging aboard to finish the job. Although Shay is not a pirate like the savvy Edward Kenway swinging aboard a Man ‘o’ War and proceeding to slice through the crew fulfills the pirate fantasy in a way no other game really does. If successful you can opt to use the captured ship to repair the Morrigan, or send it to your private fleet for use in Naval Campaign mini-game or salvage it for some extra cash.
Outside of the main story there’s an extensive list of things to do like capturing forts and gang hideouts and even entre settlements, all of which serve as the most enjoyable of the side-missions available to you, acting as little sandboxes for you to get your stabby stabby on. Capturing settlements and forts or raiding supply chests grants you resources, cash and bonus income to be collected from the bank or your ship’s cabin. Money can be spent on renovating buildings within the many cities and settlements which in turn bumps up your income further. Like past titles, though, money is too easy to come buy and there’s never enough to actually do with it. The best swords and pistols won’t set you back much. Only he elite class upgrades for the Morrigan, which require blueprints as well, are expensive. However, upgrades seem almost superfluous as despite the game’s warnings to upgrade the Morrigan before continuing it’s actually quite easy to get through the game with minimal work on your ship. Elsewhere Assassination Contracts are now Assassination Interruptions where you have to defend a target by hunting and killing the Assassins.
And if that doesn’t interest you there’s several types of collectible that will reward you in different ways if you manage to grab them all, plus hunting challenges to take on, including harpooning. Like before animal skins can be used to upgrade Shay with slightly tougher armor or bigger ammo pouches. At the very top of the list is battling the Legendary ships which will require finding all the Elite level upgrade blueprints for your ship in order to stand a chance as the amount of sheer firepower at their disposal is immense.
Combat hasn’t changed even one iota, remaining incredibly easy to slice your way through rafts of enemies by parrying everything and occasionally tapping A to break their defense. It’s not so much a bad system as it is a boring one.
The same can be said of the game’s other core systems. Parkour is untouched, so while it is still fun to leap from tree to tree to rooftop by holding the right trigger before dropping on some poor bastards head from a great height there’s also a sense of stickiness and jerkiness to the movements. Neither have the missions changed very much, although Ubisoft seem to have finally grasped how distasteful people found the tailing missions and keep them to a minimum here. Therefore you’ll do the same things as always when progressing through the story, still cursing the lack of true stealth mechanics but whooping with delight when you successfully infiltrate a base and kill your target without ever getting caught. Plenty of aerial highways and thick bushes have been laid to at least make you feel somewhat sneaky.
Given how strictly Assassin’s Creed: Rogue sticks to the series template it’s not surprising that it has also retained many of the old flaws, happily flouting such annoyances as Shay becoming unresponsive for a few seconds while clambering or doing entirely the wrong thing as the parkour system has a brief panic attack. This problem, at least, is somewhat minimised by the frontier style towns and even large cities not have complex geometry within their architecture. There was also a variety of glitches I experienced including having to restart an early mission, Shay getting blue hair, freezing up for a few seconds, getting stuck in scenery and plenty of odd AI behavior. In fact to my surprise I personally encountered more glitches in Rogue than I did in Unity, but then I seem to have gotten very lucky with Unity thus far.
I find scoring Rogue tricky. It’s arguably just as good as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and I awarded that a serious 4.5/5 despite its problems and clearly struggling core mechanics, a score that on reflection was probably too high. The primary reason for such praise was the sublime naval combat which at the time was something of a revelation. Now with the second outing it naturally makes less of an impact and doesn’t distract from the rest of the mechanics as much.
Perhaps the biggest difference was simply the pirate theme. which clicked fantastically. Regardless while playing Rogue was a lot of fun, and in many ways a less frustrating experience than Unity, it has become incredibly hard to ignore its many limitations. It’s mostly a rehash of Black Flag but with a better story and some aspects of previous games incorporated more. Take that how you will.
+ Shay Cormac is a good character with a good story.
+ Battling a Man ‘o’ War!
+ Boarding a Man ‘o’ War!
– Everything that was wrong with the series previously.
– Story disappoints in some ways.
The Verdict: 3.5/5 – Good, bordering on great.
The ultimate safe sequel, Rogue is nonetheless a lot of fun for fans of the series.