Since 2007, over the course of six major releases and a handful of mobile and spin-off games, the Assassin’s Creed saga has been enthralling players.
For the uninitiated, these fictional historic action-adventures tell the tales of a centuries old conflict between the Templar order and the Assassin’s brotherhood.
Viewed in third-person, in each game, players control an assassin who, using exceptional climbing and free-running abilities, can deftly negotiate walls and rooftops. Whilst the favoured weapon of an assassin is a special concealed blade designed for a clean kill, encounters often result in bloody sword fights.
The action is predominantly set in the past, but the actual story in the modern day. Using a device called the Animus, players are experiencing genetic memories, originally from a descendant of the assassins called Desmond Miles and later from harvested DNA.
The over-arching story is somewhat peculiar, involving beings older than mankind and the artefacts that they created. This sci-fi/supernatural element is extended to the assassins themselves who can use an ability called eagle vision to identify persons or objects of interest.
This year sees the series take the leap into the new-gen with the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC release of Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Rather than just abandon their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 fans, on the same day as they launched Unity, Ubisoft also released Assassins Creed: Rogue for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
I’ve just completed the Assassin’s Creed: Rogue campaign story. With no deadline pressures, I took it at my own pace- I got side-tracked, explored, did a bit of piracy and liberated a few settlements.
Finishing the game took me the best part of thirty hours and I’m still only at 53% complete. Despite what you may have read, Rogue is a huge game and, apart from the lack of a multiplayer mode, it’s certainly a major release for the franchise.
Players take on the role of the assassin-come-Templar, Shay Patrick Cormac. The titular rogue, controlling Shay is a departure for the series, as he switches sides following the accidental destruction of Lisbon by the assassins in 1755.
Released only on the “old” consoles, Rogue borrows heavily from the last couple of Assassin’s Creed games. The use of a ship to get around, the naval and land combat, as well as the use of an ocean map of islands dotted with settlements will all be very familiar to fans.
Fans will recognise some of the locations, like the Homestead and New York City from Black Flag. And this makes perfect sense as Rogue is set between the events of Edward Kenway’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flack and those of the chronologically later Assassin’s Creed III with Conner Kenway.
At a higher level, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue closes out the franchise’s North American saga and, at it’s close, introduces us to the next chapter of the series, Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
Whilst I was hoping to see more of an ideological balance introduced into the series, with a Templar protagonist in Shay Cormac, I still felt that the Templars were being portrayed as the bad guys. This was a bit of a missed opportunity and a chance to really blur the edges of the over-arching Assassin’s Creed story.
Instead it seems that Shay is continuously being manipulated by the still very Machiavellian Templars. I would have like them to have been be portrayed in a better light than they are in the game, whilst having the assassin brotherhood shown to be a little darker (they ARE assassin’s for cripes sake).
Still, we are given a treat of a tale, with Shay coming across plenty of familiar characters, both from history and from the Assassin’s Creed saga; answering many questions left unanswered in the previous installments.
As usual, the story involves a race to find some precursor technology, this but this time it’s the Templars trying to stop the assassin’s from unwittingly destroying the world. This is a tale of betrayal and broken allegiances as Shay hunts down his former allies, who in turn are out to kill him.
It’s a solid plot, and one that seemed slightly more coherent to the usual interesting, but esoteric, mess that we get in the Assassin’s Creed games.
The present-day parts of the game, set in Abstergo’s Monteal HQ, were not too grating either. Similar to Black Flag, these section put players in the role of an Abstergo employee. This time, following a virus attack, players are tasked with unlocking corrupted memories featuring- you guessed it, Shay Cormac. Basically this means running between servers and the animus console following the instruction of your boss, the head of Abstergo’s entertainment division, Melanie Lemay.
Unlocking the servers and computers is carried out via an interesting spherical puzzle system. Unlocking computers is option, but reveals more background information on the characters and situations occurring in and around the main story.
Whilst I consider Rogue to be, very much, a fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed game and not simply a distraction like Adewale’s Freedom Cry or Averline’s Liberation, the developers have recycled a lot of previously constructed game assets and activities. It would be easy at this point for me to latch onto this lack of originality (as many have done) and use it as a stick to beat the game down.
But, come on, this is an Assassin’s Creed game, if you want to be cynical about it, I could easy argue that Ubisoft have been selling the same game to punters for the last decade. I could say the same thing about the similarly derivative Far Cry games and even Watchdogs for the matter. I have no idea why climbing towers seems so appealing to Ubisoft developers, but I wish that they’d just let it go.
So, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue rather shamelessly borrows from its predecessors. This means that we get to visit New York again, albeit before the great fire of 1776, engage in naval battles and liberate forts.
Yes, once again sailing plays a huge part in the proceedings, which isn’t a bad thing. Shay’s ship, The Morrigan, is a lot more maneuverable than Edward Kenway’s Jackdaw from Black Flag. It can turn on a penny, which probably throws both historic accuracy and the laws of fluid dynamics out the window- but it makes naval combat so much more enjoyable. More on that in a moment.
No, this is where I’m going to deviate from other reviews. Whilst I was very keen to move onto Arno’s adventures in Assassin’s Creed: Unity, I didn’t have an editor breathing down my neck, so I could take things a little easier. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, can be powered through, completing just enough to get to the end, but that’s not how the game was designed to be played.
It’s a bit like just eating the cheese of the top of a pizza, it may be tasty, but you are missing out.
Like previous games, Rogue has an absolutely overwhelming amount of optional side activities and collectables, most of which are identical to those in Black Flag.
And most of them are bloody repetitive, too. Would it really have taken that much effort to add a bit of variety in some of the animations- like when you pick a fight to open up the bar in a settlement?
But, if you want to upgrade your ship and Shay’s equipment, you need to at least dabble in some of these side activities.
Completionists are going to need to find every treasure chest and Animus fragment, but there are a ton of more useful and more interesting activities to do. I’m going to concentrate on the activates that I found useful and/or fun. I’ll leave you to discover the rest.
The scattered treasure maps hold the location of Templar keys, which in turn can be used to unlock the Templar armour. There’s also a load of Viking swords to find that unlock the location of the Viking armour. OK, being just cosmetic upgrades, they are probably more effort than they are worth.
The most useful activity in the game is also the most fun to do, the naval combat. First introduced in Assassin’s Creed III, the ship-to-ship battles came into their own in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, adding the random encounters that made that game such a joy to play.
The Assassin’s Creed games are heady adventures, thick in plot, politics and esoteric weirdness. There’s a lot to take in and it can make you very weary. If all double-crossing and political intrigue gets a bit too much there’s nothing better than taking to the high sea to blow other ships up. I found it extremely difficult to sail past a French ship without taking pot shots at it, often drawing the attention of other enemy ships. With a bit of pillaging out of my system I found myself able to pick up the story missions and continue, rather refreshed.
Of course, naval combat plays an integral part of the main story as well. At certain times in the game, when starting missions, I was told that I should upgrade my ship before I proceeded. Most of the time I didn’t and got away with it. It was only when I finally got outgunned I decided to get The Morrigan all tooled up.
The Morrigan is already a formidable vessel. It’s got cannons on both sides that reload like lightening, long-range mortar cannons, front firing explosive shot, flaming oil from the back and a rapid-firing Puckle gun to hit exposed weak-spots on damaged enemy ship.
Whilst at first those battles will be hard-won, carefully planned ship upgrades will slowly turn your ship into a formidable vessel. The power to disable an enemy ship from afar is much more important this time, as enemy captains won’t think twice about boarding your ship, if you get too close.
Victory results from either sinking the enemy or by disabling them. Disabled ships can be boarded. Once the required about of crew members have been dispatched (either using the Puckle gun, pistol or up close in melee combat), as before, players are presented with three choices: use the ship to repair The Morrigan, salvage the ship for cash, or add the ship to Cormac’s fleet for use in the Naval Campaign mini-game (more on that later).
With two huge areas to sail- the lush river valley and the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, there’s loads of ocean-based mischief to be had. Not only are there plenty of French ships to attack, there’s also treasure ships to plunder and slave ships to liberate.
Too much plundering and piracy will send the bounty hunters after you. Initially a formidable opponent, are a few upgrades some will placed shot will have them dead in the water.
An odd game mechanic that’s totally unrealistic, but useful when dealing with multiple enemies, is the ability to board a disabled ship in the middle of a battle. It’s like the other enemy ships wait for you to run through their allies before recommencing the fight.
This exploit, is very handy when taking on one of the legendary ship battles. Recommended only for players that have completely upgraded The Morrigan, these elite opponents still proved to be too tough for me to beat.
As well as other ships, there are also some land targets that can be attacked whilst at sea. Like in Black Flag, there are a handful of enemy forts to capture in both the River Valley and the North Atlantic areas. To defeat the forts, first the defensive towers need to be taken out by The Morrigan’s cannons and mortar rounds, whilst avoiding return mortar fire from land. With the towers down the land assault can begin, fighting through the enemy to kill the commander. As fun as they are to ransack, if you’ve captured one fort you’ve see all the game offers as the experience is pretty much the same for each.
The same can be said of the gang headquarters and liberation of French settlements; you go in, kill the targets, free the prisoner and cut down the flag. Completing these side activities does unlock building restorations and other opportunities in the area, which all help you in your quest for cash and upgrades.
The building restorations are another “classic” Assassin’s Creed activity and require materials gained from a bit of piracy. Renovated building bring in a regular income. These funds are accessible from the ship’s cabin and must be regularly withdrawn as, for reasons unknown, the bank only has limited space.
The biggest fault of the side activities is just how repetitive they become. It’s a problem that the series has had since the very first game. The developers never force players to carry out the side tasks, but they really need to be done in tandem with the main story, else you are left with hours and hours of comparatively dull content to plough through. I believe they are there to give players a break from the main missions, a quick distraction as it were.
But, because Rogue’s gameplay is so similar to that of last year’s Black Flag’s the repetitive nature of the side activities is even more apparent this time.
There are, however, some new activities that acknowledge the protagonist’s role as a Templar. In a nod to the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer (omitted from this iteration), members of the brotherhood, lay in wait, often in plain sight, to attack Shay. Their presence is shown by a red border around the screen and the sound of whispers. Using eagle vision they can be detected and killed before they attack. Stumble past them and they will leap at you causing plenty of damage.
Another activity that is a reversal of the norm are the pigeon intercepts. In my head, I assume these are the same pigeons that we’ve previously used to send our assassin brothers on missions in previous games. This time, if you catch the pigeon, you have the opportunity to save the assassin’s target. First you need to find the target to defend (using your eagle vision) and then locate and kill the team of assassins. There’s a timer until the assassins attack, so they really need to be dispatched before it runs out, else you will be madly fending them off as they descend on the target.
The Naval Campaign mini-game from Black Flag returns once more. Again, it is a good source of extra funds, even if it does get a bit boring after a while. The mini-game involves securing trade routes and sending your fleet (of ships captured during naval battles in the main game) on trade missions. Routes are secured by selecting a group of ships to battle with the enemy ships.
The mini-game is 2D, based around a route map and a battle screen depicting the warring ships in a stylised fashion. Basically it’s a numbers game with the more powerful ships winning battles and succeeding in mission. A success percentage is given in each case. After a while you end up just clicking buttons. There’s little fun or strategy in the mini-game, just a financial reward that can be used to upgrade The Morrigan and Shay’s equipment.
A couple of other activities that I enjoyed in Black Flag are also present in Rogue: whaling and hunting. This time out, I didn’t really need to do either, instead I bought the material needed to upgrade my equipment, instead.
Using skins obtained by hunting animals allows you to craft upgrades for Shay. You can spend hours stalking the required animals for their skins, or simply earn yourself enough money to pick them up in a shop.
There’s hours and hours of gameplay in Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. The story is great, perfectly filling in the blanks from the last two games whilst setting up the next. The main missions are good and the absence of those awful tailing missions from Black Flag are, for me, very welcome.
As is usually the case with Assassin’s Creed games Rogue is still boated with many very mediocre side activities with a few little gems among them. Whilst I enjoyed most of them, I found myself undertaking many of the tasks because I felt I needed to rather than because I had to.
Nevertheless, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue surprised me. Whilst Shay isn’t the cheeky chappie that Edward Kenway was, he’s a step up from Conner. Plot and gameplay-wise it felt like a proper Assassin’s Creed game and not the Liberation-style spin-off that I thought it was going to be.
I really enjoyed my time with Shay Cormac and the crew of The Morrigan. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is a worthy send-off for the last-generation of consoles. It’s an absolutely essential purchase for fans of the series and shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of Assassin’s Creed: Unity.