I have mixed feelings about Assassin’s Creed Rogue. The game is by its very nature a shameless cash grab, but it is a very well crafted cash grab. The PS3 and Xbox 360 exclusive is built on the foundation laid by the rest of the series’ life in the 7th generation and it brings over some of the best ideas from its predecessors, while simultaneously trying to fit itself within the canon the way a sumo wrestler fits into a size 0 dress. A pessimist will see it as Ubisoft’s last ditch attempt to squeeze some juice from the dried husk of their America trilogy. An optimist might look at it as the swan song for the Assassin’s Creed games on the seventh generation. No matter how you slice it, I am sure neither the brightest optimist nor the staunchest pessimist imagined it’d be the best of the two Assassin’s Creed games released this year.
This time around our Ezio shaped homunculus is one Shay Cormac a sailor turned Assassin, and eventually Templar. Shay actually winds up being a pretty alright protagonist. He doesn’t have much of a personality, but at least he is principled and has an earnestness that makes him endearing. Shay is initially portrayed as a lazy, but extremely capable Assassin, often their go-to man to finish off the Templars (his demeanor changes after he switches sides). It is weird then that the time you spend with the other members of the brotherhood they mostly make fun of Shay and talk about how useless he is. It seems to be an attempt to make you dislike them so you will be more inclined to kill them when the time comes.
The storyline of Rogue is strange. For the past seven years, Assassin’s Creed has been trying to convince you the Assassins are good guys and the Templars are evil. Sure Haytham’s Templars in Assassin’s Creed 3 were shown in a more favorable light, helping the people, if only so they could further their own goals, but it has been well established that the Templars are evil, for lack of a better word. Of course when faced with the challenge of having the player play as a Templar, the game chooses to go a bold way in which Shay is portrayed as a villain with good intentions. A man who loses sight of his beliefs and morals as he chases abstract concepts and ideals he can never hope to reach, showing that there are both good and bad people in both sides of the conflict. HAHAHAHAHA just kidding! Assassin’s Creed Rogue deals with this issue by simply portraying the Assassins as monsters.
The Assassins in Rogue decide to mess with First Civilization tech that causes massive earthquakes, and wind up using them to destroy major cities in Europe and the Americas. Horrified by this, Shay leaves the Assassins only to find out that they are planning on using gas in populated areas to help the French win the Seven Years’ War. That is clearly not a plan that should belong to the “good guys”. The Assassins are very similar to Templars of past games in many other ways. The Assassins take the place as the organization that has infiltrated and corrupted every layer of the system, while the Templar are the outsiders backing the little guy to try to change the system. The Assassins have a vast network of strongholds for the player to take out. They have ships to attack, filled with prisoners instead of slaves. In essence what Ubisoft did to show the Templar side of the struggle is switch the sides and make them functionally the same as the Assassins used to be, and vice versa. This becomes even worse when we start looking at returning characters from Assassin’s Creed 3 and 4.
When you’re not suffering through a thrown together story, Rogue is actually pretty fun. The game takes the best ideas from the previous entries in the series up to that point. It takes place in three primary areas; New York provides your urban free running playground, the North Atlantic is there for those who miss the ship combat, and the Albany River Valley gives you the game play of the frontier from Assassin’s Creed 3 with a sizable river so you can take your brig for transportation. Many of the activities from the old games are back, including whaling, hunting, piracy, taking over strongholds, attacking convoys, etc… since the game takes place during the French and Indian War, you can will also run into skirmishes between French and English troops in land and sea. There are also three different item hunts (such as the mayan artifacts in 4, or the keys for Altair’s armor in 2), all of which lead to new outfits. I wish some of them would lead to something other than outfits, like some awesome First Civilization gadget, or weapon, but its a very minor complaint.
The biggest improvement from Black Flag is that the story missions are much more entertaining, and this is probably due to the fact that Shay is a man who gets to the point. In a few missions he kills the same number of Templars that it took Edward Kenway an entire game to dispatch. The missions to kill your former associates are even better, as your former comrades can be quite formidable in battle and usually take more effort to kill than the usual Assassin’s Creed methods of stabbing them from above or running at them with your hidden blades. The Assassin’s also have agents that use your same methods, hide and attack, to attack you, and it is a lot of fun to fight these enemies. The high body count comes with a great reduction on the tailing and boat stealth missions that made the story of Black Flag into a chore rather than a game one might enjoy.The increase in quality of the story missions along with the sheer variety of side quests and activities, means you can easily tailor your experience by ignoring the things you don’t like, and doing the missions and activities you do enjoy, and still have fun when you put the rewards of this activities to use in the main missions.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is a shameless cash in designed to reuse as many assets as possible. Even the menus, maps and user interface are the same as they were in the previous entry. But this seems to have given the team working on it the time to craft a campaign that is actually fun to play. There isn’t anything new, really, but what is there is one of the largest games in the series, and certainly the one that features the most variety in the whole catalog. If you’re a longtime Assassin’s Creed fan then you might find yourself bothered by the plot holes and the inconsistencies I mentioned in this review; however, this might be a great game for those who have skipped some of the games Ubisoft keeps cranking out and don’t care much for the continuity, or someone who is simply wants to jump into the series. Either way, fans might still have fun with the game play, but I’d recommend waiting until this one goes on sale.