Releasing at the exact same time as Assassin's Creed Unity, Assassin's Creed Rogue sits in an awkward position. Ubisoft has done this before with the likes of Assassin's Creed Liberation and Assassin's Creed Bloodlines, but these have always been spin-off titles. Where Rogue differs is its positioning as a main instalment to the series and it shows how ambitious Ubisoft are getting; they have grown to the point where they feel confident releasing two important instalments to the franchise, on two different console generations, on the same day. It's very bold move, but it has come at a cost. Unity has its own troubles and Rogue is no different, albeit not for the same reasons.
Positioned as an end to the Kenway saga, which if we're honest, feels too disjointed to actually be much of a saga, Rogue again introduces us to a new protagonist. This time it's an upstart Assassin called Shay Cormac who ends up becoming disillusioned with life and ends up seeking a new path in order to help save the world.
Assassins are often painted as the good guys throughout this series, but Rogue shows another side. It doesn't necessarily paint the Templars as good guys either, it just shows other perspectives. The result is a crafted story with a strong central character, strong motivations and a well-rounded supporting cast. It seems unlikely at this point due to how the story is positioned, but with Shay, it felt like Ubisoft had the beginnings of something. His character is very sincere and if there was ever and opportunity for a proper spin-off series, he offers it in spades.
As it's more of a Templar-focussed scenario, the real-world story follows suit. You learn a bit more about how the Templars view the current day Assassins and have more opportunities to understand how Abstergo operates. In some ways it feels like a bit of a kop out, as its set in the exact same location as Black Flag, but through terminal hacking there is enough detail to provide some context. It's not exactly stunning, but it's at least filler material that can be stomached and with Otso Berg coming to the fore, we now have a potential antagonist to fill the shoes of Warren Vidic.
Despite the plus points with the narrative, the story is pretty short in comparison to previous instalments. Even when doing a decent amount of optional material, the story comes in about half the length of a typical main-series game. It's not unforgiveable, but it is disappointing and you can't help but think it's because Ubisoft stretched themselves too thin. Oh and the link between Rogue and Unity is completely superfluous "“ it did not need to exist.
Much of the gameplay owes thanks to the developers who worked on Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, as not much has changed. There is a still a heavy focus on naval traversal, but there has been expansion to the amount of time you will spend on land with the introduction of New York as a city, in addition to two nautical areas.
Ships have a very familiar feel, but the exploring barrels have been replaced with burning oil and depending on where you are sailing, you will now have to content with icebergs. It helps to keep things somewhat fresh, but there's no semblance of reinventing the wheel here.
On land, combat has a very similar feel, but Shay can now use an air rifle instead of a blow dart. How this allows gameplay to differ is with the grenade launcher expansion, which allows you to either sleep, berserk or cause damage to enemies within an AoE field.
Perhaps the biggest change comes with the introduction of counter-assassins, or "stalkers" as they are referred to in the game. These are enemies whose sole job it is to hunt you and it helps to introduce some previous multiplayer elements into the mix. When they are nearby, the UI will inform you and if you go into Eagle Vision, you will be able to narrow down their location. They are most effective against you if you're in a rush, as they will leap out and can inflict pretty harsh damage if you aren't able to counter correctly.
Aside from that, everything else will feel very familiar. While at sea, there are still forts to capture, storage deposits to raid and epic ships to defeat. And when you're on land, you are charged with clearing out gangs from each territory, syncing viewpoints, liberating taverns by beating up a few thugs and collecting standard items. Oh and there's still the fleet-management naval campaigns to do, renovations to determine income and hunting/whaling to upgrade your equipment. In short, aside from the slightly different locale and story, you could well forgive yourself for thinking you're playing Black Flag, albeit with a few tweaks here and there.
It's a similar feeling when it comes to the game's presentation "“ there seems like no real graphical or technical improvement against the game that released a year ago. However, it should be noted that the soundtrack, composed by Elitsa Alexandrova, offers a nice extension, and the voice acting is of high quality.
Assassin's Creed Rogue offers up a look at the Templar's perspective of proceedings and it's very revealing. Shay Cormac is a fantastic protagonist and he has a strong supporting cast. He's just let down by other elements of the game. The campaign is pretty short compared to other instalments and much of the gameplay and graphical style is recycled from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. If Ubisoft are going to insist on releasing two main-series games at the same time, they need to ensure that the quality of them is considerably higher. However, if you have to pick between the two, Rogue should be your pick.
|The introduction of stalkers.|
|Getting to see things from the Templar point of view.|
|Story feels unnecessarily condensed.|
|Gameplay offers little new compared to Black Flag.|
|Naval campaigns are somehow now worse.|