Hunt down and kill the Assassins you once called brothers and bring glory to the Templar Order.
PC Release: March 10, 2015
By Ian Coppock
I realize that that release date might be confusing to some of you, but I’d like to remind everyone that I only review PC games. The release date up there refers to the day this game was released on Steam, and it was released on PC a great deal more functional than Assassin’s Creed Unity. At first, I was incredulous that Ubisoft would release two console Assassin’s Creed games at once. However, when Unity failed, we PC gamers suddenly had a Plan B. Rogue is that Plan B. Is it an effective Plan B? Let’s find out.
Rogue and Unity were both released last fall for last and current-gen hardware, respectively. Rogue was meant to be a sort of consolation prize for people who had no money for (or no interest in) the Xbox One or PS4, and a means by which Ubisoft could still net a neat profit on the entire gaming market. People with fancy machines would get the fancy French setting, while peasant-class gamers would be stuck with the rugged, muddy terrain of the Americas.
Ironically, Assassin’s Creed Rogue proved the stronger of the two games when Unity ran about as well as pixelated diarrhea. Oh, the bugs: character faces gone missing, people popping in and out of existence, and a slow framerate driven by ridiculous system requirements and piss-poor optimization. Typically, such bugs only occur on PC ports, but the game’s inability to run on any system made Ubisoft the laughingstock of the gaming world and caused their stock to plunge 10%.
Indeed, it is because of Unity‘s abysmal launch that so many gamers are looking to the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Syndicate with trepidation rather than excitement.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue released on PC six months later, and our community was surprised to find a game excellently optimized for the PC (but not without some bugs) and a style of gameplay that faithfully replicates Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the best game this series has yet produced.
Rogue is also unlike its companion game in its novel premise: you play as a Templar, not an Assassin.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue runs a parallel story between the modern day and a historical setting. In the modern world, players assume the role of yet another nameless Abstergo researcher, who is tasked with investigating the memories of Shay Cormac, an Irish-American Assassin from the 1750s. Shay’s story is of paramount interest to a psychotic Templar mercenary who’s taken command of your office, and at his “suggestion”, you step into the shoes of what appears to be a conventional protagonist.
Rogue‘s historical component takes place in the American colonies about 20 years before Assassin’s Creed III. Shay, a novice Assassin, is tasked by his masters with the retrieval of an ancient artifact stolen by the Templars. Along with his best friend Liam, Shay commandeers a ship called the Morrigan, and spends the first few missions of the game sailing up and down the North American coast in search of a tiny band of Templars.
Though young, Shay doesn’t lack for skill, and he’s able to easily dispatch the Templars and make off with what they stole: a map pointing to a powerful ancient artifact. To skim over the details, Shay accidentally messes with some shit that his bosses should’ve warned him about, and is basically responsible for the destruction of an entire city. To make matters worse, Shay’s mentors seemed to think that the death of a city was an acceptable risk for acquiring the aforementioned artifact.
Horrified that his actions cost so many lives, Shay tries to make off with the treasure and wakes up weeks later in New York City. From there, he switches sides, offering his services to the Templars in exchange for the chance to stop the Assassins from destroying more cities.
So, obviously, Rogue‘s story is headed in a different direction than what we’re used to seeing in Assassin’s Creed games. The opportunity to play as a Templar and see this massively long series from the other side is one that will sound appealing to core fans (I said SOUND, keep reading before you click over to Steam).
This story is also, of course, dark. Shay joining up with the Templars means that he now has to hunt down and kill his lifelong friends. You also see a few familiar faces from past games, including William Johnson, Charles Lee and Haytham Kenway, the Templar Grand Master and your new boss. To add to this cornucopia of chaos, the French and Indian War has begun, causing massive battles to break out across the continent.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue has the exact same gameplay as Black Flag, for better or worse. The story, the world and the side missions are scattered across three maps that demand a mix of naval and on-foot gameplay. Just like in Black Flag, players can use their vessel to sail from one locale to the next, and seamlessly abandon ship to explore the world around them. In stark contrast to Black Flag‘s tropical paradises, Rogue will have you navigating the frozen reaches of the north Atlantic, and the myriad waterways of the Hudson River Valley.
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Rogue plays exactly like Black Flag. Literally the only change is a palette swap; everything from the sea shanties to the Animus data fragments was copy/pasted from Black Flag and plonked down into a new game. In some ways this is good, because it means hours of adventuring fun as you traverse the land in a stylish new ship, but it also means an absolute void of innovation. You can raid enemy ships and forts just like the last game, which is still fun as hell, but all of this made Rogue feel more like a giant DLC for Black Flag than its own game. Of course, Assassin’s Creed‘s trademark broken combat comes back, complete with unbeatable kill-streaks.
In addition, for all the talk of changing sides, playing as a Templar is barely any different than as an Assassin. Sure, you’re intercepting assassination missions instead of conducting them, and you have to fend off the odd hidden blade attack from nearby rooftops, but there are no other activities that make you feel a Templar. No evil plots to kidnap people, no indoctrination of passerby, none of the stuff that we’ve seen being done by Templars in past games is really here. I suspect part of that is to make the player remain sympathetic to Shay’s situation, but let’s be honest, I don’t think Ubisoft is that clever. I certainly don’t believe that the identical gameplay is some sort of subtle commentary on how similar the two sides are, true as it is.
What few changes Rogue does make to the Black Flag formula are questionably implemented. You can embark upon hunting challenges in which you have to slaughter so many innocent animals within a given time, but they’re not all that fun. The change in sailing terrain means a few new challenges, like sheets of ice, but you only need to use your ice ram in a handful of areas throughout the map. You can also shoot icebergs to release frozen cargo, which, while convenient, is completely nonsensical.
Rogue also brings back the banking system that was endemic to the Ezio trilogy of Assassin’s Creed games. You can buy up properties and make a healthy profit off of the rent, which dumps into your bank account every 20 minutes or so. Problem is, investing in even a small handful of houses will soon leave you swimming in more money than you’ll know what to do with. I was the ritziest bachelor you ever saw; barely a third of the way through the game and I’d already bought all the ship upgrades with money to spare for swallowing up more real estate. I was also able to buy all the character upgrades, rendering hunting and exploration useless. It’s a neat system but it completely breaks the game’s economy.
And speaking of Shay’s situation, let’s return to the plot for a few paragraphs. Though the picture I painted up top makes for a thrilling-sounding adventure, the story of Assassin’s Creed Rogue is soundly underwhelming. Shay undergoes some character evolution, from a cocky young assassin to a moody Templar, but he constantly whines about how he only wants to save people and not have anything to do with Templar sinister-ness. Ubisoft lays on the pathos a little too thick; in some scenes Shay is so despondent over what his new friends are doing that he might as well look directly at the player and say “Oh, I just wear the cool clothes, I don’t actually want to be a Templar”. And then in the next goddamn scene, he’s suddenly the vicious assassin-hunter that his experiences should’ve shaped him into. This constant alteration between whiny uncertainly and cold murder was overdone and sticks out like a sore thumb.
The plot itself is also badly paced and filled with some ridiculous missions. You spend maybe the first two hours as an assassin, then like four hours as a freelancer, then the last hour or so as a true and vested Templar. The first mission you attempt after becoming a full-fledged Templar is the second-to-last set of missions! About half of the game is spent fighting bandits and organized criminals threatening New York, who, yeah, answer to the Assassins, but contain very few actual Assassins. Some plot points will have you chuckling in disbelief, like stopping a bandit plot to blow up New York with poison bombs. Most Assassin’s Creed games have 12-13 chapters of content. Assassin’s Creed Rogue only has six, so its story is noticeably stunted.
Benjamin Franklin is also shoehorned into the narrative as a convenient inventor archetype.
The other characters in this tale aren’t much to speak of. Your fellow Assassins are dicks to you even before you leave them, which I suspect was another attempt by the developer to make you mad enough to kill them, rather than to contribute to the plot, and the Templars have their assigned niches. Haytham is your no-nonsense boss, Jack Weeks is the black guy, and Christopher Gist is your comical sidekick.
The modern-day storyline of Assassin’s Creed continues to feel lost and floundering without Desmond and the crew to guide it, boring as Desmond was. The only noteworthy feature of the modern story is the aforementioned psychotic Templar and his musings on famous Templar antagonists we’ve seen throughout the series. It’s a cool look into the Templar workings and is somehow more revealing and satisfying than any information we glean from Shay’s story.
Anything else? Yes. Bugs. Lots of them. Strangely enough, all of them are in the sound department. Shay’s feet make no noise when you run in grass, which is either a commentary on the Irish’s affinity for green fauna, or a stupid bug that made me laugh (maybe both, probably the latter). Sound levels of character movement will vary wildly for no apparent reason, and when you get back on your ship, the sound of your first mate heralding your return layers itself twice. Apparently Christopher Gist had an identical, invisible twin.
So… yeah. Assassin’s Creed Rogue has a barely passable story, a broken in-game economy, and a lurching, unrefined attempt to portray this overblown saga from the enemy’s point of view. What few high points it has were almost all from the gameplay that Black Flag pioneered. Character writing and pacing is all over the place, so there’s little to be had with the new narrative, which, again, is half the length of a normal Assassin’s Creed game.
Give Rogue a miss.
You can buy Assassin’s Creed Rogue here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.