Assassin’s Creed Rogue Review
While Ubisoft has been hyping its next-gen exclusive Assassin’s Creed Unity for the last few months, the last-gen Assassin’s Creed Rogue (PS3, Xbox 360) has received little fanfare. Because of this, some might think that the game is subpar, or a cheap cash grab on those who have yet to upgrade to the latest hardware – but the reality is that Rogue is a very good game. If you’re burnt out on the series or never liked it to begin with, this iteration won’t change your mind, but if you enjoyed last year’s Black Flag, you’ll find a lot to love about Rogue.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue tells the tale of the Irish-born Shay Patrick Cormac, set against the backdrop of the Seven Years’ War as he rises through the ranks of the Assassins — before a tragic event compels him to abandon the Brotherhood and join the “dark side” – the Templars. This narrative choice pays off brilliantly – for the first third or so of the game you bond with your Assassin brothers and sisters (including returning characters like Adewale and Achilles — the man who trained ACIII’s Connor Kenway). After Shay’s first mission with the Assassins ends in horrific disaster, he betrays his former mentor Achilles and attempts to steal a item that’s key to their future plans. He’s shot and left for dead in the freezing snow, and rescued and nursed back to recovery by a group of Templars. Slowly Shay begins to question what he believes in, leading him to reluctantly take up arms against those who he used to call friend.
If you’re a longtime Assassin’s Creed fan, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into here. The story fills in the gaps between AC III and Black Flag, and adds much more depth to the eternal struggle between the Assassins and the Templars. Plenty of familiar faces pop up in the historical missions, and lots of interesting new information is uncovered in the modern-day Abstergo facility sequences (you’ll also find plenty of Ubisoft Easter eggs and tongue-in-cheek references to other AC games here).
Far from the stone cold killer portrayed in the game’s trailers, Shay turns out to be one of the most interesting and layered protagonists (?) since the days of Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The narrative is nuanced, adding shades of grey to the longstanding battle between the Templars and Assassins. Perhaps the Templars aren’t quite as evil as they’ve been made out to be, and perhaps the Assassins aren’t quite as heroic as they believe they are. The inner turmoil that Shay feels in betraying his former comrades is felt by the player as well – the very people you’ve been trying to aid in victory for the past seven years’ worth of games are the people you will be tasked with murdering in Assassin’s Creed Rogue. For the first time in the series, Assassin’s Creed Rogue challenges the player to think for themselves, rather than portraying characters as purely black and white.
Despite the fact that Shay eventually fights alongside the Templars, his combat style is completely unchanged from previous titles. I guess this makes sense, since he was originally trained as an Assassin, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have him develop some Templar specific techniques at some point to help separate him from the pack. Most of his move set is copy + pasted from Black Flag, as are large chunks of gameplay such as naval warfare, harpooning, stealth, the town economy, etc. These are still some of my favorite gameplay aspects, however, so I don’t mind a bit of rehashed material in that regard. I almost like to think of Assassin’s Creed Rogue as a “best of” collection of gameplay mechanics from the last-gen titles, as the slate has largely been wiped clean for the next-gen exclusive Unity. There are some notable new things as well, however — such as a Ben Franklin-designed grenade launcher (!) and “stalkers” who will hunt you throughout missions, and can leap from the shadows and kill you in an instant.
Naval warfare and simply sailing the open sea continues to be one of the most fun (and beautiful) aspects of the game. Upgrading your ship the Morrigan is enjoyable, and enemy ships now seem much more aggressive than before — you might just find your ship being attacked and boarded while you’re simply minding your own business and trying to sail to the next objective. Upgrading the Morrigan’s hull armor, cannons, mortars, oil barrels and the rest of your offense is not only fun but necessary if you hope to survive the icy waters. You’ll also get a chance to customize your ship’s appearance, from the paint job on the steering wheel to the color and design on its sails and the figurehead. Upgrades cost money, but you’ll also need supplies, which can be found on the open water but are mostly obtained through battling other ships and stealing their cargo. This will also net you new crew members and ships, which you can either sell, tear down to repair the Morrigan, or add to your fleet for use in other side missions. The hunting gameplay from ACIII also returns, and animal pelts can be used to craft upgrades for Shay.
The frozen waters of the North Atlantic can be gorgeous at times, and feel different enough from the clear blue oceans of the Caribbean from AC4. There’s a lot of variety to the world map, from snowy mountains to quaint fishing towns and a pre-Great Fire New York, to name a few. While the graphics aren’t exactly spectacular, given that we’ve been teased with the breathtaking next-gen Unity engine all year, Assassin’s Creed Rogue still manages to drum up some impressive sights. The ocean in particular looks great for running on 8-year old hardware, but rough character models and some ugly shadows and textures pop up pretty frequently — not to mention it all looks a bit fuzzy, as if it’s rendered at a lower resolution and upscaled to 720p. Overall, though, if you adjust your expectations, it looks at least as good as Assassin’s Creed III or Black Flag did on last-gen, possibly a bit better.
Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed Rogue is one of the shortest games in the franchise, with just six chapters. This rushes the narrative quite a bit, especially in the tail end of the game. The competitive multiplayer that has been a part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise since Brotherhood is notably absent here, and there’s no Unity-esque cooperative mode either. Still, there are a lot of things to do in the world after you’ve completed all of the main missions, such as fully upgrading your ship, crafting all of the upgrades for Shay, hunting animals, commandeering ships, renovating buildings, harpooning, and much more.
While Assassin’s Creed Rogue suffers a bit from a dated game engine, reused material and a short campaign, its interesting protagonist and engaging narrative make it easily recommendable. Neatly wrapping up loose story ends from Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag, while incorporating all of the beloved game mechanics from the past few titles into a vast open world ripe for exploration, Rogue is a great send-off for the franchise on last-gen hardware.