When Ubisoft starting putting out one Assassin’s Creed game per year, a lot of the community saw it as a cash grab as they copy pasted the previous games with new missions. My love of the series hasn’t made me blind to this, but as I thoroughly enjoy playing each years new installment I tend to forgive it. This year however when Ubisoft released two titles, even I had to pause a moment to wonder if they weren’t overdoing it. A quick glance at how they handled it though makes a little bit of sense. Assassin’s Creed Unity was designed with the new generation of consoles in mind. They didn’t want to reduce graphical quality to make it available for the previous generation. However the previous generation is still by far the largest market for home consoles. It doesn’t make smart financial sense to cut yourself off from the largest market. So instead we get Assassin’s Creed Unity, the HD next-gen only trip through the French Revolution, and Assassin’s Creed Rogue, the last-gen only that ties up the Kenway trilogy.
While Unity got off to a rocky start that it may not ever fully recover from because of glitches, constant server disconnects, and lack of new gameplay mechanics; Rogue doesn’t share any of these issues. From the launch the game has been fully functional and without issue. However since Unity was the big ticket this year, most people don’t even remember Rogue exist. After a few minutes on the game I felt right at home. The game is basically a Black Flag DLC. New character, new missions, new locations, same engine and gameplay mechanics. Black Flag is still one of the best games in the entire series so I really didn’t mind the blatant replication.
What makes Rogue unique is that for the first time in the series you play as a Templar. Your character Shay Cormack starts the game as an Assassin, but after a botched precursor relic pickup in Portugal results in a devastating earthquake, he begins to rethink his allegiances. He pleads with the Assassin’s to stop looking for these artifacts as they could kill even further innocent lives. When they refuse he attempts to steal the book they are using to locate the items, and is summarily shot in the back and falls off a cliff assumed dead. He is found my Templar’s and brought back to health where Shay takes up his role of Privateer in the French-Indian War. It isn’t for several years that his associates reveal themselves as Templar’s and offer him a spot in their ranks. As much as I sympathize with Shay not wanting to kill innocents, and wanting to do the right thing, I found myself hoping the whole game that he would realize the Templar’s were not the better solution. However even after the Assassin’s finally understand that he was right and stop searching for the artifacts, Shay continues on as a Templar and is largely responsible for the complete destruction of the colonial Assassin’s. It finally sheds light on why there are virtually no Assassin’s left by the time Connor Kenway finds Achilles in Assassin’s Creed III. The knowledge that everything Shay was doing was going to be undone in several years by Connor did give me at least some satisfaction. The big shock however was the ending tie in with Assassin’s Creed Unity. When I played Unity and Arno’s father was assassinated in the first mission, I had assumed he had been killed by the Master Templar that was also in the room and then took Arno as his own. The revelation in the last mission that is was in fact Shay who snuck into the palace and killed his father was the games “Holy shit, no way” moment. This also means Shay is not dead and is now part of the Unity story as well. It opens the possibilities of him making a return in future titles.
Gameplay wise the game is exactly like Black Flag. The blow dart has been replaced with an air rifle but it functions the same way. However the air rifle does come with something of a grenade launcher on it which does open up some more possibilities when completing missions. The ability to drop a sleeping grenade onto a large chunk of soldiers is quite convenient.
Just like with Black Flag I was drawn immediately to the naval side of the game as soon as I had access to my ship. My wife would often roll her eyes as I kept unlocking the games end-game weapons and gear while my character was only on sequence 3. In fact I unlocked the Master Templar outfit before I even joined the Templar Order and got my regular Templar outfit.
The main story of the game is where the game felt a little light. While most of the series sees between 9 and 15 sequences, Rogue has only 6. I’m assuming this was due in large part to there being two releases this year, and a much smaller team assigned to Rogue. Even with only 6 sequences, I easily spent 50+ hours on the game finding all the collectibles and unlocking all the upgrades.
The ship mini game from Black Flag also returned and this time without an online requirement. I HIGHLY prefer this games mini-game to Unity’s, however Black Flag’s app was sorely missed. While I could send my ships out from work with Black Flag, I was forced to do everything in game on Rogue which can be annoying when I’m in the middle of something else.
Overall I found myself having more fun with Rogue than I did with Unity this year, but I do have high hopes for future titles with the next-gen engine. I’m really hoping they decide to bring back naval combat as Rogue reminded me how fun it can be. Some part of me worries that this will be my last foray into ship combat, and that would a pretty disappointing and short sighted decision by Ubisoft.