“If you have to do it, then you’re doing the right thing.” I think someone from the Go-Go’s once said that. And that quasi truism lays our scene for Assassin’s Creed Rogue. The Rogue in question is Shay Patrick Cormac. He’s an upstart Assassin with Irish blood, a troubled childhood, and the heartthrob good looks of a clean-shaven Clive Owen. He’s also going to give us a more intimate look at the Templars’ side of the story than we’ve ever seen before.
Though he begins with a hidden blade and the Creed of the Assassins stamped across his ethos, Shay happens to witness a lot of death and destruction from the Assassins--an organization that’s gotten away with murder since, well, as long as Assassins and Templars have been murdering each other.
Murdering Templars is good though, right? Isn’t that what the Assassin’s Creed games have taught us all along? Not exactly. If Assassin’s Creed has taught us anything, it’s that this shady organization of stabby individuals will use any means necessary to achieve its ends. And if murder is a means to an end, and if justice requires the dispensation of trials and juries, then so be it.
Shay is his own man, though. He’s a thinking man and a bleeding heart. And after he comprehends the power of ancient Precursor artifacts, the Pieces of Eden, he makes it his mission to stop those that would try to control those artifacts. He has more of a hands-off approach when it comes to items of such unfathomable power.
So Shay indeed goes rogue. He becomes a turncoat. He flips the script on his friends and mentors in the Assassin’s guild. And across a torrent of self-doubt and second-guessing, Shay’s allegiance switches sides, for better or worse. Even though his north and south poles have switched, his moral compass points True North. The bad news for the Assassins is: Never once in the lifetime of the Assassins’ guild has anyone met a Templar as dangerous as Shay Patrick Cormac.
In addition, his actions reinforce a necessary in every perpetual war worth its salt: Both sides think they’re right.
Rogue adds another layer of depth and complexity to an already complicated conflict. The Assassins preserve freedom. The Templars pursue order. The Assassins don’t want the Pieces of Eden to fall into the hands of the Templars. And vice versa for the Templars.
The Lone Wolf. The Privateer. The Scout. The Trapper. The Warrior. The Financier. Shay will become all of these things.
The amount of things you can do in any one Assassin’s Creed game is always staggering. You’ll climb historically accurate architecture through painstakingly recreated towns. You’ll go icebreaking through the tundra in a schooner named the Morrigan, upgrading the ship’s armor, cannons, mortars, and a semi-automatic deck cleaner called a puckle gun. You’ll hunt polar bears, skin lynxes, harpoon whales, then craft pouches from their skins and weapons from their bones. You’ll pack more pistols, rifles, and grenade launchers than any sane member of the NRA. You pickpocket citizens, renovate buildings, clear up trade routes, and run a Trans-Atlantic naval campaign.
While doing all that, you’ll go after a raft of collectible items: illustrated maps with X-marks-the-spot treasures, broken pieces of Viking swords, Templar artifacts, Native totems, Animus fragments, and cave paintings. You’ll unlock cheats the entire way. Cheats that do everything from stopping the sun in the sky to always having the wind at the Morrigan’s back.
Then there is the database--a Civilopedia for the historical-action audience, if you will. The database collects documents, sea shanty lyrics, people profiles, ships, locations, and landmarks.
You get the idea. There’s a ton of stuff to do. On the surface, Rogue is simply an Assassin’s Creed game where you go around shanking enemies, rubbing elbows with prominent personalities of the day, and unlocking some sci-fi storytelling bits along the way, too.
The tone of the modern-day component takes on something of an investigative flair. As in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Rogue puts you in Abstergo Entertainment’s lavish Montreal office once again. Stuff’s going down, and you’re combing through their high-rise offices and hyper-modern cubicles in order to piece things together.
The scene is desolate. Spilled cups of coffee. Tipped over stacks of Far Cry 3 game boxes. Collectible figures scattered from hell to breakfast.
Mini games repair computer cores, revealing audio recordings. The computer-core repairs look kind of like what I imagined the Internet would look like back in 1992. You know, when the Lawnmower Man showed us the pinnacle of 3D animation.
Sadly, I’m an easily confused person, and some of the modern-day stuff takes place on static screens with audio logs. The audio bits turn into an overly complex radio play. At least to my ears. It would be hard enough to follow if the information came together chronologically. But piecemeal as it is, the modern-day elements just give me a sense of unease about its characters, of backbiting, of ultimatums and insubordination.
Assassin’s Creed is still excellent at costume design. They know how to make outfits as awesome from the back as they are from the front, since that’s what you’ll be staring at for 99 percent of your gameplaying experience anyway. But it’s always interesting to gauge what stuck and what disappeared between this Assasin’s Creed and that one.
Thankfully, Ubisoft had enough of everyone’s complaints about the tailing missions, so they did away with them and brought back good old cutscenes. I never thought I’d be so happy to see simple cutscenes again.
The Morrigan is a smaller, faster ship than Black Flag’s Jackdaw. In Rogue, the Morrigan feels like you’re positively speedboating across the waves rather than sailing over the seas. The Morrigan has less draft in order to navigate the shallower depths of places like the River Valley. The River Valley is a hodgepodge of locations and ideas cut and pasted from Canada’s Saint Lawrence River.
Along with the River Valley, Rogue has load screens taking you to the North Atlantic (where the Saint Lawrence River meets the Atlantic Ocean), and to mid-1700’s New York City. What the load screens lose in continuity, they make up for in variety. Land is rarely out of sight, but the sea lanes feel less crowded, too.
There are gradual weather transitions, especially as you move from south to north in the North Atlantic. The water looks almost balmy at first. The sun shining. The trees bright and green. And then a flurry of snow sweeps across your deck. Then a few small chunks of ice float by. Then those bright green pines start to look snowswept along the shores.Then the snow settles in thickly. Then the trees disappear and it’s all icebergs and snow-covered rocks. Soon enough you’ll hear deckhands yelling out, “Afore!” which is their way of saying, “Big huge iceberg in the way, Cap’n!”
It’s tough, at first, seemingly downgrading to a smaller ship from Black Flag to Rogue. The Morrigan is still a nice vessel, just not as sturdy as the Jackdaw. Don’t act like you can take on those frigates and man o’ wars like you could in the Jackdaw.
In the sleepy, spreadsheet-like naval campaign, there’s now somewhat of a storyline progression to fleet actions. At least there’s a timeline progression of the Seven Years’ War, which is more intriguing than grinding the same old merchant lanes in Black Flag.
You can keep the old sea lanes clear, but you can’t farm old missions over and over. This nets you some cargo for your efforts, but redoing old jobs doesn’t provide much in the way of payment. You can also skip the nearly predictable back-and-forth gun battles, too. In Rogue, you shouldn’t get stuck on the naval campaign screen for an hour anymore.
Renovating buildings is back--within cities, within encampments--which pours money into your checkbook. The cash starts to snowball, like when a game of Monopoly is going your way.
If one thing’s for certain, spending money on Shay’s outfits is always worth it. He still has that wicked Assassin look to most of his wardrobe, but he’s got some variety in there, too. My favorite is his Colonial Raider outfit; the pseudo kilt and green beret give Shay a thoroughly militant look that’s missing nothing but a set of bagpipes. Whether he’s dressed for the admiralty, for the wolf-skinned winter weather, as a heavily buckled Assassin, or as a broad-shouldered Templar, Shay makes this look good.
The taverns make Rogue sound good, too. The best soundtrack of 2013 was Black Flag’s with its wonderful renditions of old sea shanties. Naturally those sea shanties make a comeback in the seaworthy Rogue. They aren’t as fresh or as surprising this time around, but my two new favorite songs are the tavern quartet’s version of “Katie Cruel” and “The Parting Glass,” backed with the din of drunkard patrons making out and swapping gossip.
Rogue isn’t without some glitches and directorial inconsistencies, however.
I once climbed to the top of the Morrigan and cut the Assassin’s banner from her topmast. I then watched a cutscene where Shay was voiced, but invisible, talking to his new first mate invisibly, and shaking his new first mate’s hand--still invisible. Then, when the cutscene was done, it showed me desynchronize as I must have fallen from the topmast and died hitting the deck.
I once sailed through a rugged rainstorm, docked at a rainswept town, then walked up the rain-drenched streets to a rained-on meeting place. It was just pouring down, raining cats and dogs. Then a cutscene started and the sky was clear as day, the sun on all our faces. (Again, this one isn’t a bug at all; just a directorial inconsistencies.)
Your men are not prepared for every eventuality. For instance, I went in alone, on foot, to liberate a small riverside town known as Coeur-de-l’hiver. Things went sour quickly. So I hoofed it back to the Morrigan. The game would not let me take the wheel and undock unless my status was back to “anonymous.” A dozen soldiers swarmed my ship, surrounded me, and gunned me down. My men did nothing and said nothing as all this was happening.
For some reason you also have to be anonymous in order to ignite explosive barrels--in the middle of a fort battle. I’d understand if this was fundamentally a stealth scene, but hey, I just brought down your fort’s towers; I don’t think anyone’s going to be “anonymous” after doing that and pulling up to your dock. But the scenarios within a fort battle have changed up. You will get your toe-to-toe fix, most likely, during these fight scenes.
But watch out for the snipers. They’ll cap you mid-leap from 50 yards if you look at them the wrong way from a rooftop.
There are few open-world games that even attempt half of what Assassin’s Creed games do. Yet for an Assassin’s Creed game, Rogue runs a little thin. This is, in fact, the first Assassin’s Creed without multiplayer since Ubisoft started the spectacular multiplayer component in 2010’s Brotherhood. And while the storyline events in Rogue do tie in with Assassin’s Creed Unity, the tie in is really a barely explicable event shoehorned into the final chapter. Shay is just determined enough, chemically imbalanced enough, and bleeding heart enough to make his story plausible. Grading on a curve, however, Rogue doesn't evoke the awe and rooted believability that the rest of the series is known for.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, or open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982, and writing critically about video games since he got out of the Navy in 2002. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile