And some things I didn’t like
It’s been four years since Assassin’s Creed became an annual fixture. Every year, like clockwork, Ubisoft releases a brand new, fully developed title in the AC series. But things have changed slightly this year. In a surprising move, Ubisoft decided to ditch the cross-gen development for this year’s release of Assassin’s Creed, and focus on making two different titles that focused on different directions. With Assassin’s Creed: Unity coming to current gen and PC only, many fans will likely miss out. But it seems like people have forgotten that another title in the series is releasing on the same day.
The ever elusive Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, which was just announced two months ago, is Ubisoft’s attempt to try to offer something for fans who haven’t made the jump to current gen, but also aims to improve upon the design and structure set by fan-favorite Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Speaking with Rogue’s producer, Karl Luhe, and after spending a good four hours with the tittle at a recent preview event, I see that there’s a lot to like with this recent entry in the series.
But I still do have some misgivings.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (PS3, Xbox 360[Previewed], PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Release Date: November 11, 2014 (PC Early 2015)
Set after the events of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and taking place before Ratonhnhaké:ton’s story in Assassin’s Creed III, players take on the role of Shay Cormac, a newly trained assassin in North America. While slowly becoming disillusioned by their ways, he is eventually betrayed and left for dead after a mission goes south. He manages to escape and retreats back to New York, but vows vengeance against the Order of Assassins. He later meets Haytham Kenway of the Templar order, and joins their fight against the Assassins — using their own skills and training against them.
“We wanted to tell the story that was left unfinished with the Kenway saga, and what happened in North America,” said producer Karl Luhe. “There’s a big piece of the story, a corner piece of that trilogy that hasn’t been told yet.”
While the timeline of events can get a bit confusing here, Rogue serves to bridge the gap between Black Flag and ACIII, showing why the Brotherhood of Assassins was in such disarray during Ratonhnhaké:ton’s journey, but also has ties to the events of AC: Unity. So fans who have the opportunity to play through both Rogue and Unity will no doubt get more enjoyment out of the story.
1. Steppin’ to the bad side
While the Order of Assassins is often seen as a force for good, or rather a lesser shade of gray, the events of Rogue aims to show a different side to the conflict. If Black Flag fulfilled the pirate fantasy, then Rogue seeks to put players in the shoes of a cunning operative working for a shadowy organization. As the first full Templar experience in the AC series, it’s your duty to undermine and weaken the Assassins’ influence on civilization. This might be a shock to the system for many, as you’ll no doubt come into conflict with those you’ve helped from other games. But this change of perspective also gives players a different way to play.
“We really wanted to tell a story of what it’s like to be a Templar, and we felt it was important to have it from a perspective of someone who really believed they’re doing the right thing,” said Luhe. “He honestly believes what he is doing is right for human kind, and he’s horrified by what he sees some of the assassins are doing early on in the game, and hence he ends up hunting them down.”
While playing the early missions, it was certainly a bit jarring to see how things are different from the other side. But I quickly realized that the Assassins are nasty foes indeed. While exploring the open city of New York, I had to bust up some territory controlled by the Assassins. While exploring for ways break into their base, I found that several new types of enemies, one of which called Stalkers, would scout around and try to locate me. While Shay’s eagle vision made finding them a bit easier, they still managed to get the jump on me in some cases by using the same stealth tactics, such as hiding by benches, using crowds, and haystacks. Sound familiar? Well get used to feeling a bit uneasy around such spots, as the Assassins are quite adapt at using them. But then again, so are you.
2. New York and the great pond
In keeping with its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue aims to maintain the dual open-world design for the high seas and the urban environments. Set across the Eastern coast of North America and the North Atlantic, you’ll quickly find that you have a much larger space to play in than previous games. Judging from what I saw, this is likely the largest AC game that Ubisoft has released yet.
“With every new Assassin’s Creed game, we want to be true to that fantasy, and this time you’re a Templar,” said the producer. “We wanted to try a new setting and we went up north around Canada, with icy terrain, and this gives us new experiences with gameplay and the ambiance. Also, this is set during the Seven Year War, so there’s this big war raging between the French and the British, and we really play upon that.”
In New York, Shay must capture and amass the cities resources to benefit the Templar Order. This can be done by winning over the hearts of New Yorkers by renovating city institutions, and of course weakening the Assassins’ hold over the environment, which in turn frees up economic resources. While New York is the only major city that players can expect to explore, the addition of two fully open-water areas, the North Atlantic and the River Valley, gives players a large variety of places to explore. Much like Black Flag, you can explore the oceans, capture territory, raid forts, hunt animals, engage in naval warfare, and use the spoils to strengthen Shay’s resources and the Templar Order’s hold in the Atlantic.
3. This wonderful bag of tricks
One of the benefits of being the bad guy getting to play with all the cool toys. As a Templar, Shay has access to a vast number of resources that greatly dwarf what the Assassins of the 1700s possess. Because of this, you’ll be utilizing weapons, ships, and other gear that will allow the Templar to explore and control areas of the world that the Assassins could not.
Early in his Templar career, Shay meets Benjamin Franklin, who gives him access to experimental equipment and gear. One of which is a modified pellet gun that fires various sleeping, poison, and tracking darts, in addition to doubling as a grenade launcher. In one mission, I had to enter a gas factory and use both sleep grenades to knock out clusters of guards, while using the shrapnel grenades to destroy dangerous chemicals would be used against the populace. Using these tools in conjunction with his Assassin training makes Shay a serious predator, and also inspires you to try and experiment.
Shay’s handlers from the Templar Order have also bestowed him a powerful vessel to conquer the seas. Called the Morrigan, this beauty is outfitted with special cannons that fire rapid rounds at enemies, weaponized oil to burn the ships that try to follow, and a powerful Ice Ram that can punch through sheets of ice scattered around the ocean and punch holes into ships.
4. Dangerous Waters
Avast! Ye Matey. Your adventures on the oceans along with a hearty crew did not end with Black Flag. Though the upcoming Unity has removed the naval exploration entirely, Rogue aims to fill the void by expanding upon the high-seas gameplay that began in ACIII. The Templar Order will have to sail through dangerous waters and battle countless ships to take control of the new world.
Much like Black Flag, players must explore the waters to claim territory from the enemy, all the while expanding your own resources by capturing or salvaging ships, finding loot, and exploring the small areas of land. However, with the new locations around the Atlantic, players will have their work cut out for them as the environments are much more dangerous than before. In the River Valley, players will have to navigate their ship through tight canals in mountainous areas. In the North Atlantic zone, the low temperature has caused ice and blizzards to form. If your ship is unprepared, expect to face serious danger when traveling into waters that require special upgrades.
Though the environment can be an equally strong foe, it can also become your greatest ally on the high seas. In some areas of the ocean, particularly the icy waters of the North Atlantic, you can use the iceberg and heavy ice to your advantage. If your ship is being pecked at by schooners or gunboats, you can destroy the icebergs nearby to create heavy waves to sink or damage enemy ships.
Well, now that I’ve shared my thoughts on what I dug about it, now I gotta switch gears and discussed what rubbed me the wrong way. I know, this seems like an expected complaint, and you’ve likely already noticed in the pictures, but the game looks incredibly dated. Granted, I was playing on Xbox 360 and not a PC build, but I still got the impression that it was held back by the old consoles. I found it to run rather sluggishly. There were long load times, and the visuals and performance came to a crawl at some points. Failing a mission became a point of frustration, as I’d have to wait for an extended period to start playing again.
Perhaps this is because I’ve already become used to playing on the new hardware, but the visuals in Rogue are aged. Which is a shame, as there are a number of beautiful environments and great art directions throughout. I really enjoyed going through the environments and taking at a look at the locales, but then I saw that there were points with graphical artifacts and texture pop-in would come in. It’s a bit jarring how rough the game looks, and it took me out of the moment at some points.
But in any event, I still found my time with the game to be quite enjoyable. Of course, this isn’t a major step forward for the series. By all intents and purposes, it’s Black Flag with much more content and a new storyline. And that sounds great to me. With over 30 hours worth of content in this title, which will no doubt be plentiful, I can definitely see myself returning to the high seas to hunt for more assassins once the game is released next month.