Surprisingly hidden amongst the media blitz for its next gen companion Assassin’s Creed: Unity, it would be easy to forget that an entirely different an completely new AC game was released last week.
But it was – and while the verdict is drifting in on Unity, it seems as though not enough attention has been given to Rogue – which in my opinion, is a shame. Rogue offers a robust new storyline, some tried and true mechanics and an overall tight package that is well worth playing.
Unlike many of the past Assassin’s Creed games, the journey of Rogue begins with our hero, Shay McCormac, already well entrenched in the Assassin brotherhood.
Shay’s an Irishman living in rural New York state, under the tutelage of Achilles (a younger man than he appears in AC3) and living amongst a thriving colony of Assassins in the newly formed American colonies. A lot of locales from Assassin’s Creed 3 make an appearance because of this original setting – a fraction of the America Connor called home – but it never feels like needless recycling of content, given how necessary it is fit the plot of the game.
All is well in the world of Shay, but from the get-go, there’s something a little out of place with his interactions and place among the Assassins.
The game constantly comes back to themes of fragmentation, shattering and dislocation, and Shay never seems to feel comfortable in his skin until a few hours into the game.
Unfortunately, Shay isn’t really to blame for what happens next – bad Assassin’s Intel results in him mucking around with Precursor technology and setting off an earthquake which kills thousands of people. Feeling betrayed by the order that sent him to this, Shay flees with the manuscript, nearly dying in the process, in order to make sure that the Assassins don’t seek out further technology and cost more innocent lives.
Shay in recovered from a near icy grave by kindly General Munroe, who seems to be preaching the values that Shay is looking for – namely the safety of innocents and the stopping of the Assassins goals. It soon transpires that Munroe is a Templar, working under the guidance of one Haytham Kenway, and despite the the fact that Shay has been battling with Templars for his entire adult life, they welcome him into their fold, with the shared goal of eliminating those that wronged Shay and saving the world.
Or so it would seem.
Moral grey areas abound Shay throughout his journey through North America, he remains constantly unsure about the validity of the path that he’s on.
This doesn’t stop him from carrying out Templar orders, mind you, but there’s a constant reluctance throughout the game that makes Shay a tortured protagonist, that’s unlike any we’ve seen in the series before. Cameo appearances by other characters from the series add weight to this emotional rollercoaster.
When it comes to gameplay, Rogue is a bit of a combination of elements from the last two in the series.
Settings and visuals are very much pulled from AC3 – snowy landscapes, beautiful North American vistas – but the engine the game runs on is clearly Black Flag – with a slightly improved sailing mechanic, and a new ship to upgrade like you did the Jackdaw.
These segments are always great fun, and keep the world Shay inhabits vast and interesting. Not everything is recycled, mind you.
Playing against Assassins rather than as one offers up a wealth of new gameplay challenges, especially interesting is the addition of ‘stalkers’, hidden assassins that hide in all the places that you’d traditionally use to stalk your prey (ledges, bushes, hay bails) looking jump out and attack you mid-mission.
The greatest strength that Rogue has, having just finished it, is as a piece of superb world-building.
We get given closure on characters we’ve met before, and Rogue ties nicely into it’s partnership with Unity in the closing chapters (would recommend playing this before Unity if you have both).
As things outside the Animus get more and more confusing (I won’t even touch on this here), it’s nice to see storylines and links with the Assassin’s and Templars get a bit more sensible and clear along the timelines of the world.
If you’re a fan of the series, AC: Rogue offers a great look into the world you’ve already become invested in, and offers a new take on the story that might shift your perception of the conflict between the two warring factions you’ve become one-sided on over the course of half a dozen games.
While it’s not as long as Black Flag, there’s enough additional content and heart to make this one well worth investing in, especially if it boils down to this or Unity.