After the positive reception of Assassin’s Creed II, it was made clear that additional games in the series needed a substantial narrative hook, as the now concluded story of Desmond Miles did nothing for nobody. In Rogue, that hook was the chance to see the world through the eyes of Shay Patrick Cormac, an Assassin who turned his back on the Brotherhood and sided with the Templars. Up until now, the only evidence towards the existence of these former Assassins was Daniel Cross, the Templar who hunted Desmond in Assassin’s Creed III. An Irish immigrant serving the Brotherhood in the British Colonies during the Seven Years’ War, Shay and his close friend Liam fight against Templar interests, as they relate to Precursor artifacts, under the command Achilles (Connor’s mentor in III). The game takes a significant amount of time establishing Shay’s relationship with his fellow Assassins in order to make his eventual transition as a Templar to have a sincere impact.
To the game’s credit, the story avoids painting Shay as some sort of Anakin Skywalker figure whose emotions clouds his vision of the Assassin Brotherhood. That being said, his actions are a result of the fear and terror he experiences while on assignment in which he accidentally causes the deadly Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Unable to reconcile the blood on his hands and his concern that the Assassin’s are meddling in powers they can’t comprehend, he abandons the Brotherhood and initially launches a one man mission to prevent them from destroying more cities. It is during such travels that he is scooped up by the Templars and works with the likes of Haythem Kenway to halt their progress and, in his eyes, keep the world safe. I applaud Ubisoft for not making light of Shay’s transformation into a Templar. Long after the switch, Shay’s interactions with his former brothers and sisters are meaningful and laced with regret. It’s not like Warrior Within where he becomes an uncontrollable, rage-filled madman that delights in cutting down his enemies. In a battle with Adewale, where the former slave hurls insults and bravado, all Shay does is ask for forgiveness once the deed is done.
Shay’s adventures alongside the Templars takes him through pivotal events that shaped the Seven Years’ War, an event I admit am unfamiliar with. I was not the best history student and unlike the War of Independence, the Borgias, the French Revolution, and the War of the Roses, the historical recreations and context in Rogue doesn’t make much of an impact. There aren’t many famous faces to stop by and make cameos besides James Cook and Benjamin Franklin who plays the role of Leonard da Vinci by producing new gadgets, such as the air rifle and grenade launcher, for Shay to use. Both characters have very little screen time and merely serve as a means to deliver goods and move the story in the next direction.
The easiest way to explain the gameplay of Rogue is to tell it like it is: Rogue combines Assassin’s Creed III‘s wilderness and Colonial setting with the naval experience of Black Flag. On land, you’ll play through a surprisingly short collection of story missions that have you moving across the northern reaches of the British Colonies and surrounding forests. The mission design for the story run the gamut of infiltration to assassinations and many will be happy to know that tailing missions have been significantly reduced. Each mission offers a range of optional objectives that test the ability to remain unseen and juggle additional responsibilities to achieve the all mighty 100% memory sync. All playable locations are littered with content and collectibles from chasing sea shanties, spending money towards renovating parts of the world (instead of a central location), and preventing assassinations to collecting Animus fragments and uncovering Viking artifacts and Native totems. At sea, as the captain of the Morrigan you are free to pillage other ships in an upgradable vessel, engage in a global naval campaign, capture forts, go harpooning, and explore the beautiful, virgin lands of the northeastern United States. At first glance, the size of the naval exploration element may smaller and more hindered because of the continent, but the scope is much larger than it appears. For example, many of the large, isolated islands can be traversed from end to end on foot without docking at different ports.
While there are no meaningful rewards for completing every activity and finding every item besides filling out the Abstergo Challenges list, collection hounds can expect to be kept busy. The only annoying thing about this pursuit is that Rogue uses a bad color choice to denote locations where 100% collection has been achieved. Black Flag used a nice, visible gold color for their location markers but Rogue instead uses a light blue that is too close to the default light grey. This might sound like a nitpick, but if I had a dollar for each time I thought I left areas unfinished, I could purchase a new QA department for Ubisoft.
To drive the game’s connection to Black Flag even further, the present day portion of the story sees you as a faceless, silent employee of Abstergo’s entertainment arm. The company has experienced a major hacking attempt (it is not explicitly mentioned whether this was a result of Black Flag‘s finale) and while the other employees have been evacuated, you’re forced to stay behind with a skeleton crew to unravel the mystery of Shay’s memories and has the effect of making you feel as if you had to work a Saturday filling out TPS reports. Outside of the Animus, you’re given controlled access to parts of the office, major servers, and other computers that can be repaired (and uncover information about the company’s role in the greater Templar scheme) via a simplistic minigame.
Shay’s defection to the Templars presents produces some interesting antagonists. With the British engaged with the Seven Years’ War, the French forces are one of the greater threats.. He must also stave off the presence of the Assassin Brotherhood that has called for his death. Though the story missions dictate which high ranking Assassin’s he battles in boss fights, he’ll engage in smaller skirmishes with the bottom ranks of the order. Their presence in the world are that of street gangs that operate out of Borgia-esque hideouts. The Assassin gangs are more than just sword fodder. They frequently will stake out Shay in familiar hiding spots, waiting for him to cross their paths. The presence of an ambush is noted by a audible cue and flash around the screen, a warning to switch to Eagle Vision. Finding these hidden men and women is essentially an offline version of the series’ hide and seek multiplayer. The general idea is to suss them out of their hiding spot and kill them before they have a chance to attack. Honestly, this process really isn’t necessary. There is nothing to gain from hunting assassins like this as it is nothing more than a way to break the monotony of item collection and traversal.
Having spent the majority of my gaming this year on the PlayStation 4, I have forgotten what the PlayStation 3 is capable of. Black Flag looked gorgeous on the newer console and with a significant portion of Rogue set at sea, I was expecting a noticeable, and tolerable, performance downgrade. To my surprise, Rogue looks good enough to be on the PlayStation 4. The game is at its best in the ocean, where deep blue waves rock the Morrigan back and forth, occasionally spilling white, frothy sea water onto the deck. Storms create rough seas but Rogue adds snow to the mix and the framerate doesn’t suffer one bit when blizzards engulf the ship and severely impact visibility. The rest of the game runs just as smoothly, often hitting the 60 fps mark with ease. The only technical problem I had was one serious audio sync issue that happened after I tried to view my current trophies. I expect that the synchronization task that needs to be done each time you view them may have affected the system memory. The problem fixed itself after restarting the game from the XMB.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is rooted in familiarity and reuses content and ideas from older games. Those features that it borrows, however, are the best the franchise has to offer. Shay is a fascinating addition to the growing roster of characters in the Assassin’s Creed universe who successfully avoids the personality pitfalls that come with playing as the bad guys. By switching the point of view, Assassin’s Creed tries to show that both sides of the Assassin/Templar war are strong in their convictions and believe that the cause they follow is just. Though the series has shown a bias towards the Assassins, they finally get their due and are made to look uncharacteristically extreme in their pursuit of promoting humanity’s freedom.