The cynic in me wants to say to that Assassin’s Creed Rogue is little more than a glorified add-on, one last-ditch effort to squeeze some cash from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation–and in many ways, it is. But after sailing the high seas as an Assassin turned Templar, I think it’s more apt to think of Rogue as a cheeky but uninspired farewell, a piece of fan service that ties up some loose ends, and gives those absorbed in the overarching Abstergo arc answers to some of its more complex questions.
Those answers are, unfortunately, buried in a serviceable, if predictable story. The hero–or anti-hero in this case–is Shay Patrick Cormac, a gruff, moody Assassin out for revenge after becoming disillusioned with the brotherhood. Yes, the Assassin’s Creed series still hasn’t discovered that there are character motivations outside of surly angry dude, with Shay spending most of his time shouting at and killing other surly angry dudes, before going off on his own to stare off into space, and contemplate why everyone is just so gosh darn mean to him.
So no, the core character story isn’t going to keep you glued to the screen, particularly as the voice acting with its dodgy Irish accents is less-than-convincing. But, while I’ve never cared for it much myself, the surrounding lore is going to be of huge interest to series fans. Rogue fills in many of the gaps between ACIII and Black Flag by diving into the Abstergo and Templar conspiracies, and making you think about their motivations. Perhaps Abstergo isn’t the evil organization its been made out to be. Perhaps the Assassin’s aren’t always in the right. That Rogue doesn’t paint a picture of black and white is one of its greatest strengths.
A lot of this is accomplished during the historical missions (which take place between 1752 and 1761), but there’s also a return to the often derided modern day first-person sections of Black Flag. Thankfully, these sections are much shorter this time around, and–save for a painfully perky Abstergo employee–rather pleasant. There’s a lot of information to uncover, from datapads with tongue-in-cheek references to other Assassin’s Creed games, to computers with Assassin profiles that are unlocked via a nifty puzzle minigame. That’s not to mention the Abstergo Entertainment offices themselves, which are littered with all manner of Easter eggs not just from Assassin’s Creed, but from other Ubisoft games too.
As for the historical missions, well, a cliche it may be, but given that Rogue is mechanically identical to Black Flag, if you weren’t into the boats and battles on the high seas, Rogue is certainly not going to change your mind on the matter. The only real difference here is the setting–places like the frozen North Atlantic, the Appalachian River Valley, and New York–and the size of your ship, which is smaller and sleeker and ideal for traversing the smaller waters of inland America.
Sadly, those waters are far less glamorous than the lush beaches and crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, and they’re far more sparsely populated too. Story-driven side quests are few and far between, replaced instead with items to collect, buildings to upgrade, and gang bases to liberate. The latter are the most entertaining. Hunting for the gang’s leader using Eagle Vision and sneakily stalking him atop buildings, are some of the most tense and exciting moments in the game.
That there’s a lack of interesting missions aside from base liberations and building upgrades is something of a wasted opportunity, particularly as one of the largest locations you can visit–the 1700s recreation of New York with its wooden houses and cobbled streets–is an impressive sight to behold. Only a few of the core story missions even take place in the city, and without much in the way of side quests, even a dramatic visage wasn’t enough to make me want to explore it to its fullest.
More disappointing is that the story missions that do happen in New York, and indeed around each of Rogue’s islands, just aren’t that interesting. For a game with Assassin in the title, there aren’t actually a whole lot of assassination missions to play through, and those that are there tend to involve your target running off (whether you’ve been detected or not) and you chasing them around the city while they drop smoke bombs, or fire shots at you from a distance. The slow, methodical, and far more interesting assassinations that you’d hope for are few and far between.
And so it falls to the seafaring missions to pick up the slack. The thrill of sailing on the open sea hasn’t lost any of its charm, even if the environments themselves are a little less alluring. Sailing over the Atlantic, seeing humpback whales belly flop their way across the water as your motley crew sings a hearty sea shanty still manage to stir up a thrill. Naval battles are par for the course, but there sadly aren’t enough of them to warrant spending a whole lot of time upgrading your ship, or venturing out to pick up stranded crew members and supplies.
Those that are there are fun, each battle being far more strategic than you might imagine. You’re encouraged to take stock of the situation during the bigger battles, assessing the size and your enemies and figuring out who’s best to pelt with long range mortars, and who’s best to get up close with and unleash a barrage of cannon fire. But you can’t help but feel that with the slim amount of missions on offer both out at sea and on dry land that you’re getting a raw deal. There’s not even any multiplayer to round things out.
Outside of a few additions like an air rifle and grenade launcher (which is used exactly one for mission), there’s next to nothing in Rogue that moves the franchise forward. And even if you simply wanted more of Black Flag, that the missions are so sparse makes it difficult to want to drag yourself across the vast expanse of Rogue’s oceans. Instead of a rich, fleshed-out game, Rogue is a short, mildly entertaining adventure that’s thin on core content, but thick with information. It’s intriguing information though, particularly if you’re a series fan, just don’t expect the best of adventures while you’re taking it all in.