— This post contains spoilers for Assassin's Creed Rogue.
Assassin’s Creed Unity shattered my fondness for the Creed. Almost a year after its release, Syndicate picked up the pieces, and last November, replaying it on PS4, Ezio Auditore’s debut adventure put them back together.
Revisiting Assassin’s Creed II reminded me why I enjoy these games; playing it, I found myself yearning to revisit other titles in the series — in particular Black Flag, a next-gen experience that retains more of a classic, pre-Unity feel. As I thought about taking it back off the shelf, however, I remembered that there’s another game out there, very similar to Black Flag on a gameplay level, but which represented a significant gap in my Assassin’s Creed experience.
The ambitious, but ultimately underwhelming, Unity wasn’t the only AC game to debut in 2014; it was given the most attention, certainly, but it debuted at a time when many, many players still hadn’t made the jump to then-next-, now current-gen. For those players, there was another game.
Very much in the vein of — and serving as a sequel to — Black Flag, Rogue stands apart because of its premise. You play as Shay Patrick Cormac: a Templar.
With Unity to keep me occupied, I didn’t bother picking Rogue up when it first released. I was, in fact, convinced that holding off on it for awhile was the smart thing to do — surely the game would make its way to next-gen platforms before long. Needless to say, I was mistaken; to this day, Rogue remains marooned on increasingly obsolete hardware. Fortunately, though, being the trooper it is, my PlayStation 3 remains in active service, and so — after retrieving Rogue from the PlayStation Store — I blew the dust off its controller and set about Shay’s story.
SAME COIN, OPPOSITE SIDES
As I noted above, I gave Rogue a chance because I was yearning for another, more modern Assassin’s Creed experience, and, during my first few hours with it, that’s exactly what I got.
After an excellent opening complimented by a beautiful score — Rogue, like Unity and Syndicate, reprises Ezio’s Family, but it’s version is by far the best of the lot — Rogue quickly becomes your typical AC experience, the odd story point hidden, like a needle in the proverbial haystack, amongst the massive amount of collecting, viewpoint-reaching, and fort liberating to be done. Given that I get a huge amount of pleasure out of clearing the expansive maps Creed titles offer, icon-by-icon, I had no problem with this. It was, after all, what I’d come for — and, like I’ve said, for the first few hours, I was satisfied.
Eventually, however, that satisfaction became frustration.
I’ve never had much of a problem with the repetitious nature of Assassin’s Creed games, but I felt it here. Gameplay-wise, Rogue is so similar to Black Flag — same coin, opposite sides… — that, at times, I felt as though I was playing the same game. 95% of what you’ll find in Rogue, you’ll already have seen in Black Flag, just under different names.
On the surface, Rogue’s premise seems fresh, exciting. Finally, you’ll play as a Templar! It’ll be so new, so different. Except it’s not. At all.
Rather than make an effort to do something truly compelling with the first game to put players on the other team, so to speak, Ubisoft have merely reversed each side’s roles, making the Templars seem like decent folk — Haytham Kenway being a notable, and welcome, exception — and the Assassin’s insane zealots bent on getting what they’re after even if it destroys the world. As with the gameplay, you’re getting more of the same, with different names.
This is a massive shame, because Shay Cormac is a genuinely decent character. Despite being hamstrung by a shocking accent — and, though the voice acting itself is perfectly fine, hitting all the emotional beats, that accent really is diabolical* — he’s contemplative, relatable, fighting for what he truly believes to be the greater good, and thoroughly deserving of a better game.
When it comes right down to it, it’s the game that’s the problem. The story to be found in amongst all its repetition is really quite good — Shay is, if you will, the Creed’s version of Anakin Skywalker — and at its best when it ties itself to characters both past, and (canonically speaking, of course) future. There’s a real sense of weight to interacting with some of the familiar faces Shay encounters as he walks his path, as he — as he’ll repeat ad nauseam as you play — makes his own luck.
Rogue’s home stretch is almost enough to make up for the endless-feeling hours of doing the same thing over and over again that take you there. Though the game’s combat leaves a lot to be desired — ship boarding in particular is barely functional — the traversal feels just as good as it ever has, and the beginning of the end delivers some excellent platforming through an environment as beautiful as it is bleak.
As for the finale itself… well, it’s easily the best part of the game, tying Rogue intimately to Unity and firmly establishing Shay Patrick Cormac as a legend of the franchise in his own right… or rite, I suppose.
Realistically, there was no way I was going to choose Rogue over Unity back in 2014/’15. The promise of something truly new — with those vastly improved visuals and that glorious-looking parkour — was far too attractive. I wish, however, I’d gotten around to it afterwards.
Unity left a very bad taste in my mouth, but Rogue — imperfect though it is — would’ve washed it away. It would’ve reminded me, much sooner, why I loved — and continue to love — the Assassins and their Creed.
P.S. It would be utterly egregious of me to call out Shay's vocal performance without mentioning that of his First Mate, Christopher Gist. Whereas Shay is let down by a dodgy accent, Gist's performance is terrible across the board. Loud, over-the-top and cartoonish, it's completely at odds with the tone of the game.
* I couldn't find a natural place to put this point in the article proper, but THANK GOD THERE WERE NO TROPHIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE MINI-GAMES THIS TIME. To quote Jim Sterling, my anus was properly clenched when I walked into a tavern and saw a goddamn Fanorona board.