Listen; I'll be honest with you. I wasn't all that interested in Assassin's Creed Rogue when Ubisoft announced it last week. Yes, Assassin's Creed is one of my favorite series of the past 10 years, and yes, last year's nautical-themed installment was a wonderful breath of fresh air. But as a game exclusive to previous-generation hardware, Rogue just didn't call out to me. At least not in the way that this year's other, much prettier, much more next-gen installment has.
But you know what? Maybe I was too quick to write off Rogue. I'm still not entirely sold on it, but after getting some hands-on time with the Gamescom 2014 demo, I'm ready to give Assassin's Creed Rogue another look. Here are a few reasons why.
You play by a different set of rules
The protagonist of Assassin's Creed Rogue is an Assassin-turned-Templar by the name of Shay Patrick Cormac. The Templars are, of course, the bad guys of the Assassin's Creed universe. But while Cormac isn't exactly a villain himself--more of a sympathetic anti-hero--he does follow a much different code of conduct now that he's jumped ship toward Team World Order.
More specifically, Cormac is free to bend the rules of morality in his favor. As one example, civilians are no longer off-limits. Whereas previous games would flash a big "YOUR ANCESTOR DID NOT KILL CIVILIANS" message to keep you from straying from the intended fiction, Cormac can do things like fire a berserk dart at a civilian to create a distraction, then slip by unnoticed once that poor guy begins attacking everyone in sight. Of course, such tactics are what military historians refer to as a "total dick move," but it's an interesting change for the series.
Will this amount to any sort of meaningful change, though? In terms of gameplay, I'm going to guess not. But I am interested to see how this ability to act like a complete jerk meshes with the story. Does the narrative play off the idea that Cormac can be a ruthless killer before developing him to the point where you begin to feel guilty about causing this sort of collateral damage? I'm curious.
You get to see combat from the other side
Cormac is a self-described Assassin hunter, so many of the game's missions involve you seeking those hooded parkour experts and putting an end to their interminable clambering once and for all. It's these missions that allow you to see how combat works from the other side. Your enemies will shimmy up buildings and disappear, then pounce on you from some unsuspecting perch when you least expect it. At other times, they'll try to add some distance between you and them by firing at an explosive barrel if you happen to be standing too close to a stock of gunpowder. In either scenario, these missions appear to function like a game of cat and mouse, where the mice are highly trained in the art of vertical takedowns and sudden disappearances, and the cats are, well, Irish Templars with three first names.
The frozen sea seems pretty neat
Assassin's Creed Rogue takes place across a variety of settings within the American and Canadian Northeast during the Seven Years War, and while some of those look like the sort of outdoor terrain featured in Assassin's Creed III, one area feels starkly different.
That area is the frozen sea of the North Atlantic during the dead of winter. This area looks and feels positively Arctic, with huge glaciers, the frozen remains of ravaged ships, and a nighttime sky dominated by the eerie colors of the aurora borealis. It hit me how different this place was when I made a lazy attempt to dock Cormac's ship by jumping into the sea and swimming ashore, a habit I picked up while playing Black Flag. After a few short seconds, the screen began filling up with a visual effect like heavy frost, and Cormac's health started to tumble. Turns out swimming in freezing conditions is a pretty dumb idea!
Again, I'm not sure if this setting will add much of a meaningful impact to the game, but it's been a long time since an Assassin's Creed game offered up a setting that felt so wildly different from those that came before it.
Sea shanties are back
I'm not sure what I really need to say here. The sea shanties in Black Flag were delightful. There are new sea shanties in Rogue. Hooray!
So that's a quick update on Assassin's Creed Rogue. Like I said before, I'm still not entirely sold on it, but I'm prepared to admit that writing it off so quickly may have been a mistake. I'm interested. I just need to see more.
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