Given most of Ubisoft's marketing budget went on Assassin's Creed Unity this year, you'd be forgiven if you thought Assassin's Creed Rogue was a cash grab or an afterthought when it was announced in early August. Though the latter may feel slightly true given some of the games presentation decisions, Rogue is able to bring a fresh and thought-provoking perspective to the Assassin's Creed brand, while it ties up some loose ends in the overall storyline and refines what made Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag so enjoyable.
Returning to the North American setting of Assassin's Creed III, Assassin's Creed Rogue sees Great Britain and France battling it out over the land during the Seven Years' War. In the middle of the conflict lay the secret war between the Assassins and Templars, which will ultimately decide the true fate of North America. Backdrop in place, enter Shay Patrick Cormac, a typical Irishman with a noble and just heart, but one too many "Luck of the Irish" clichés. After a mission goes tragically wrong, Shay blames his Assassin brothers for the tragedy and accusing Achilles, their leader, of being blind with greed in the need to win the war. After going rogue – hence the title – Shay ultimately allies himself with his former Templar enemy and vows to stop the Assassins whatever the cost.
Up until this point in the series we've mostly seen the Templars from an observational and highly subjective perspective, slaughtering thousands of them over seven installments, while players have been conditioned into thinking Templars are the bad guys. Playing as a Templar this time round is a bold move by Ubisoft, as Rogue masterfully blurs the distinction between Templar and Assassin more than ever without making either one the bad guys - each are trying to stop other, thinking its the right thing to do. Shay also follows this pattern, which makes his arc one of the more interesting so far in the series. Even though Shay believes he is doing what is right, there is plenty of emotion when its time to slay Assassins he once thought as family.
Those who played Black Flag will find Rogue easy to pick up mechanically, as they're are pretty much identical in many ways, right down to the graphical performance, upgrade systems, combat, and parkour animation. This isn’t a bad thing, as the foundations set down by Black Flag were already strong and Rogue puts an effort in refining some of them, such as clipping and animation jitter. Reusing animation assets is one thing, but there's a limit and unfortunately Rogue crosses it with the game menus. Everything from the stores, crafting, naval fleet and pause menus are completely identical to Black Flag, with the only changes being the background video and the color from green to blue. It's not the worst design decision ever made and it makes sense contextually - since you're using the same Animus in the story - but offering as much variation as possible would help distinguish the experience as Assassin's Creed Rogue and not "Black Flag 2.0."
That being said, there are plenty of new additions to get you in a Templar state of mind, with one of the biggest being the threat of Assassin attack. Rogue interestingly creates a constant sense of tension as Assassin skills and tactics, including air assassinations, hay bales, and blend groups are turned against you. To defend yourself against an Assassin ambush, you have to use tools that those who have played the multiplayer modes in previous installments will be familiar with. As you travel the world, you have to listen out for a distinct "whisper" sound, which acts as an early awareness system, telling you there is an Assassin near by. Once heard, you can activate your Advanced Eagle Vision and using the special compass, you can find the hidden Assassin and take them out. It's advised to avoid conflict with the Assassins when possible, as they can deliver an extreme amount of damage with their first strike and if you poorly time your attack when hunting them, they will counter it with a near-killing blow. One of the more welcoming things to return in Assassin's Creed Rogue is naval combat, which has seen a few additions, some not in one's favour. Shay’s ship – The Morrigan – can now be boarded by Bounty Hunter and Assassin vessals sent after you if you cause too much death and destruction in the world. Some of the other changes are in the world itself, which is devided into three main locations; New York City, the River Valley and the North Atlantic, which are also chock full of the typical side missions, activities and collectibles expected in an Assassin's Creed game, keeping the completionist within us busy for at least 20 hours. New York - last seen in Assassin's Creed III - is the only major city in Rogue and is controlled by a gang working for the Assassins. To save the city from the Assassins and earn a lot of money in the process, you have to attack and liberate the gang hideout in each of city's districts. You could consider hideouts to be a land-based variant of the Black Flag forts and they're highly satisfying to capture, as you infiltrate the site, kill the Assassin leader, and burn the flag.
The two Naval maps - River Valley and the North Atlantic - offer a welcome contrast and allow a variety of tactics and play styles. The River Valley is a lush woodland environment with long narrow rivers, which are perfect for the highly nimble Morrigan to ambush ships and make quick escapes. The North Atlantic on the other hand, features low visibility during snow storms and you can freeze to death if you stay in the water for too long. It also has some interesting environmental elements, such as icebergs, which make naval combat a lot more fun given that if you shoot one, it could cause a tidal wave and damage enemy ships in the process. Tying all three locations together is, of course, the Animus and modern-day setting, which sees you back at the Abstergo Entertainment offices from Black Flag. If you aren't interested in this part of the story, you will be happy to know that the amount of time spent there is much shorter than last time around. However, those who are invested will find Rogue is a real treat, as it offers a treasure trove of Assassin's Creed lore and secrets to be discovered, if you dig deep enough.
Much like its next-gen brother, Rogue doesn't have a competitive multiplayer mode, but where Unity has co-op, Rogue has no online multiplayer of any kind, which is highly unfortunate. To make matters worse, the story campaign missions are in only six sequences, which makes Rogue one of the shortest Assassin's Creed stories in the main series to date and those who are invested in the story will be left wanting more after a shocker of an ending.
Assassin's Creed Rogue is really meant for the fans of the series who are invested in the Assassin’s Creed universe. The game knows this and wears it on its sleeve. If you weren't a fan of Black Flag, there unfortunately isn't much here to help change your mind. Newcomers are better off coming back to Rogue once they've caught up on the story so far, as it expects you to know certain characters and plotlines going into it. The game may use one too many assets from the previous title and its lack of online features put the product's longevity into question, but that doesn't take away from the fun of naval combat or fighting the deadly Assassins. Assassin's Creed Rogue isn't the cash grab many assumed it would be, and ultimately is an enjoyable experience and fitting end to the Kenway trilogy.