Much has been written so far about Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and for good reason. It’s the eighth-generation debut of one of the most popular game series around, and represents a complete rethink: its traversal mechanics have been rebuilt, the new stance system affects both combat and stealth, and the co-operative multiplayer element promises to seamlessly link online and offline play. Oh, and it doesn’t do much harm that it’s exceptionally pretty.
As good as Unity looks, however, it would be foolish to ignore Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, the game that surely represents the series’ swansong on last generation hardware. It’s the final act in Ubisoft’s American trilogy (quadrilogy if you count Vita side story Liberation), concluding the narrative that – confusingly – began with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the prequel to Assassin’s Creed III.
In AC: Rogue, you’ll play as an Irish Assassin turned Templar – and if you were in any doubt of his nationality, Ubisoft named him Shay Patrick Cormac. The narrative is split down the middle – you’ll get to join the Assassins Order and take on numerous assignments before a pivotal moment where Cormac decides he’s fighting on the wrong side. Though at the moment Ubisoft is keeping quiet on what might prompt such a change of heart, it seems he’s betrayed by the Assassins after a failed mission, whereupon he offers his services to the Templars as a hunter. So much for the Brotherhood.
“Cormac is betrayed by the Assassins, whereupon he offers his services to the Templars as a hunter. So much for the Brotherhood.”
The story makes for an interesting counterpoint to Assassin’s Creed III in particular, where you began the game – in an audacious sleight-of-hand on Ubisoft’s part – as Templar Haytham Kenway, before the rest of the game followed his son Connor’s journey as an Assassin. The reverse approach is an intriguing one for a series that increasingly seems to be leaning more towards the opposite side: perhaps the next one will be called Templar’s Creed? Indeed, Haytham has been confirmed to appear in Rogue, though we doubt he’ll be playable this time.
Either way, the game will be set during the North American theatre of the Seven Years’ War, known widely in the US and Canada as The French and Indian War. It’s a rich setting that promises plenty of historical intrigue, and while you’ll get to revisit New York, most of the environments will be completely new. You’ll travel between both extremes of the Appalachian River Valley, from Alabama to Quebec, as well as sailing across the harsh seas of the North Atlantic. As with Black Flag, there will be plenty of naval exploration. Cormac’s ship, the Morrigan, is smaller and lighter than Edward Kenway’s Jackdaw, all the better for negotiating rivers and avoiding icebergs in the chilly waters of the Atlantic. You won’t always want to give them a wide berth, however: when you’re under attack, you can use them as cover.
When you’re on the open seas the roles are reversed: the hunter becomes the hunted, as Assassins attempt to board your ship. You’ll have to fight them off quickly, as they’ll attempt to overthrow your crew, and you can’t afford to lose too many men. Be careful not to go overboard, too – the sea’s so cold that it even affects the HUD, which gradually freezes over as your health depletes.
You might even be able to fend off those following you before they board: the Morrigan is equipped with prototype machine guns which can be fired at enemy craft, and you’ll be able to release oil barrels behind you before lighting them up to prevent pursuers from tailing you. And when you’re safe from harm, you can engage in a bit of hunting of your own, chasing down narwhals and polar bears. The pelts of the latter might, we imagine, keep you hidden in snowbound areas, while the horns of the former could perhaps be fashioned somehow into weapons – or simply traded for a tidy sum.
Back on dry land, Cormac will benefit from joining a better funded outfit, with high-tech gadgets and weaponry that empower you to effectively take down your former allies. You’ll have an air rifle and a grenade launcher, while those who prefer a quieter more clandestine approach will be able to deploy smoke grenades and shoot firecrackers to cause a distraction.
“The new interception mechanic allows you to thwart potential assassinations by getting to the target first.”
The series’ trademark Eagle vision has been upgraded, too. You’ll be able to detect assassins stalking you from the shadows and hiding within crowds, while red glows will indicate the presence of a nearby threat. Meanwhile, the new Assassin Interception mechanic allows you to thwart potential assassinations by getting to the target first. Truly, it’s good to be on the other side for a change.
In essence, Rogue feels like the best bits of III and IV in a single package. The third game had a terrific setting but suffered from some lacklustre story missions and an uncharismatic lead; it’s too early to gauge whether that first problem has been solved, but Cormac is certainly a protagonist of a darker hue. With the Appalachian River Valley acting as an expansion of the Frontier, as well as allowing you to transition between land and water-based exploration, it should afford players the pleasures of sailing without allowing it to shift the emphasis too far away from the game’s stealthy core. Similar freedoms, sharper focus.
With a clear link between Rogue and Unity – albeit one that only makes itself clear in the game’s closing moments – it’s apparent that Ubisoft is hoping fans will play both games. But will Unity’s changes (and visuals) make it difficult to go back to last-gen Creed? Or will returning to the Order be quite so appealing after the thrill of playing as a Templar? As far as we can see, the biggest dilemma most will have is making enough time to play both. It might be time to consider booking a couple of weeks off work in November…