Open-world games offer a ton of different distractions and while most of these experiences end up capturing the imagination of players more accustomed to free-form play, it can sometimes feel like oversaturation. Occasionally, it just feels like there’s too much to do or publishers could run the risk of over-stuffing the gaming industry with similar products or repeated entries in a franchise. You could certainly make that claim this year as Ubisoft Entertainment will release two full-blown Assassin’s Creed games on the same day in November.
I’ve complained about the publisher’s tendency for this in the past. When Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Rayman Origins arrived at retail on the same day, I was happy to enjoy both games despite the fact that it’s my profession and I have way too much time for this stuff. If it comes down to launch day and you haven’t been able to decide between Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Rogue, you’ll be forgiven for making your choice based on one of two factors, the first being whether you own a next-generation console or not and the second being whether you can stomach taking on the role of a Templar to hunt down our Assassin order.
With so many games leading up to this point, it probably wasn’t hard for the developers behind Assassin’s Creed Rogue to identify a few high-profile characters to eliminate in the name of increased momentum moving forward. Having played both Unity and Rogue for a few hours in the past two weeks, I can say with confidence that Unity aims to reignite the fires that burn between the Templars and Assassins, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Rogue wants to look backward and ask questions about the story thus far, though the answers will definitively prove bloody.
I took control of Rogue’s lead, Shay Cormac, at Ubisoft’s offices and got a quick look at three expansive new maps players will have to explore: a massive New York under threat of gangs and other villainy, a network of rivers and islands with tons of distractions, and an expanse of frigid North Atlantic Ocean where naval gameplay offers a few new twists. For more information on additional mechanics and the ship you’ll pilot in-game, dubbed the Morrigan, read our hands-on preview from PAX Prime 2014. Rogue carries much of the franchise’s history with it, while Unity has a singular city with no loading and plenty of emphasis on series staples like climbing and combat.
Rogue feels much more directed at the Assassin’s Creed fanboys and fangirls who can’t get enough, and in all honesty it played just as well as Unity did in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. Climbing up a building in New York, leaping to a haystack, running along perfectly placed pikes jutting out from city walls, and assassinating important enemies feels just as you would expect, though a few story beats had me gasping before we even set thumbs to analog sticks and buttons. While I was allowed to play through one such sequence, I can’t actually talk about who lives and who dies until launch day.
In one early set piece, Ubisoft introduced us to gang-hideout gameplay in which players need to identify a leader in a garrison or other organized stronghold, attack, and then cut down an Assassin-looking flag at the center. I used sleep darts to knock out key lookouts on a rooftop, then fired a firecracker dart at a collection of explosive barrels to eliminate a few more enemies. With the base on alert, it was time to move on the garrison boss and cut down the burnt orange Assassin’s flag at the center.
These gameplay loops compliment the fort-blasting naval gameplay that returns in the Atlantic and river systems, though stealth inevitably proves stronger in the smaller encounters. Once players meet a few friendly faces, including Haytham Kenway of Assassin’s Creed III, Christopher Gist, and a Colonel Monro, it’s off to the races. Things have summarily changed in the Americas following the events of the previous games and it’ll be a bird's nest of details that may fly over the heads of more casual fans.
I think I related to other GameRevolution staff that Assassin’s Creed Unity feels like the game meant for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners who haven’t donned a hood and hidden blade since Assassin’s Creed II or Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed Rogue is antithetical to that. It’ll prove the smaller investment given that the title remains exclusive to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (and PC as was announced at the preview event), but it’ll also require a lot more from the player in series knowledge and awareness.
It’ll be up to you whether co-operative missions trump a blunderbuss and orders to literally pursue familiar faces to the ends of the (playable) Earth. In fact, I hung my head during this particularly spoiler-y sequence and hesitated so long someone working for Ubisoft asked me if anything was wrong. I replied flatly that “I would rather not kill ****.” That Assassin’s Creed brought me to this point provides testament to my love of the series and the way it plays with history, so if you follow me in this sentiment I’d say Assassin’s Creed Rogue should satisfy diehard fans when it lands side-by-side with Assassin’s Creed Unity on November 11, 2014.