Assassin’s Creed Rogue Preview

Cold weather, hot knife.

Forgetting the franchise’s tendency to follow history closely enough to twist it, Assassin’s Creed Rogue seemingly hopes to upend much of what you’d expect from the series by changing focus and appearing on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. To that end, Rogue puts players in the boots of a Templar as opposed to the hooded figures the games have been named after for years.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to learn much about the game’s story despite the relatively polished presentation ahead of release. Instead, Rogue’s PAX Prime 2014 demo focused on changes to the naval combat that will return from Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, though the developers promised that Rogue will still feature plenty of land to explore as well. I left impressed by the engine’s ability to keep up with harsh weather effects and crowded ship-to-ship boarding battles though that shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who enjoyed Black Flag on the older consoles.

In Rogue, players take on the role of Shay Cormac, a templar hunting down the Assassin order. Shay gets his own ship, just like Edward Kenway did with the Jackdaw though Rogue’s Morrigan looks more slender. The developers said that the change was made to allow players to navigate river passages though the sequence I played took place in the North Atlantic. The game is divided into sections though there are no loading screens as you transition from coast to coast or ship to shore.

This particular sequence sent Shay into uncharted waters to search for a wrecked ship, though I wrecked quite a few more on my way to the objective. As was the case with Black Flag, players will find no shortage of enemies on the high seas along with supplies to loot and hidden treasure to find. That doesn’t mean the developers haven’t added to the mechanics to keep them fresh and entertaining, bringing new strategic elements into the cold North.

Icebergs littering the seas can be used both as cover from enemy ships, but also as a means of pushing the enemy’s cannon fire well off your aft. Firing on an iceberg caused it to crumble and create a large wave which made incoming damage fly left as I did my best to flank the ships just ahead. The Morrigan also offers the option to upgrade the bow with an ice-cutter that’ll carve through sheets of frozen sea blocking your way. I asked if Rogue prevents players from exploring the map in this way, but Ubisoft doesn’t want to arbitrarily limit exploration even if you need to upgrade specific pieces to take certain paths.

I didn’t get a chance to look at the overall map but the sequence I played seemed to maintain the same sense of freedom as in Black Flag, perhaps to a fault. While next-gen and PC gamers will sort of return to form with the franchise as Assassin’s Creed Unity removes naval gameplay in favor of a massive Paris cityscape in upheaval, Rogue’s narrative potential intrigues me more than anything else.

Templars and Assassins have been at war for six games now and they’ll continue that strife in two separate pieces of software with two completely different narratives, environments, gameplay loops, and main characters. While I also got to play Assassin’s Creed Unity, its focus on coop has me leaning on Rogue for more of Ubisoft’s ongoing narrative. Why does the publisher want its fans to see this side of the conflict? Why now? Is Shay a Templar simply to set this game apart from Unity or will he uncover something the Assassins could never have known in the first place?

We’ll find out when Assassin’s Creed Rogue arrives on store shelves November 11th.