Assassin’s Creed Rogue Review: Fun Size

There are only two tailing missions in the new Assassin’s Creed.

I don’t know what that means to you. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you want to know about the story, or the world, or the new mechanics. Maybe you, for some godforsaken reason, actually like those tailing missions.

Me? I hate them. I hated them when they appeared in limited quantity back in the AC II days, and I especially hated them when they became the go-to mission type in AC III and IV. It’s the laziest form of open-world mission design — a way of delivering exposition and racking up gameplay minutes across an incredibly short lot of game-world real estate. So imagine my surprise when I sat down with Assassin’s Creed Rogue, one of two AC games releasing on the same day, and almost certainly the title that should suffer most from that bizarre release strategy.

And, holy shit, there are only two tailing missions.

There’s one on a ship and one on foot. I gave them both one star with the in-game review tool, because tailing missions automatically get one star. They were both relatively near the start of the game, and about halfway through, I realized the tally of tailing missions I was keeping on my phone was unnecessary. There were only two. There would only be two.

I submit to you that Assassin’s Creed Rogue is the best Assassin’s Creed game since Brotherhood.

That’s not saying much. Brotherhood was basically the dying flash of insight in terms of new mechanics, and AC has floundered ever since, with one possible exception: pirate ships. I’ve always had serious issues with the way they’ve handled the ship combat in these games (seriously, why can’t you let your first mate steer during a battle?), and sadly, those problems are unchanged in AC: Rogue.

In fact, if you had as many problems as I did with AC IV, Rogue might be a tough sell. Rogue was clearly born out of a desperate effort to 1) make use of already existing assets/mechanics while 2) delivering a product for a now outdated generation of hardware. The result is a game with severe identity issues. If you squint, it really looks like you’re just playing the version of AC IV that came out on the Xbox 360/PS3 generation.

There’s still the pronounced dichotomy between being on your ship and traversing on land, which continues to fragment the open-world’s feel unnecessarily. There are still those forts of varying difficulty that you can take over. There are still treasure chests and sea shanties and mortar upgrades. Broadly speaking, if you played AC IV, you’ve played Rogue.

What are the pronounced differences, then? Well, like I mentioned, the mission design is a hell of a lot better. Most of them fit snugly within the “kill these people or blow up this ship” parameters, which is a good fit for this series, I think. It’s still systemically quite ugly, with a lot of loose ends and unnecessary mechanics. Excepting one infuriating difficulty spike right before the end, I was able to tear through the story missions without interacting at all with the wealth of side content.

There are a couple new ideas plastered onto AC IV‘s framework, but they’re all laughably insignificant. There’s a silent dart rifle, and a grenade launcher. It’d all be well and good if you weren’t the one-man army AC games have made you out to be. There’s never a good reason to use a sleep dart when you could just run in, parrying everyone and murdering dozens.

The story, such as it is, seems content to just throw more seasoning in the “who’s truly evil?” pot. At this point, the distinction between the Assassins and the Templars is basically nonexistent, which I’d guess delights the writers at Ubisoft. I find it generally tiresome. Grey morality is easy to achieve when you make both sides of a conflict deeply unlikable.

To its credit, though, I think the story of Irishman-cum-Templar Shay Patrick Cormac is more engaging than others they’ve told lately. It’s nothing that special, but it’s tightly focused and easy to follow (two qualities pretty foreign to this series). The meta-narrative is a direct follow-up to AC IV, and it’s pretty thin. The “twist” at the end was so obvious that I could’ve sworn the game told me straight out what was going on hours earlier. Oh, and the cast of characters is impressively diverse, in a way that sometimes stretches believability given the setting. It’s a nice reminder that Ubisoft does clearly give some kind of a shit about representation, even if the “way playable women walk” is still a super tough nut for them to crack.

All told, Rogue‘s greatest virtue might be its greatest detriment to a certain demographic: this is a very short game. I completed all six sequences of the story in just under six hours. There’s still a lot out in the world for me to do, but it’s a fraction of what you’d find in a proper entry.

I love this part of Rogue. Assassin’s Creed is not a series that, in 2014, can support a 30-hour campaign. Just look at AC IV, bloated with those goddamned tailing and eavesdropping missions. Those are largely absent from Rogue, and while i guess it’s disappointing they couldn’t make a game of similar scope with quality mission design, I’ll take what I can get. Rogue blissfully doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, but if value is a big concern for you, maybe keep all this in mind. The same can be said for the game’s distracting lack of any multiplayer component.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue won’t change your mind about Assassin’s Creed. It hasn’t changed mine. In its best moments, Rogue recalls the fun I used to have with this series in its earliest incarnations. By unshackling itself from some common open-world story mission bloat, it manages to highlight the virtues of climbing towers and stabbing people. The story is efficient, and it actually looks pretty damn good given its outdated hardware. Even though I’d call it an improvement, Rogue is still a game that lives in the deliberate shadow of its predecessor. Make no mistake — this is the version of Assassin’s Creed IV that comes in the Lucky Charms box.

But, fuck me, there are only two tailing missions.

3 Star Rating