A look back at the most underrated game in the Assassin’s Creed series.
The transition from the seventh console generation to the eighth was a rough one for Assassin’s Creed. Ubisoft’s flagship franchise had been flying high through most of the lifecycle of the Xbox 360 and PS3, and though it had certainly had its ups and downs, its adventures through Renaissance Italy, 16th century Rome, and the pirate-infested waters of the Caribbean had ensured it a place in the pages of gaming history.
2014, however, proved to be the most turbulent year for Assassin’s Creed. It was the year that Ubisoft saw it fit to release two mainline Assassin’s Creed games together, and both, to various extents, were deemed failures for various reasons. And while at the time criticisms for both were more than fair, six years later, as we prepare to enter another new console generation with an Assassin’s Creed series that is almost unrecognizable from what it used to be, both games deserve a second look- especially Rogue.
The issue with Rogue was, first and foremost, that it was very much a B-tier game- and Ubisoft made no attempts to hide that. Unity was their flagship release that year, as a game that was ushering Assassin’s Creed into a bold new future for console gaming, with its technical advancements and a look and feel quite different from its predecessors. Rogue, on the other hand, was very much a continuation of what Assassin’s Creed had been doing for a couple of years before it. And that, more than anything else, was why Rogue suffered so much.
Where Unity sought to wow players with its new parkour system, large crowds, and its co-op missions, Rogue wanted to appeal to fans of the naval combat and exploration of Assassin’s Creed 3 and Black Flag. Where Unity entered a new era – quite literally – with a story set during the French Revolution, Rogue sought to tread the familiar waters of Colonial America. Where Unity continued the series’ forward march with deeper progression mechanics and a tweaked combat system, Rogue was content with employing the same larger mechanics that were seen in Black Flag. Where Unity gave us a completely new present-day storyline and a brand new cast of characters, Rogue once more made use of the first person modern-day sections of Black Flag, while roping in various familiar faces from previous games throughout its main storyline. And most important, while Unity was available exclusively on next-gen consoles, Rogue was made available just on the ageing PS3 and Xbox 360.
In light of all of that, it’s not hard to see why Assassin’s Creed Rogue got swept under the currents. While Unity grabbed all the headlines – many of them for all the wrong reasons – Rogue became the “lost” Assassin’s Creed game, the one mainline game in the series’ history that got pushed to the sidelines as if it were just a spinoff release. It was very much a victim of circumstances- which is unfair, because it was definitely a game that deserved way more attention that it got at the time it came out.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is perhaps the most different game in a series that has often been criticized for sticking to a single formula too closely (especially back in 2014). From its narrative premise to its mission design, Rogue takes risks. It focuses squarely on the millennia-old conflict of Assassins and Templars like most games in the series do, but it quite literally turns the tables in its portrayal of protagonist Shay Cormac, a fledgling Assassin who becomes disillusioned with the Brotherhood and turns into a Templar instead.
Rogue doesn’t handle that fascinating premise as well as it could have. Certainly, it can be quite clunky in execution at times, and some of the larger story beats that should have had a massive impact feel a lot tamer than they should- but for the most part, Shay’s transformation from young Assassin to Master Templar is still fascinating to see. His personal conflict with his former friends and allies, seeing him being forced to view things in different ways, watching him interact with and form closer bonds with his new comrades- it all makes for a storyline that deserves a special place in Assassin’s Creed series.
And what’s most interesting is that it goes all-in on that. In its own take on the Assassins vs Templars conflict, it doesn’t try to make excuses for the former, and doesn’t hurriedly try to make Shay switch sides once more just so it can assure players that Assassins are still very much the good guys. And yes, once more, the execution of those ideas can be very clunky at times- but it deserves props for doing something literally no other game in the series has attempted.
In fact, for a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise – especially one who’s invested in its convoluted lore and larger narrative – Rogue is pretty much unmissable. While its modern-day story is still kind of a mess, its main story is full of connections to other games in the series. Thanks to its placement in the series’ chronology, its setting and narrative premise, and its cast of characters, it simultaneously ties in with multiple games in the series quite effectively.
Thanks to being set before Connor Kenway stepped onto the stage and making use of characters like Achilles and Haytham Kenway, it sets up the events of Assassin’s Creed 3 very well, and lends new context to many of its characters. Through its usage of characters such as Adéwalé, it follows up on the story of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, and ties off some of its loose ends. And thanks to events and scenes that are best left unspoiled – especially an excellent ending that’ll leave your jaw on the floor – it also very effectively leads directly into Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Even from a gameplay perspective, there’s a lot to love about Rogue. Like it storytelling, the game is not without issues in this area, but on the whole, there’s more than enough to keep players engaged. Its mission structure really benefits from having players play as an Assassin-turned-Templar, with quite a few missions that are designed around preventing assassinations rather than causing them. Its side activities are the typical collectathon affair that Assassin’s Creed games have always been notorious for, but there’s something addictive about running around New York and sailing around the ocean and rivers to find shanties, collect Animus fragments, loot convoys, sink enemy ships, and dismantle gang headquarters.
In fact, going back to play Assassin’s Creed Rogue in 2020 is probably a lot more enjoyable than it would have been to play it when it launched in 2014 for one very simple reason. When Rogue came out, the Assassin’s Creed series and its formula was being milked dry. People were understandably getting tired of it, and Rogue itself didn’t do much to evolve that formula or breathe new life into it. But now, in a time when Assassin’s Creed has almost completely shed its old identity, Rogue is an excellent reminder of how fun that old formula could be. Flawed, yes- but also incredibly, addictively enjoyable.