The Other Side
Anyone who likes to skip ahead and read the final thoughts for a review might want to start here with a few simple questions.
(A) Did you like Black Flag?
(B) Did you want more Black Flag-like gameplay with better mechanical systems and a dark storyline?
(C) Did you wish you really could do more with your money in Black Flag?
(D) Have you always wanted to play a Templar since AC III?
If you can answer these with a yes, then you really need to play Rogue since it offers a slew of Black Flag-style gameplay, adding to the established naval formula with some clever new mechanics and providing an all-round better game than Black Flag in every way, there, I said it and quite a few people who've seen Rogue tend to agree with me on that.
There's something about Assassin's Creed:Rogue that feels fresh later on, at first you can be forgiven for calling it Black Flag 2.0 but as the game opens up and the storyline rolls on things change, the feel alters and the various new mechanics come into play. I say new mechanics, they're more refined than new but they feel perfect for this outing and it's a joy to see some of the things from AC 2 and Brotherhood make a return, with a Rogue spin and alongside some brand-new mechanics I'll touch on later.
It's also a nice looking game that runs well, storms are particularly spectacular and the lighting/sfx are quite breathtaking. The new environments manage to be better looking than Black Flag too and there's something savagely beautiful about the North Atalantic especially.
You're Shay Patrick Cormac - an Assassin to begin with and through some solid storytelling he becomes embittered towards his assassin brothers, turning against them and eventually joining the Templars to hunt down his former allies. All of this takes place against a detailed set of land masses that contain a wealth of things to see/do, more than Black Flag in fact. The North Atlantic, River Delta, New York and places like Albany/Sleepy Hollow are packed into this game.
The game does a really good job of making you sympathetic to the Templar cause too, something after playing on the Assassin side for many years, I wasn't expecting to feel.
As for the game world?
The land masses have far more navigation options and ways to traverse than in Black Flag, they don't feel as formulaic and exploring them in a pleasure rather than a chore. Especially when you encounter ambient events like clashes between British and French troops - which you can support to earn rewards and loot to help you upgrade the Morrigan (Shay's new ship).
The hunting loop is back too, hunt animals (or buy the skins/bits you need) to upgrade Shay and get new outfits. Again, these landmasses are peppered with hunting spots rife with places to hide/stalk your prey and you spend less time aimlessly wandering looking for an elusive rabbit to murder for that new hat.
There are even some new tricks for Shay to employ when traversing cities/villages/towns. Some places have hooks and wires that you can use to quickly zip from one side to another. Unlike the zip-lines of Revelations, these are horizontally placed and much faster. Rope swings now form part of land traversal, rather than just being a neat way to swing off your ship onto shore.
Some of the new land based mechanics include:
Gang HQ's: You'll be able to take over Gang HQ's as you progress the story, which give you a new location, more income and opens up the Bank! (YES - they're back!) allowing you to get more money to throw into your ship's upgrade as well as a returning old favourite of mine. Renovations. Get enough cash, resources (like stone and wood) and you'll be able to renovate an important building in a location, this in turn boosts your income and gives you more cash in the Bank per x-minutes of playtime. With a Gang HQ you'll have to kill the gang leader (not easy) and do a few other things before you can take it over.
Warehouses: they're back and they have been tweaked somewhat.
Supply Camps: Small locations you can rob for a wealth of goodies, usually protected by a plethora of bad guys... great to sneak about and slowly whittle down the enemy numbers. Or you can just fire a berserk dart into a couple of them and sit back grinning as they murder each other.
Skirmishes: You'll need to perform a few little tasks whilst you're supporting your allies. If they die, you'll lose the skirmish.
Stalkers: On land, the enemy have gang stalkers, these are sneaky buggers that like to hide. If you listen for the whispers, you'll know they're close. Poke around with Eagle Vision and use the compass to track onto the target (just like in the old adversarial multiplayer). Kill them first, or turn the tables on them with a neat counter and stab em on the floor.
New collectibles: There's a load of new things to get, amongst the shanty songs and animus fragments. You now have prosperity. Collect enough of it and you'll get a boost to your income from renovations, as well as a boost in goods and so forth from robbing vessels. There's Templar relics to collect with new puzzles, cave paintings and so much more scattered around the newly designed land masses.
Yo Ho and a Pouch of Tobacco!
Then of course you have the open sea, comprised of the North Atlantic (where spending too long in the freezing water will kill you) and River Delta - on the sea naval combat remains largely the same with the addition of the Morrigan's new arsenal of weapons alongside some of Kenway's old favourites like the mortar. Now though you have the formidable ice ram, which can be upgraded to allow for a super-speed ram attack against enemy ships.
The fire wake, leaving a trail of burning oil behind the Morrigan that can severely damage even some of the larger ships.
Round shot/Heavy shot make a return with upgraded damage and more effectiveness.
Then you have the Puckle Gun, a rapid firing weapon that can put a horrendous amount of firepower onto enemy weak-points when fully upgraded. This thing is lethal, it can rip apart fort towers when combined with regular mortar fire and aimed cannon shot.
Attacking and boarding enemy ships is the same, with a similar outcome when you win. Recruiting new crew, ravaging the ship of all cargo, repairing the Morrigan and selling (salvaging) the vessel for cash are possible at first. Once Cormac's Fleet (a tweaked version of Kenway's Fleet) is open you can transfer the ship to your fleet.
Reverse Boarding: If you get rammed or otherwise engaged, the enemy ship will attempt to board you and you'll be fighting with your crew to save the Morrigan from other vessel. It's a neat little spin on boarding and it makes the ship battles more exciting.
Icebergs: destroy them to find hidden loot at times, or create big waves that can damage/destroy certain types of ships. A good tactical advantage can be gained by a timely iceberg wave.
There's new weather to contend with like blizzards and high freezing winds, as well as clashes at sea (like the land based skirmishes) where you can support your allies in the fight to reap good rewards.
Finally Forts are back and they remain pretty much like they do in Black Flag, with the addition of a few extra steps now and then.
Templar Tools and Tricks
When you join the Templars or you're in the interim stage, you'll get some nice new toys to play with such as Shay's rifle. It replaces Edward's Blowgun, has a longer range and more options. Such as: berserk darts, sleep darts, firecrackers (good for distractions) and a few more tricks that I won't spoil here. Shay also has grenades, the usual slew of rope darts and his old hidden blades to round out his arsenal, along with some bombs and shrapnel grenades.
All of these new things provide nice gameplay opportunities and can help turn the tide.
A Fightin' an a Runnin'
Shay's tree-running is better than Edwards and navigation overall seems to have been tweaked, there are still some leap of death issues and a few missteps when navigating over the various buildings and so on, but not as many as Black Flag. Combat is largely the same as Black Flag, again, with a few timing tweaks here and there allowing Shay to be a much better combatant overall.
New And Old
Rogue is a mix of new and old mechanics that works really well, it's a better game than Black Flag and is decidedly single player with no multiplayer at all and it shows. The game is better paced, better designed in terms of mission content and even the first person Abstergo bits aren't as annoying as they were in Black Flag. The puzzle to hack systems is actually pretty neat and vastly different from AC IV. Shay is a more engaging character and his story, whilst dark, is full of great writing that actually makes you more and more sympathetic to the Templars as time goes on.
There are lots of things I didn't mention about Rogue's gameplay too, things that I want you to discover by playing the game. Otherwise this just really becomes a bullet-point list of what's in Rogue rather than what it's like to play.
So what's it like to play?
Fun, it's a heck of a lot of fun to play and there's a lot to keep you coming back for more. Renovating the buildings provides a clear boost to your income and you'll need those funds to come in to building Morrigan into the true Goddess of the Seas. Shay's new ship is a character like the Jackdaw, only one I care about more than I did Edward's ship as much as I loved him and Black Flag.
It's hard to say, but I prefer Rogue over Black Flag and it would have been neat to see this one given the shiny Xbox One and PS4 treatment.
If you liked Black Flag, wanted more naval gameplay and a better land-based experience - Rogue's the one for you. As of the first playthrough too, there were no frame rate issues, geometry based bugs or problems at all that I encountered on the Xbox 360 version - so I had a blast with it.