If you aren’t remotely interested in the Assassins Creed game series and/or know absolutely nothing about it then I advise you to visit one of my other posts instead as I will not be explaining the general storyline and will be writing this on the basis that you have at least a little knowledge about the games and their stories. The purpose of this post is ultimately to explain why I believe Rogue could have been hugely improved and where Ubisoft went wrong with it, why the series is failing as a whole and what I believe needs to be altered in order to regain the trust and love of the fan-base.
In Rogue, players begin their journey as Shay Cormac, the novice assassin who is still learning from those more experienced than him. After being sent to retrieve a suspected piece of Eden from Lisbon, Shay unintentionally triggers an earthquake that destroys the city and kills those who live there. This earthquake actually happened in 1755 and this is one of many examples where the franchise combines their fictional world with actual history. Upon returning to North America, the assassins that Shay considers friends and possibly even family are planning their next move to another similar site. Shay realises that the assassins are putting this destructive quest of beating the Templars to these sites above part of the creed of the assassins: “Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent”. There is a lot of commotion and ultimately Shay is believed to be dead but then wakes up in New York to be met by a Templar. From this point, players see the other side of the war and become a Templar themselves. Shay and his Templar companions ultimately crush the assassins in North America (at least temporarily) before turning their attention to France i.e. kicking off the French revolution.
So what is my issue with Rogue? For me, the entire game is flawed in one very simple way. For those familiar with the franchise, you’ll know that in all the previous games killing a civilian impacts your synchronization/health as well as causing a warning message to appear to inform you that Desmond’s ancestor did not kill innocents (of course Shay is not actually an ancestor of Desmond but the point is still the same). Rogue is different in that your activity is not limited by the creed of assassins and therefore you do not have to “stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent”. This would be all well and good if not for the fact that Shay turns his back on the assassins and joins their enemy entirely because they were willing to risk harming innocents…what?
Another issue comes more from what I expected vs the final product: on the run up to the release of Rogue, I had already lost most of my faith in the franchise after Assassins Creed 3 and Black Flag but the trailer for Rogue grabbed my attention (at the time I didn’t seem to notice that Shay was wearing a Templar outfit). What I envisioned for Rogue was a character whose journey led him away from the assassins as a “rogue” for whatever reason, someone who hunted both assassins and Templars and perhaps saw their war for what it really was: destructive. This rogue would put the safety and wellbeing of the innocents ahead of any war between the assassins and Templars. Ubisoft has this really noticeable game progression strategy they use between games: they’ll test something to a small degree in one game, whether it is ships or storylines or side missions or game mechanics, and then in the next game it will become a major aspect. For example: in Assassins Creed 3 players get to fix-up a ship and use it occasionally for missions, it’s only a minor aspect though. Then we see the next two games focus very heavily on ships. The same goes for storyline aspects: Shay wasn’t the first experience players had of being a Templar. In Assassins Creed 3, you begin the game as Haythem Kenway (a character Shay encounters and also the father AC 3’s main character and the son of AC 4’s main character) who we believe to be an assassin initially but later learn that he is in fact a Templar. In Black Flag, the first person you encounter is Duncan Warpole, an assassin who has switched sides and is now helping the Templars. I could go on but my point is that this game isn’t really covering any new ground. Instead, the game leads players to believe that in some situations the Templars are in fact the “good guys” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given what we’ve learnt about them in previous games.
Here is what I think Rogue should have been like: It could have been very similar to what it was but with some key changes. As I mentioned before, I think Rogue should have stuck to its name. Rather than putting the Templars into some sort of holy limelight, Rogue should have followed Shay as he acted as a third party to the war, neither assassin nor Templar. While stopping the assassins from causing the destruction of any more cities Shay could also have been preventing the Templars from launching any major attacks on either the Assassins or innocents. Basically he’d be tracking down pieces of Eden so that neither side could use them. Shay wouldn’t willingly go to war with the assassins; he’d just be trying to stop them. I mean these people are his friends and while they may be misguided, they weren’t bad people. In only the second mission of Rogue, you can overhear to prominent assassins talking about a recent attempt to uncover a precursor artefact (i.e. a piece of Eden). During this conversation, the player can overhear how an earthquake had taken place and there was no way of knowing if the assassin who was sent on this mission had recovered said artefact. It seems as though the assassins while being very dangerous and destructive are in fact unaware that they are the causes. So Shay would kill those who were of immediate threat to the lives of innocents but other than that he’d be trying to just make them stumble. The Templars (as we know from previous games) are generally selfish and cruel people. I mean just to give you an example, the group of Templars that Haythem Kenway is a part of begin massacring native American settlements and burning them to the ground and yet here we have Shay buddying up to them? I think Ubisoft made a terrible error in an attempt to try and create an “original” feeling game. Shay could still have discovered all the new technology that the assassins don’t use such as the rifle and the oil. Perhaps the assassins had indeed gone a bit too far and Shay was hunting down the ones that were pushing the cause towards a dangerous conclusion. He would no longer be an assassin but would still be trying to help their cause. This storyline would still have led to the North American assassins being crippled (leading to the storyline of AC 3) and could still have led to the AC Unity storyline without much adjusting. It wouldn’t have even altered the modern day storyline either because it would still show a dark time for the assassins and would still be a useful tool for Abstergo.
For me, the franchise reached its peak at Revelations when the stories of Altair and Ezio reached their conclusions. Revelations itself while being a very interesting game was actually where I believe the downfall of the franchise begun. After Assassins Creed 2, Ubisoft began moving away from the simple assassination technique and instead started fitting players with more and more weapons. While I do feel that some of these advances were fun and made sense, it became a bit much. I mean we end up with a hook-blade in revelations which to me just seems ridiculous. The guns were also somewhat of an issue. Rather than going back in time, Ubisoft continued to advance closer and closer to the present day. In AC 3 we are at the start of the American Revolution and guns play a major role, which is a bit bizarre since the main character is basically bringing a knife to a gun fight. As we continue to advance, it’s going to eventually become a sniper game where the assassinations are carried out from hundreds of metres away.
The storyline itself has also felt more and more rushed and less and less interesting. You’ve already read my issues with Rogue but let’s go back a game to Black Flag. I didn’t even play Black Flag for a year or two after its release because I’d felt THAT let down by AC 3. The idea of being on a ship just didn’t appeal to me and ultimately I just forgot about it. When I eventually did get round to playing it, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. While I wouldn’t describe it as an Assassins Creed game, being a pirate was a lot of fun and the storyline itself was interesting enough. The real issue was this game was that it wasn’t an Assassins Creed game in the typical sense yet everything in the game was set as if it was. In fact, Black Flag was closer to what Rogue should have been like than Rogue was. I mean you kill assassins, you kill Templars, the only difference is that Edward Kenway (the main character of Black Flag) just didn’t care about either cause and just wanted to get some coin. Had he been trying to prevent either side from winning, he would have been the perfect candidate for Rogue. I have to say though, Black Flag has much more character development than AC 3 or Rogue and it was definitely the best of the three. Had there been a few more main missions that actually explored Edward’s role in the brotherhood a bit more, ultimately leading to his murder, I think the game would have been even better. AC 3 was the real let down though. The main character (Connor) is unlikeable and underdeveloped and while some of his storyline was interesting, it was one of the few Assassin Creed games that I was playing just to get through, just to see how the modern day storyline progressed. When the side missions and collectible become a longer aspect of the same than the main storyline, you know there is a problem. Not to mention that the consistency of the game just got lost somewhere. Assassin outfits from Altair to Ezio start appearing in random places around the world with no real explanation. I mean it was very cool to unlock Altair’s outfit as Ezio but that made a bit of sense. By Rogue and Black Flag, there are like 7 or so different outfits from famous assassins or Templars or just the local populous and to be honest, it all just seems a bit much. Don’t even get me started on the collectibles: I mean just in Rogue you have treasure chests (this is nothing new), Viking swords, letters from the war, Templar maps, native pillars, animus fragments, naval animus fragments, cave paintings and shanties. These would be cool if not for the sheer number you have to collect as well as the fact that they are completely scattered across North America.
Oh, one thing I forgot to mention: the DLC’s. I have to admit that I’ve never really jumped at the opportunity to purchase any of the DLC’s for Assassin’s Creed despite being a huge fan of the franchise. The DLC for Revelations looked like the most moronic thing in the world, carrying on with the shape moving thing you did to unlock Desmond’s memories within the game by collecting Animus fragments. I recently purchased a reduced season pass for Black Flag (something like £6.30) which includes the Freedom Cry storyline which takes the player through Adewale’s journey to free some slaves. I’d heard pretty great things about this DLC and most of the reviews viewed the storyline as intriguing and captivating. There were a few things I did appreciate within the DLC: firstly, the system of unlocking things was refreshing (although this was overshadowed by the ease of doing so) and I think the storyline had some interesting moments. That being said, the story overall was moronic and considering it was about slaves (specifically a black ex-slave freeing slaves) it felt diabolically lacking in emotion. How is that possible? Well, firstly the nature of how you come to be on the island just felt unoriginal and badly written, your reason for staying was also poor, the relationship that Ade has to the other characters is dry and finally, freeing slaves is far too easy. This allows me to mention something I’d already brought up: the franchise’s ability to recycle previous ideas to try and make them seem fresh. You’d think that every slave you free would have sort of feeling or emotion related to it, making the player feel like a hero of the people. That is very much NOT the case. Remember in the main Black Flag game when you need to save some pirates so you can add them to your crew? Or remember when you rob a plantation to get supplies? Or remember any game ever when you can chase a thief or bribe a herald? Well, that’s exactly how you free slaves. If you’ve mastered those things in the previous games then you’ll pretty quickly have rescued all the slaves you need to unlock everything. I’d heard people describe Freedom Cry as “feeling like its a game all of its own” which is certainly not how I felt after completing the ridiculously short main missions. Another point I’d mentioned before was that I felt weird playing as characters that were not the ancestor’s of Desmond. I mean I know he died and its meant to end his story but personally I think his storyline is what held it all together. The franchise has no path now, it has no main characters and the story as a whole is just some blurred mess.
Ultimately, I think the franchise needs to go back to basics. I had this discussion with some friends of mine who also enjoy the series and my suggestion was this: If I were creating the next game, I’d take it back to the very early days of the brotherhood, perhaps not the very beginning (although that would be a possibility) but certainly back to when the assassin ball first began to roll. We need to go back before guns and crazy weapons to a time where the assassins had a hidden blade, a sword, possibly some throwing knives and a hood to blend in (although having two hidden blades would be much better, it would be difficult to explain it given that Altair only had one). We need the game to become a bit more about strategy rather than just firing every weapon you have and knowing you’re going to win. I mean in Black Flag and Rogue you get berserk darts and sleep darts (in Rogue you get this in bomb form as well, along with a shrapnel bomb) which kind of removes a lot of fun from the game. I think Ubisoft need to come up with a piece of Eden that is incredibly interesting and adds to the story, rather than one that is either just put there for the sake of it (Rogue) or opens up a potential storyline only to never explore it (Black Flag). I believe recent rumours are that the next game (to be released in 2017) is to take place in ancient Egypt which certainly gets my hopes up a little. The idea of combining one of my favourite franchises with one of my favourite civilisations (from a historical standpoint) just gets my imagination running wild. I really hope that Ubisoft have some fun with the “plagues of Egypt” and the pyramids. I also think they need to do something about the modern day storyline because after AC 3, it has been severely lacking. I’ve enjoyed the first person aspect and the computer hacking but there hasn’t really been much going on. I mean in the first game, the bleeding effect causes you to gain eagle vision and you see the warnings and codes left by subject 16 in his own blood which point towards the end of the world, in the second game not a great deal happens other than a little fighting (however in the past you do just learn that god-like beings from a civilisation before our own is manipulating human history from the past) but brotherhood involves exploring the colosseum, stabbing Desmond’s love interest and finding out more about this civilisation that came before, revelations was a bit lame but you were stuck in the animus at the time, AC 3 had a whole temple to explore which led to even more being discovered about the previous civilisation. When we reach Black Flag, Rogue and Unity there isn’t a great deal going on. Black Flag may be the exception to this but overall you’re basically just hacking computers which while fairly enjoyable, only really uncovers information. This could have been really interesting but what we find is little bits and pieces on previous game characters. Black Flag at least involves Juno attempting to take over your body as well as the sage trying to murder you…but things have definitely slowed down.
So there we have it! I’m considering doing a post sometime soon looking into the current science and theories that relate to the Assassin Creed games such as genetic memory. If this is something that you’d be interested in reading then let me know in the comments and i’ll start it sooner rather than later.