I'm amazed that I've managed to get this far in life without seriously playing an Assassin's Creed game. I've certainly watched plenty of people play it, but haven't ever found the time to sit down and play it myself. So finally getting the chance to do so was quite the novelty - which is what happened recently at an Assassin's Creed: Rogue preview event at Ubisoft in San Francisco.
What was largely lost on me in the event's preamble was the fact that the "rogue" element in this game addresses its twist: that you play as a member of the Templar Order – the group that has traditionally been the series' bad guys. Not that you're a bad guy per se. Irish protagonist Shay Patrick Cormack was originally a Brotherhood of Assassins recruit, but turned his coat when he became disillusioned with their philosophies and actions. So much so, indeed, that he's become an Assassin Hunter.
This plot arcs the entire game, which is set in the mid-18th century during the Seven Years' War – a historical period noted for its romantic tales of high seas derring-do. Not that there's much romance in this game. Whether you're a good guy, bad guy, or generally ambiguous in your positive and negative leanings, AC has always been about slicing, dicing, and generally stabbing people to death. And fans of such activities will be pleased to note that there's a fair bit of that in this game.
It's not all about violence, however. This time around, there's a far higher degree of stealth than usual. Something I found out as I aggressively tackled missions and found myself running into trouble. It's not that you can't complete missions by going straight at the enemy, it's just that it's a little easier if you stop, survey the landscape and perhaps take out a few targets quietly before going in proper. This is made a little easier thanks to the fact that you have some nice, quiet weapons to use. Knives obviously don't make much noise – as long as you're stabbing correctly – but you also have an air gun that can be used to fire a number of different projectiles designed to kill or incapacitate.
Combat and movement is a largely seamless experience. While Shay did occasionally snag invisible pieces of landscape while I was doing things like clambering across trees and over rocks, for the most part moving and fighting through AC Rogue's impressively rendered world is a smooth Parkour experience.
Traveling is also a breeze when you get your boat and set sail to one of the game's myriad locations. I actually really enjoyed sailing, especially the ship-to-ship combat, of which there is plenty. Shay's boat is a sloop of war, and comes armed with a variety of cannons, a ram and some burning oil to drop behind you when you're being tailed. The ship is highly maneuverable – think arcade rather than historical accuracy – and aiming and shooting is very easy enough to pick up and play. However, you have to compensate for the pitch and roll of the ship in swell, which makes things just a little tricky. As an experiment, I attacked everything in sight to see what would happen, and fairly shortly found myself facing several warships bearing down from all points of the compass. I was eventually sunk, but not without dishing out some serious damage. Very fun!
So far AC Rogue looks like a solid, but conservative evolution of the series whose standout new feature is ship combat that's more sophisticated than Black Flag. I especially like the fact that you enemies can decide to board your ship, and you have to repel them. It makes for some enjoyable and dynamic battles, and provides a nice, frenetic contrast to the more considered and thoughtful land combat.
How it all comes together as a whole remains to be seen - but we don't have long to wait. Assassin's Creed: Rogue is set for release in only a few weeks - November 11th to be exact.