The first thing that struck us during our latest Assassin’s Creed: Rogue demo wasn’t a blade or a bullet, but the Xbox 360 title’s breathtaking beauty. Unfolding from the deck of protagonist Shay Patrick Cormac’s ship, our hands-on session was filled with the sort of postcard-perfect imagery usually seen in vacation pamphlets. From Rogue’s snow-capped mountains and colonies of penguins to its icy waters and sky-illuminating northern lights, the gorgeous environment easily had us forgetting that this “last-gen” offering wasn’t being powered by the Xbox One.
While the eye-popping surroundings nearly lulled us into thinking we were enjoying a vacation cruise, the enemy ships blasting us with broadsides quickly shattered that illusion. Thankfully, Rogue’s fresh approach to the franchise – putting players behind an assassin-turned-Templar antihero – introduces plenty of new tools and toys to the series’ already-ample arsenal. Because Shay has gone to the dark side, so to speak, he, as Producer Karl von der Luhe put it, “has access to advanced weapons that the Assassins could only dream of.”
We got to test out a couple of these Templar-engineered bad boys on the French fleet that interrupted our relaxing ocean voyage. From behind the new Puckle gun – a free-aiming machine gun perfect for targeting weak points – we were able to make Swiss cheese of enemy vessels before finishing them off with larger payloads. On top of taking the starch out of bigger crafts, the hull-peppering rifle can also sink small ships and schooners with a barrage of well-placed projectiles.
As much fun as it was turning enemy ships to toothpicks, it was a literal blast igniting them with oil barrels. Another new Rogue-specific weapon, the volatile drums can be dropped overboard to leave a fiery path in your wake, to both deter distant pursuers and consume closer threats in flames. If oil barrels and Puckle gun ammo are in short supply, however, players can exploit the sea’s natural dangers to deal with aggressive enemies; cutting through icy waters – with an upgraded boat – can cause ship-flipping waves, while icebergs function as temporary cover points.
While our demo took place primarily on the high seas, von der Luhe ensured us that players would also enjoy “quite the tool set” on land as well. On top of the old throat-slitting standbys, armchair assassins are armed with a new air rifle and enhanced eagle vision. The former – which, incidentally, can be outfitted with a grenade launcher – is perfect for silent, ranged kills… while the latter allows the ex-assassin to detect his former allies when they’re close.
We had an absolute blast sending our attackers to the bottom of the ocean, but it’s Rogue’s story, setting, and mysterious protagonist that’s got us running out to have our hoods dry-cleaned. Unraveling between the history-shaping events of Assassin’s Creed III and the epic pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Rogue takes place in the 1750s, during the French and Indian War. In the morally ambiguous boots of Shay, players dip into this conflict in three richly-realized, open-world locations – a gang-controlled New York, the icy North Atlantic Sea, and the winding Appalachian River valley.
Perhaps even more intriguing than seeing the Kenway saga come to a close in never-before-seen lands (and seas) during a brand new time period, though, is the prospect of doing so behind a protagonist that’s supposedly turned his back on the Assassin Order. According to von der Luhe, there are many more layers to the “dark and troubled character” than just a good guy gone bad: “It’s not a case of him being evil and wanting to be a Templar; he genuinely believes what the Templar Order is doing is better than what the Assassin Order is doing.”
We can’t wait to play as – and maybe even sympathize with – Shay when Assassin’s Creed: Rogue stabs us in the back on November 11, on Xbox 360. Until we can navigate his moral compass, though, we’ll be content to focus our spyglass on those playful penguins and pretty northern lights.