In theory, playing as a Templar in Assassin's Creed Rogue has all sorts of exciting story and gameplay implications. What light will this shed on the Assassins vs. Templar conflict? Why were the Assassins so few in number by the events of AC3? And more importantly: How does playing a Templar differ from playing an Assassin? In regards to the latter, I can confidently report after a brief hands-on stint with the game that… I still have no idea.
My demo begins in the ice-infested waters of the frozen North Atlantic. As Assassin-turned-Templar Shay Patrick Cormac, I'm captaining the Morrigan, a lightweight vessel packed with advanced weaponry. The naval action in Rogue feels more an evolution than a revolution of its pretty much identical to its AC4 counterpart. Fitting, as Ubisoft seems to be saving the revolutionary stuff (in both senses of the word) for Unity. I use the Morrigan's fancy rear-mounted oil slicks to incinerate a tailing ship, then open fire on a frigate with a few fiery cannonballs and the 18th century equivalent of a machine gun. Down they go. A schooner gets in my way up ahead, so I crank the Morrigan up to full speed and test out its reinforced bow, cleaving the thing in two. The same trick (thankfully) also works against the small-ish iceberg directly behind the sunken ship--I plow straight through it.
That's when two frigates surround me, one on each side. They toss roped hooks over my ship's railings, and--WHAT!?--they board me. But once the hand-to-hand combat commences, I wouldn't know I was playing as a Templar if not for the fact that doing so is Rogue's schtick. Shay parkours like the best of 'em (but parkour is fun!), uses his own hidden blades to kill hooded pursuers (fine by me), and relies on a lot of the same tools with which any AC vet is intimately familiar. Then there's the air rifle. At first glance it's practically AC4's blowpipe in function, as it shoots various types of darts (berserk, sleep, and distracting firecrackers). Buuut it also has a grenade launcher attachment, which is a wonderful tool for clearing out large groups of enemies at once. Wonderful indeed.
I came away from the demo feeling slightly underwhelmed. I mean, I don't expect Rogue to be as big a step forward as Unity; the overall gameplay handles extremely well, and the naval stuff is fantastic. But I'm hoping there's more to playing as a Templar than a simple change of clothes. The developers promise much of the experience will be rooted in hunting Assassins and turning their stalking tactics on their head (Shay's enhanced eagle vision, for example, can spot Assassins waiting to ambush him). The pre-recorded gameplay footage I was shown did seem very much in line with this claim, but I didn't experience any of it first-hand. If nothing else, Rogue is shaping up to be a solid AC experience--whether or not it also impresses as a Templar outing remains to be seen.
Check out the following slides for more information and images.