Although it was leaked a while back, Assassins Creed Rogue was recently officially announced. Taking place after Black Flag and involving characters from both that instalment and Assassins Creed 3, it looks to delight those who feel Unity’s departure to Revolution-era France is a backward step. As long as they don’t mind sticking with the previous generation. Rogue is exclusively for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, with Unity being exclusive for the new-gen. This dual approach is bold and new, with most developers opting to release different versions of the same game. Is this the smart move, ensuring both games are optimized and get the full treatment? Is it just Ubisoft’s way of getting us to buy two games to get the full story? What does this mean for future iterations of other franchises? Let’s discuss.
A Tale of Two Cities
After the success of Black Flag, a cross-gen title, it was clear Ubisoft would have to pull something out of the bag to continue the franchises popularity. Edward Kenway’s pirate antics raised the bar for both Assassins Creed and the open-world genre, allowing you fantastically free reign of the Gold Coast. It would’ve been easy to simply carry on Edward’s story, pushing the naval combat further and updating some of the on-foot mechanics the community was tiring of, but that approach would have done little to keep the party going.
The decision to make two games instead of one must have been difficult. Double the resources, double the money, double the work. And let’s not forget, double the risk. Advancing a well-loved franchise is always treacherous and hasn’t always working in Ubi’s favour. Assassins Creed 3 was a clear example of how moving too far in the wrong direction can turn away a lot of your hardcore fanbase. With two titles, the risk is larger but if they could manage to make both games brilliant, it would be a fantastic achievement.
Many games suffer by being cross-generation. Titles developed for the new generation are downgraded and crammed into old hardware, while those crafted primarily for the previous gen are given graphical facelifts and not much else. This is because there’s usually a main focus during development and sometimes porting duties are passed to other developers. Gamers who buy the ported version can feel catered for rather than developed for. Downgraded games are clearly shadows of the next-gen ‘definitive’ version, while upgraded ones are only really worth it for the graphics. By creating two separate projects, Ubi would be able to ensure both were optimized and designed specifically for their respective generations. The last-gen title could maximise the power still left in the aging consoles in the same way Black Flag did, while the new-gen title could really push the boundaries and harness all that fresh juice. Both sets of customers would get an equally awesome experience.
Also consider this. With two games already set around the American continent and Ubisoft well-known for globe-trotting adventures, the discussion must have been had at some stage whether to remain there or move on. I’m guessing there were varying opinions, and discussions around the pros and cons of both choices. Then some bright spark worked out that Ubisoft, now an international development superpower with almost 30 studios worldwide, was perfectly capable of developing multiple Assassins Creed titles simultaneously. There’s usually at least 3 games in development across the Ubi empire at any one time anyway, so shifting some resources into the AC pool was likely pretty straightforward. Now they could have the best of both worlds; explore two locations and have two teams fully invested in their work.
You may be asking, where’s the downside? We get two AC games, both developed by dedicated teams for dedicated generations, set in different locations with different stories. However, this set-up presents more problems than it may first appear to.
Divide and Conquer
By developing two separate games, Ubisoft present gamers with a dilemma. Often when a cross-gen title is on the horizon, which version to buy is often simple. Grab the new-gen version if you have a console but if not, you’ll still get the same experience in terms of gameplay and narrative from the last-gen version. No big deal. However, now Ubisoft have split the tale and created two independent titles, the choice is no longer as straightforward.
The fact is, in order to get the full Assassin’s Creed experience this year, you’re going to have to buy two games. While handheld releases like AC Liberation were made as optional experiences, both of this year’s titles are designed to fulfil all the expectaions of full console releases.
It’s been said that Rogue will fill in the gaps in the overarching plot between AC 3 and Black Flag, a subject which has been the source of fierce fan discussion. Additionally, the actions of new protagonist Shay Cormac will apparently be tied to events in Unity and interactions with Haytham Kenway and other returning characters have also been mentioned. Far from an optional spin-off, Rogue is seemingly just as important as Unity. In fact, is seems Rogue will be invaluable for deciphering what hell is actually going on at this point in the saga.
This narrative significance is likely to make Rogue an essential purchase and help it to step out from the shadow of its next-gen sibling. This would ensure those for whom Unity is not an option feel just as looked after and get a game just as good. From a business standpoint, Rogue does not have the option of being a commercial failure in this economy and so anything to make it more necessary is considered good practice in terms of securing sufficicent sales
This is all very nice but I can’t help but come back to the fact that two full-price purchases will be required to get the full story. More than that, fans of the series and especially Black Flag will pretty much have to buy Rogue if they want to get all the pieces of the puzzle, even if they plan on buying Unity. This could create an odd situation, where gamers will be wanting to get stuck into the fresh experience Unity is offering but will be constantly pulled back to the last generation to play Rogue and fill in the gaps.
State of Play
While I commend Ubisoft for not taking the path of least resistance and just making a downgraded version of Unity, what they’ve chosen to do seems to create as many problems as it solves. It’s certainly going to divide the community and make a bunch of people unhappy. Claims of insidious sales tactics will be levelled at Ubisoft for making Rogue such an essential purchase for long-term fans, while prise will be heaped on them for considering the previous generation as still fertile enough to bear quality fruits.
In my opinion, making Rogue so significant in the overall plotline of the series was a poor decision but a necessary one. In order to shed the stigma of being developed solely to please a dwindling number still attached to the previous generation, it had to offer something unique. The question of why to buy a last-gen title when a new-gen one is on the shelf had to be answered and while I feel it could’ve been done better, I can’t come up with a more suitable solution to the problem. Then again, I’m just some bloke with a laptop, not one of the most innovative and experienced game developers in history.
I have Unity pre-ordered (keep an eye out for my unboxing of the Notre Dame Edition) and will probably pick up Rogue at a later date but the fact I will be missing out on key story points will sting and that’s a shame. Whatever your opinion on the matter, Unity looks to be both bringing the series back to its roots and evolving it in much-needed ways, while Rogue seems set to please those who felt Edward Kenway’s time on the high seas wasn’t enough. Hopefully we’re in for two quality games in a great series and I can’t really be too upset about that.
What are your thought on this? Do you agree with my musings or want to tell me how wrong I am? Comment below and continue the discussion!