The Headless Horseman lurks in a graveyard in the River Valley village of Sleepy Hollow in Assassin’s Creed Rogue. It’s a lovely nod (irony bonus) to the Washington Irving novel or, ahem, the Tim Burton movie, and the town is complete with iconic wooden bridge, scarecrows and slews of pumpkins, one of which you take out to defeat the Horseman.
You might have fought the noggin-free nightmare already and bought the t-shirt, but let’s face it, only about six people delved into the adventures of Shay Cormac when this game was first released in 2014. Sure, his Irish accent is Lucky Charms levels of bad but, like a hidden blade skewering an innocent throat, Rogue really doesn’t deserve this.
The biggest reason for the cold shoulder is the hazy no man’s land of console transition that saw the Xbox 360 exclusive hiding in a haycart while AC Unity hogged the publicity for all the wrong reasons. Ubi’s trip to Paris was undeservingly sent to the guillotine while, Shay’s adventures sat untouched on shelves as if tainted by pirate plague – er, scurvy?
The good news is that backwards compatibility has opened up Abstergo Entertainment’s Animus again so you can plug right into the white room when you’re ready. You don’t need to tell me twice.
I get the short six sequence story out of the way first, complete with the most innovative and galling conclusion of any Creed game to date if you’ve already played Unity. Like Black Flag dipped in liquid nitrogen, this freezing open-world is pirates on ice as Shay’s ship, The Jackdaw Morrigan, breaks through ‘bergs, takes in the Northern Lights and mainlines a new set of sea shanties into your brain. Just don’t go swimming Edward-style because you’ll freeze to death. You’re not in the Caribbean now, Toto.
Rogue is simultaneously the best and worst representation of the Assassins series as the map gradually unfolds, revealing new locations that didn’t even make it near the main story, chock full of collectibles and trinkets. I mean, I could go and pillage that ship and send it to my naval campaign or I could spend half an hour hunting beavers to make new pouches and feeling guilty about how they squeak when I puncture their tiny bodies. Wait, is that a Viking sword? Sure, it’s sickeningly indicative of Ubi’s overindulgence by the end of the 360 generation but don’t you want that new holster to hold two pistols…?
The little moments sell this slice of Creed to me. The reflections of the mountains in the water, the way my crew roar when I arrive back on board, or even the way the Morrigan reassuringly creaks when I’ve sent Shay below deck to upgrade the ships mortars or change sail colours.
Shaking up the traditional Creed gameplay, being a Templar means Shay is hunted by Assassins in populated areas. Whispers hiss louder as hooded foes close in and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as turning the tables as you spot the Requiescat-en-pace-reciting horde hiding in the bushes and deliver some swift, not to mention stabby, retribution.
Before I know it, I’m positively drowning in stuff: sleep darts, firecracker grenades, the enjoyably nasty rope dart and the joyous berserk darts. I infiltrate an enemy encampment after finding yet another question mark on the map and make it to a bush without being spotted. From here I quietly fire a berserk dart into an enemy rifleman’s neck and sit back and watch the fireworks.
Like terrible internet clickbait, even I can’t predict what happens next. He shoots everyone in sight, including innocent bystanders who beg for their lives, before sobbing at the bodies he’s left behind and then keeling over dead. Suddenly the beavers aren’t what I feel vaguely guilty about as I quietly loot the storehouse keys from corpses. Oh well, The Morrigan needs new cannons after all. Assassin for life? Horribly, it turns out I might have been a Templar all along.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.