A follow-up to Some Things About Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Things I Like:

  • (Almost) all the good stuff from Assassin’s Creed IV
  • Takes place entirely inside the animus!!!!! Adios, Abstergo. Good riddance
  • Adewale makes a very convincing transition from underdeveloped supporting character to actual lead. His few flashes of personality in Black Flag are expanded upon quite well, and I ended the game with a fondness for him that I’ve never particularly felt towards a Creed protagonist
  • The few supporting characters are also well-developed. I often have a chronic case of “who are these people, why am I doing this, why should I care???” during Assassin’s Creed story missions, but Freedom Cry gave me good motivation and nice characterization to put all the sneaky-stabby in context
  • And speaking of this, the basic premise of slaves versus slavers is the kind of simple-yet-smart writing that Creed could use a whole lot more of. Even the typical randomized minor events that occur throughout the game are given weight by this basic setup. Playing as Edward it was easy to say “no, I’ve got enough pirates, I don’t need to rescue these guys,” but try walking by a slaver mercilessly beating his slaves and not doing anything about it. It makes all the gameplay more engaging on a moment-to-moment basis without relying on shiny, meaningless rewards (still pissed about those animus fragments...)
  • There’s also a great variety of these side missions in the game’s main city of Port Au Prince; you can free jailed slaves, disrupt human auctions, or assist a fleeing slave mid-escape. Even Adewale himself is vulnerable to wandering overseers who will attack him on sight. This makes the city feel more like an organic series of events occurring around you, rather than merely a big checklist for you to complete
  • The plantations are excellent stealth arenas. They offer a wonderful variety of approaches, while being expansive enough to encourage replay. They could be on the easy side for more challenge-oriented gamers, but for me it simply reduced the trial-and-error and helped me feel like an awesome ninja right off the bat
  • When you’re detected by enemies on a plantation in Freedom Cry, the slavers will start killing slaves instead of simply swarming you with bad guys. This is an incredibly clever twist on the gameplay. With many Creed games I find myself at odds with my role as a cool, sneaky assassin and my ridiculous, nigh-invincible combat skills. Rather than working out the quirks of a level’s stealth paths, after a failed try or two I generally find I can just stand in the middle of a level and murder anyone who walks into my stabbing zone. This mechanic discourages that, forcing you to either pay attention to your stealth or accept losses. Luckily, the aforementioned stealth levels are a ton of fun to play, so you’ll want to be a good sneak
  • Similarly, attacking slave convoys requires you to sink the ship’s escorts without harming the slave ship itself. Again, this is a very good twist on the gameplay. It makes you think a lot more about your overall positioning and lines of sight during naval battles

Okay Things:

  • The blunderbuss is a fun new toy, basically ye olde timey shotgun, but the lack of range can be a hinderance, especially when ships require you to blow up their powder reserves during boarding. The machete looks rad and that’s pretty much all there is to it
  • Took me about 3-ish hours to complete; not quite 100%, but close. If you want lots of content, obviously Black Flag is still the way to go, but if you’ve already played that and still want more, then Freedom Cry shouldn’t disappoint
  • I realize that upgrading your ship was one of the great pleasures of Black Flag, but in Freedom Cry it just feels unnecessary. The paltry number of upgrades available makes the whole thing feel tacked-on. If you’re not going to give me meaningful progression then I should probably just get everything from the start

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Things I Don’t Like:

  • I neglected to mention this in my post on Black Flag, but someone needs to talk about the menu UI. Some hero. Some righteous bastion of smartness and good-ideaitude. Someone exactly like me...

Some Things About the Menu UI, Specifically in Black Flag and, by Extension, Freedom Cry (All Bad):

  • For starters: way way waaaaay too many screens before you get to load your game. What is the god damned point of a title screen, THEN a “press start to continue” screen?
  • Now focus your attention on the layout above. I hate it so, so much. Did they expect people to play this game on a touch-screen? Because that is the only explanation for a menu this assed up
  • If you want to navigate from the default position in the top left to “exit to desktop” with a controller, that’s 4 clicks of the d-pad. Doesn’t sound like much, but thanks to this layout, you have to go down, then right, right again, then down again, like you’re inputting the world’s dumbest cheat code. It’s one of those tiny inconveniences that only annoy you after you’ve done it one bajillion times
  • “Initiates,” whatever-the-fuck that is, is somehow a more important and prominent button than either “options” or “exit.” The grayed out button in the middle will send you to the Uplay client, which you might recognize from when you launched the game mere moments ago. And apparently that’s a totally different thing from buying “additional content,” gotta have a separate button for that
  • Let’s say you want to quit from gameplay (a totally unreasonable request, I know, but bear with me). So you pause and navigate to the “exit game” option. When you click that, you’re presented with three options: “exit Animus,” “exit to main menu,” and “cancel.” Guess which one the cursor defaults to... “exit Animus” of course! Why would you need those pesky other ones? You will definitely accidentally exit the Animus several times, only to sit through a loading screen and then pick up at Abstergo (thankfully this doesn’t happen in Freedom Cry). The thought of willfully visiting Abstergo is just categorically insane to me...
  • You may have noticed that none of those aforementioned options are “quit to desktop,” meaning every time you want to quit you’ve got to navigate that god damned main menu again. Quitting this game on PC is a multi-step process.
  • Although Freedom Cry removes the “exit Animus” obstacle, it adds its own uniquely frustrating twist. When you try to quit to main menu from gameplay, you don’t actually quit to main menu. For some reason Freedom Cry save files can only be accessed by the top right button on the main menu. Clicking this takes you to a new loading page where you can pick out your save file and play. Sounds good, right? Except that quitting the game puts you on that same page where you load your save file! Because lord knows when I quit a game, I usually just want to start playing again right where I left off
  • You’d think it’s done, but IT’S NOT. So you’re on the page where you load your save. “No problem” you think. “I’ll just back right out onto the main menu.” The game asks: “Are you sure you want to exit to main menu?” No, game, I just selected that TWICE completely by accident, I’d much rather stay on this load screen. So of course you say “yes, I am absolutely sure” and... the game quits completely. “SUCCESS” you may be thinking, as you open your internet browser, BUT HOLD ON. The game isn’t done with you yet. For whatever reason, the game then decides to boot itself back up and into the main menu as it promised you, because GOD FORBID we quit without the option to click on INITIATES.
  • All this is to say, the menus are annoying and obtuse. Wow, I guess this section could’ve been briefer...

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Phew, Now That I’ve Got That Out of My System, Other Things I Don’t Like:

  • (Almost) all the bad stuff from Assassin’s Creed IV: eavesdropping missions, clumsy crewmates, Uplay shenanigans... you get the idea
  • SHANTIES: where are they???? There are several new musical cues for things like synchronization and successful ship boardings, plus there are some really fantastic new vocal tracks that play on the plantations. But sailing around? Nothing but eerie silence. If you’ve played Black Flag you probably understand what an outrage this is. The only comfort is that in such a short game you are unlikely to spend much time sailing around
  • Seriously, read the above paragraph again. Where. Are. My. Shanties.
  • :-/

TL;DR:

Freedom Cry is an improvement over Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in a lot of significant ways. The story, the characters, even just the basic premise of why you are doing what you’re doing (to free slaves, duh), it’s all markedly improved over the base game. It’s problems are hard to fault, as they are mostly Black Flag’s (except that shanties thing, man... what the hell happened there?).

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There’s a kernel of a not-merely-good-but-great Assassin’s Creed game in Freedom Cry, one with clear, defined goals and a fun environment to play in. One with characters I care about and a driving force behind my actions. As a mere piece of DLC, Freedom Cry simply isn’t equipped to be all things I’d want from a Creed game, yet I can’t help but long for an entry in the main series so confident.

Maybe Rogue...