That’s Another Assassin’s Creed With Something Special But Too Much Missed Potential
I’ve played every Assassin’s Creed game that has released on the current generation of consoles, as I’m sure a lot of you have. I’m unsure as to whether a lot of you also went to the lengths of getting the game’s infamous symbol tattooed onto yourselves, but I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series, I’m something of a fan.
Hell, I was one of the few people I know who actually, not just liked but, enjoyed Assassin’s Creed III. I’m working on an article related to why I think that Ratonhnhaké:ton ‘Connor’ Kenway isn’t all that bad compared to that bag of dicks, Altaïr, but that’s for another time. Right now, I thought I might speak about the latest game in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, something I have been looking forward to for quite some time. I just finished the game’s story, I’m at 97% total completion with only two legendary ships and a bunch of treasure chests and animus fragments in the open world to collect, and I have had the most contrasting, contradictory and just plain juxtaposed experience playing this game.
To put it in a short, curt sentence: Ubisoft is the undisputed champion of disappointment. I can’t even tell if they’re holding back or just completely in over their heads with this franchise. Assassin’s Creed IV manages to be, at the same time, something absolutely special with its beautiful and vibrant open world, its intriguing and captivating setting and its endearing and likeable main character, and yet completely flippant in its storytelling, stumbling over itself and missing the world of potential yet again. In AC3 I was willing to excuse it because of the overarching modern plot. That modern plot is now in shambles and your guess is as good as mine, regarding what Ubisoft is trying to do with it. Thus, it’s a little tougher to swallow this time around.
And I want to talk about it. As a result, and I’m going to emphasise: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW. Seriously, I’m going to be talking about the game’s story, so you don’t want to ruin it for yourself (more than Ubisoft will) so rather turn back now and return at a later time. Via the animus.
LAST CHANCE: SPOILERS AHEAD — YE BE WARNED
Okay, let’s get to it, then. Fuck this game’s story. Seriously. Do you know what a disappointment it is to finally play someone with some liberated thoughts and then have him follow in the footsteps of every other protagonist in the series? As if destined or something. As if it’s a forgone conclusion. I’m not even against the Assassins, but every time I hear of the Creed or the Brotherhood, I think to myself, “How again is this different from the Order?” (Templars, kids.)
With Edward Kenway, we had a pirate who was in it for himself. Selfish, gluttonous, willing to play both sides of the field to achieve his own ends, he starts off the game donning the Assassin robes of a traitor to the Creed. He then hooks up with the Templars and gives them the item the now-deceased Assassin was carrying, expecting some reward. A lot of the game passes where you then encounter various notable pirates (including Blackbeard, Mary Read, Anne Bonny and Calico Jack) and do stuff with them, and it’s only loosely tied to the battle between the Assassins and Templars. You then discover that one of these pirates is an Assassin, and they take you to the home of the Assassins in the Caribbean, and show you the devastation that has been wrought.
Another few sequences pass by and then Edward returns to the Brotherhood and attempts to help the Assassins in order to fulfill a dying wish — Oh, let me talk about that, actually. The emotional strong point of this game was witnessing the end of piracy in the Caribbean. Read up your history if you must, it’s a whole other feeling when you’re actually a pirate watching your pirate friends (and non-friends) fall to this period in time. It cut me, man. Anyway, back to Edward, he begins to question the core tenets of the Creed, making one particular statement that I feel compelled to quote here:
“For if nothing is true, then why believe anything? And if everything is permitted… why not chase every desire?”
Here’s a man who is capable of walking both sides (he even gets to wear Templar armour, via a quest), questioning the core tenets of the Creed, and do you know what he ends up doing? That’s right, he joins the fucking Assassins.
I don’t get why the Assassins need to always be the good guys. In the very previous game, Ubisoft saw fit to introduce Haytham Kenway in a daring and absolutely amazing plot twist, where you played as him initially under the guise (read: player assumption) of an Assassin, however you soon discover that he is a Templar. Not just any Templar, either; Haytham is the Grandmaster of the Templars. The leader, if you will. And he is basically Connor’s dad and Edward’s son. Now, with Haytham Kenway, Ubisoft stumbled upon plotline gold, with a character comparable to, if not better than, Ezio Auditore da Firenze in his classy personality and intriguing heritage. (Seriously, this guy has suave dripping out of every orifice.) Here’s a member of Desmond’s ancestry who wasn’t an Assassin. Here’s a character who was actually a Templar, whose beliefs actually didn’t seem that outrageous or irrational, like we were led to believe for the previous four games. Here was a chance for Ubisoft to allow us as players to explore the other side. And do you know what they did? They killed him off before he could allow us as players to do anything of the sort. And now with Edward, they’ve done it again.
It’s the ultimate tease, but I just cannot tell whether it’s being done on purpose or not. Is the message here that Desmond’s family always picks Assassin? That’s obviously not it. Haytham et al. So what is it that makes Edward Kenway join the Assassins? Is it his lamenting the loss of one of his true friends, the person who introduced him to the Assassins? Is it guilt? A sense of loyalty? Or do Ubisoft just not know what the fuck they’re doing anymore?
Sure enough, as the game progresses you do see a personal sense of growth in Edward; he starts out the game selfish and uncaring but by the end of it, he treats his enemies with respect and looks at past failures as learning experiences. He’s also willing to make amends for his injustices. But he does all of this after outright challenging the core tenets of the Creed, yet stops there and just joins the Assassins. Just fucking what? Do the Assassins have some secret weapon for enticing young male minds? Was Haytham actually just a homosexual man, and that was why he was immune to the Assassin charm? I just don’t get it.
The game has three basic plotlines intertwining. One of these is a personal story involving Edward as a pirate, which isn’t actually that bad at all if you accept that it has nothing to do with anything; it’s just there. The other involves the battle that is raging between Assassins and Templars to find The Observatory, which contains an artefact created by the First Civilisation; your typical storyline from any of the other games, then, only in this case the Templars hold all the cards right from the beginning. The third is the modern day storyline, which is almost entirely unnecessary after Desmond saved the world in the last game, and we see no repurcussions now from those actions, only a few brief cameos from Sean and Rebecca, and some hacker guy who’s actually not even quite human; still, there is at least some rich extra content for the player who’s willing to go looking.
But going back to the plotline involving the ongoing battle between Assassins and Templars, why was Haytham a Templar and not an Assassin? Not just any Templar as well. How did he come to accept the ways of the Templar in the first place? And of Edward, why did he inevitably side with the Assassins and how did his teachings affect Haytham, if at all? Ubisoft actually had the audacity at the end of the game to pop an achievement after we meet a young Haytham which says, ‘Saw that one coming…’ Yeah, Ubisoft, you dicks. I saw that one coming. But I was expecting a few other ones and those did not come. So please stop being so condescending towards your players. Please.
I think the thing that bugs me most is that I was so willing to forgive the shortcomings of Assassin’s Creed III because, okay yeah I was too busy enjoying myself, but also I figured that Ubisoft would get around to explaining the things they left unexplained in the next game, and now I’ve realised that Ubisoft, like a bad relationship, is never going to give me what I want. It’s always going to tease me and drip-feed me whatever it wants to because it knows I’ll keep coming back. And I do. Year after year. Expecting a story that is flowing and cohesive. A story that has meaning. Instead, I get shit shoveled into my face.
We still don’t even know why Lucy had to die.
Double double agent my ass. Edward Kenway represented Ubisoft’s first and brightest chance to really walk the line that divides Templars and Assassins, and take the series in bold new directions. They relied far too much on their open world — which granted, is magnificently crafted — and did not care to consider the intricacies of an intelligent plot. No. Instead you’re raiding swamps for medicines and tailing fucking everyone. Their idea of a smart plotline is that every character inevitably betrays you, except for the female-but-posing-as-a-male-because-sexism and favourite-of-anyone-who-has-ever-read-about-pirates-and-totally-also-has-a-beard friends of Edward’s, who end up dying instead. Mind you, not unlike everyone else except for Anne Bonny, who is destined to spend the rest of the game as your second-in-command, or: taking orders from you. Nice, Ubisoft.
I don’t know, I just cannot get over how farfetched the concluding sequeneces of the game are — you have a character who is capable of free thought, but never actually goes further than questioning a few things? Why not explore the Templar side of things, Ubisoft? Why not give us what you teased with Haytham: a look at the other side.
All this missed potential, and me with my fully upgraded Jackdaw. It’s mind-boggling how I can actually come away saying that my overall opinion of this game is positive when I am this disappointed by the way they handled things. Perhaps that’s telling of just how good a standalone ‘game’ Black Flag is.
At least give us what I think we all want, Ubisoft: Let us play as Haytham Kenway through his disillusionment with the Creed, through his recruitment into the Order and through his ascent to the Grandmaster position. Dare to take some risks with your franchise and stop playing it so damn safe. Remember: Nothing is true; everything is permitted.