I’ve been replaying Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Without any doubt, it is the best game in the franchise. It all went to absolute shit after that. Don’t get me wrong, Revelations was bad, but Unity was garbage, and III was mediocre. Syndicate looks to be boring as well, but as I am sitting here, playing this game, I can’t help but realize that Black Flag figured something out. Something that Ubisoft apparently didn’t see. Something that their eager and greedy eyes missed – we don’t want to have some tech demo yearly release – we want these games to be just about immersion and exploration. For us to dive into a time in history and explore it in all its glory. Don’t know what I mean? Let me elaborate.
The first thing that Black Flag did right was making you an employee of Abstergo Entertainment. That was a brilliant move. It gave you a perfect reason to dive into the past without needing some convoluted backstory. You are pretty much the protagonist. Silent, taking it in as you will. Why did the later games forget about that? Were they just too in love with all the other bullshit they had? Who knows. In any case, this was a great idea, and one that they should have run with. Oh, wait, they ditched the numbered games. And that’s the exact point where the whole series went wrong anyway.
The numbered games have all been great. Well, except for III, but I can forgive it because it made way for Black Flag. But each numbered game has been so fun! The first one let you explore the Middle East during the time of the Crusades. That’s cool. But we didn’t get to do very much. Still, it was neat enough. The second game let us explore Renaissance Italy! That was awesome! Got to meet interesting people, explore cool vistas. All things considered, that was a totally awesome game. They also improved upon some of the first game’s shortcomings. Like how you couldn’t kill by striking down from above, which would have seemed like the most obvious thing in the world. The third game had good ideas, but never followed through on any of them. Exploring America during the Revolution? That’s cool! Being an integral part of it? Not so much. Having a Native American character? That’s cool! Having him be dull as dirty? Not so much. Having a ship that you can sail around in and fight other ships? That’s cool! Having exceedingly little of it? Not so much. But that paved the way for Black Flag.
Black Flag was the pinnacle of what this series has the potential to be, thus far. It took the very best elements of the previous game and put them on steroids. Beautiful vistas? Check. Ship combat? Check. A compelling historical setting and neat characters? Check. And interesting protagonist that you play as (in the past. Not the stand-in for you in the real world) who has a great voice-actor and a fun narrative? Oh yeah! It had it all. Everything one could ask for and more. This is everything that a game in this franchise should be. Not to say that every game should be one where you are on a pirate ship. You can get around other ways. But give us a world to explore! Give us places to go! Give us a neat way to get around. Give us a cool setting, nice places to visit. Give us interesting characters to suck us into that world. It shouldn’t be that hard.
Instead of doing that, Ubisoft has decided to make each game a tech demo. I talked already about a numbered game that some amazing person pitched that I desperately wish I could see made into a game. One where you go to Japan as it is mingling with European culture. A game about the end of the age of the Samurai, mixed with Assassin culture. Does it look awesome? Fuck yeah it does! Just think about it – going around 18th Century Japan, taking in the culture during a time of great change. Getting to use a katana and run across rooftops as an Assassin. Having them doing their own thing (NOT getting involved in the conflict! That’s another thing that Black Flag did right. They knew that the Assassins don’t get involved in historical battles. They stay out of such affairs, doing their own thing), with history changing all around them. Maybe have it like Kenway, where you have this character who is dragged into the Assassin’s plot, all the while being loyal to their samurai culture and not wanting to abandon them. Given the Japanese importance on culture and tradition, that would make for a great conflict! Or maybe make an homage to The Last Samurai, in having an European falling in love with Samurai culture. Maybe an Assassin who comes there on a mission, but finds themselves unable to stick with it because they don’t want to abandon these people that they come to care about so much. The possibilities are endless, aren’t there?
But I doubt that we’ll ever see a game like that. Something with that much creativity. A game where we get to really take in another culture like we did in Black Flag. Made me wish that there was more that I could do in this game, because it was all so fun. I wished that I could have gone into all these buildings. Gotten to talk with more people and really taken in everything. The idea of getting to do that in Eto Period Japan sounds too amazing for words. Take the idea of cultural interaction in Unity (one of the few good ideas they had) and expand on them. There is potential there, but I don’t think that it will ever be realized. That is a real shame, by the way.
Until next time, a quote,
“Caution’s nothin’ without charisma! For if a man plays the fool, then it’s only fools he’ll persuade. But appear to be the Devil, and all men will submit.” -Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag