Ubisoft has some excellent looking games lined up for the next generation, including brand new hacker vigilante sandbox Watch Dogs, but the company’s current annual staple is the ever-popular Assassin’s Creed series, which places the player in various periods of history and allows them to run around irresponsibly over famous pieces of architecture. There’s also some kind of subplot to do with Templars and conspiracies and the end of the world, but if you’d rather not get into that then you can just swan-dive off the Colosseum in Rome and then stab a passing guard in the back of the head for fun.
The next game in the series is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the protagonist of which is a swaggering young pirate named Edward Kenway who roams the waters of the West Indies in the eighteenth century searching for booty to be plundered. This will be the first game in the series without a modern protagonist, since Desmond Miles’ story was brought to a close at the end of Assassin’s Creed III, and the player will instead take on the role of an unnamed Abstergo Industries researcher digging through genetic material, presumably to unlock the location of another Piece of Eden.
According to an interview with lead writer Darby McDevitt on the official Ubiblog, the driving force behind Edward’s story arc for the game is his desire to lay his hands on a mysterious object that can make him both powerful and wealthy (possibly made from that rare mineral known as MacGuffinite), that the Templars are also relentlessly pursuing. Playing Capture the Flag with the Pieces of Eden is by no means a new plot device for the Assassin’s Creed series, but it’s worked well as a motivator so far, and this game franchise is really all about the journey rather than the destination.
Speaking of the journey, McDevitt opened up a little about the differences between Edward’s story arc and that of previous Assassin’s Creed protagonists, particularly his grandson, Connor, who was the star of the last game. One of the chief complaints about Assassin’s Creed III was that Connor was too dour and serious in comparison to the Italian Renaissance playboy, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who had appeared in the three previous games. Perhaps this is why Edward’s story arc will be a flipped version of Connor’s:
“Edward is almost a counterpoint to Connor in some ways. Connor begins very idealistic and the experience he has through ‘Assassin’s Creed III’ starts to make him really jaded. He’s doing all these things he believes are right and they don’t pay off in all the right ways.
“So [with Edward] I started with a guy who was already jaded. He was cynical. He’s out for himself. He has this marriage that’s really rocky. He’s estranged from his wife. He wants to try to prove he’s a man worthy of her affection, so he goes to the West Indies to become a privateer, and that falls apart really fast and he falls into piracy.
“He kind of bounces between the Assassins and Templars for a time, trying to find something that makes his life more meaningful. At first he has all these selfish goals but his experiences focus him on what is and isn’t important in life.”
One thing that the Assassin’s Creed writers have successfully managed to do so far is to give each of the main protagonists their own unique characteristics, from the stoic seriousness of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad in the first game to Connor Kenway’s dogged determinedness in his quest for revenge against Charles Lee, but one thing that each of the protagonists have had in common is an urge to do the right thing. The characters have had their flaws, like Altaïr’s arrogance and Ezio’s hot-headedness, but they all eventually work to overcome those flaws for the sake of the greater good.
Edward however, just might end up being the exception to this rule, as McDevitt suggests that the pirate’s major flaw is his self-centeredness and his willingness to bend the Creed in order to serve his own purposes. Since he is in the pirate game for the gold and the glory, Edward takes the central tenet of “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” to mean that he can do whatever he wants – even killing or robbing innocent civilians – without fear of reprisal.
This is an interesting new direction in which to take the series. Morally ambiguous characters obviously aren’t new to video games, and if anything seem to be undergoing a surge of popularity at the moment (see also: Far Cry 3, The Last of Us, Spec Ops: The Line etc.), but despite their dedication to exploring certain philosophical and ethical boundaries, the plots of the Assassin’s Creed games do have a tendency to boil down to good Assassins going up against evil Templars. Having an Assassin protagonist who is “good at heart” but otherwise completely out for himself is fairly novel, in that respect.
The downside of this is that the series as a whole seems to be shifting further and further away from the actual assassination element, to the point that the trailers for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag so far have given the impression that it’s a new pirate game IP that happens to have the Assassin’s Creed label slapped on to it. As much fun as it will probably be to go diving for gold and getting into elaborate naval battles, the assassinations seem to be falling by the wayside a little, and the fact that Edward Kenway apparently isn’t all that interested in being an Assassin doesn’t bode all that well for the chances of plentiful good old-fashioned stalk-and-stab missions.
Tell us which of the Assassin’s Creed protagonists has been your favorite – and what you think of Edward Kenway so far – in the comments.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag releases October 29, 2013 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. PC, Xbox One, and PS4 release dates have not been announced.