Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry DLC
Freedom Cry is the first DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, casting you in the role of Adéwalé, erstwhile Quartermaster of Edward Kenway’s Jackdaw. Taking place 15 years after the conclusion of Black Flag, Adé’s voyage upon the Jackdaw has long since concluded, and Freedom Cry finds him at the helm of his own ship. Briefly. After a short naval battle and attempted escape through a storm, Adé’s ship is wrecked and he’s left stranded in Saint-Domingue. There he gets involved with the Maroons (freed slaves) as they seek freedom for all slaves in Saint-Domingue.
It’s an interesting arc for Adé. His initial involvement with the Maroons is relatively selfish: he needs to get off the island, and the Maroons can help him do that. Any freedom for the slaves is just a happy side-effect. But slowly his involvement deepens and his ambitions for the movement begin to outstrip those of the Maroons. While they seek their own freedom, Adé begins to seek freedom for all slaves. This fits in nicely with the nature of Adé’s character as he was established in Black Flag: single-minded in the pursuit of his goals, but also willing to re-evaluate what he holds dear and refocus upon a new goal if necessary, which will then be pursued to its furthest possible extent.
Freedom Cry doesn’t really link too much to the rest of the Assassin’s Creed mythology. The Assassins versus Templars story is largely sidelined, and the Templar artefact in the opening mission is little more than a reason for Adé to get into the naval battle that sees him shipwrecked, but as a short, self-contained story it works very well. I was actually a little disappointed the story ended where it did, simply because I’d have liked to see where Adé’s newfound purpose led him to. Maybe we’ll find out in further DLC.
The gameplay is as you’d expect from Assassin’s Creed. Given the relative excitement of the naval aspects of Black Flag’s gameplay in comparison to the land-based missions, it’s a little surprising that Freedom Cry would choose to give the player a brief taste of the fun and freedom of the naval battles before landlocking them for the early parts of the expansion. Predictably, once Adé does get access to a ship (the Experto Crede) the naval aspects (this time confined to the West Indies Sea, a much smaller area than in Black Flag) are an unqualified success. But what’s most surprising is that the time you spend in Saint-Domingue is as much fun as the time you’ll spend at the helm of the Experto Crede.
The story missions themselves aren’t particularly noticeable, being as they are the relatively standard mix of tailing, eavesdropping, infiltration and assassination. This combination is certainly starting to feel a little dated. Hiding in a bush while listening to two NPCs talk isn’t ever going to be exciting, no matter how many times we do it in the series. But the strength of Freedom Cry’s gameplay is the time you spend between missions.
A large part of this is the continued embracing of elements from larger scale RPG games, such as The Elder Scrolls series. These games are famous for their ability to have you set off with a destination in mind and then spend hours getting there as you’re sidetracked by a range of discoveries on the way.
Assassin’s Creed IV managed to make these sort of distractions fun during the naval sequences simply by making pursuing and destroying other vessels a great deal of fun, even without the wide variety of locations to discover. But on dry land it was still very easy to simply rush from point A to point B. Distractions were available, but they felt somewhat inorganic and unrewarding: beside the sea shanties, there was little incentive to ever indulge in the options for side quests in Black Flag, as you rarely emerged from them with anything beyond a little extra cash, and the nature of many of the side quests (notably the Assassin Contracts) was more than a little clunky.
However, Freedom Cry manages to address both of the issues by making sidequests both more organic and more rewarding. That they feed into the core story of the game is just the cherry on top.
As you stroll around Saint-Domingue, you’ll regularly encounter instances of slaves being ill-treated, such as being locked in cages, lined up at the gallows, or being marched to one of the two. And with each one Adé is free to intervene or not as he sees fit. It becomes commonplace as you’re heading from A to B to end up nowhere near B as you spy another group of slaves to free. Cleverly, the reward for these missions isn’t monetary. Rather, as you free slaves you’re given a range of upgrades, ranging from bigger ammo pouches to access to gangs of Maroons to assist you in fights, to monetary rewards for liberating plantations.
The plantations themselves replace the warehouse side quests from Black Flag, and are undoubtedly one of the highlights. The warehouse quests were rarely rewarding in Black Flag, presenting a lot of hassle for a meagre reward in cash and supplies that you could get quicker, easier and with more fun from just sinking a couple of ships from the comfort of the Jackdaw. But the plantations in Freedom Cry are heavily rewarded (with a bounty of freed slaves), heavily simplified (kill 20 enemies, preferably quietly), and great fun.
Freedom Cry isn’t without its issues. For a game built upon such a strong core game, its surprisingly buggy. This is particularly noticeable during combat, as Adé’s more physical style regularly highlights some hit detection issues that were never present during Edward Kenway’s adventures. Crashes are also surprisingly prevalent, which is again surprising given the stability of Assassin’s Creed IV. But frankly, it’s hard to argue too much with some minor issues in a game that lets you do things like this:
All in all, Freedom Cry is an excellent addition to Assassin’s Creed IV. While the story missions are relatively short and not particularly innovative, the story itself is rewarding, and there is a large amount of extra content in addition to that story. If you feel like you’ve got everything you possibly can out of tooling around the Caribbean at the helm of the Jackdaw, you’ll certainly find a lot of value in joining Adé at the wheel of the Experto Crede.
This review is based on a Playstation 4 version of the Freedom Cry DLC purchased by the reviewer, played with a copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag provided by Ubisoft.
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