Assassin's Creed IV: The Black Flag was critically acclaimed when it released at the end of last year, and although they knew it was coming, fans were left wondering which direction Ubisoft would take when choosing to expand on the fourth instalment via DLC. Freedom Cry is the first DLC for Black Flag, and while it does make references to the main storyline, it could easily be played on its own as the story is quite self-contained. You currently need the core disc in order to access the content, however it will be released on the PS3 and PS4 on February 18 in North America (19th for Europe) and February 25th on PC as a standalone title so you will not need the main game. There are currently no planned releases for a standalone version for the Xbox 360, Xbox One or the Wii U. It's developed by Ubisoft Montreal however unlike most of Assassin's Creed IV, Freedom Cry was written by Canadian author Jill Murray, who also co-wrote Assassin's Creed: Liberation. While much of the same formula remains unchanged, there are a few new interesting mechanics and gameplay elements that help make Freedom Cry feel like its own game and not just a simple add-on.
Set 15 years after the events of Black Flag, players assume the role of Adewale, who fans will recognize as Captain Edward Kenway's second-in-command in the main storyline. Born into slavery, Adewale found freedom as a pirate aboard Kenway's ship, the Jackdaw. We find our new protagonist stranded in Saint-Domingue as a trained assassin with no crew, no ship, and we will have to forge an adventure of his own. The story organically unfolds as the player wishes, allowing the freedom of sticking to the main storyline which should last about 5 hours, or to dismiss it and focus on the side activities which should greatly extend the playtime.
One of the newer and more interesting core gameplay elements consists of Adewale rescuing and freeing slaves in a number of ways. There are slave ships that can carry as many as 100 slaves that you can free by defeating the surrounding ships that protect it. There are also plantations you can raid, and depending on how stealthy you are you can save all slaves unscathed. Aside from those major instances there are smaller and more recurring events that pop up when in towns, like interrupting a slave auction, preventing punishments or aiding runaways by killing the hunting jailers. By freeing slaves, you can access higher ranked weapons and ship upgrades, and some may even join your crew.
The story itself is fairly straightforward when it deals with the internal struggle between the assassins and the Templars, and though the supporting cast isn't quite as memorable Adewale is easily the star of the show. He really gets to shine on his own, as his own captain and 15 years wiser than he was when we first met him. Worth mentioning is that unlike the episodic layout of the DLC presented in AC3, Freedom Cry is given to you all at once.
One thing that is appreciated is how fast you are able to access your ship in comparison to the slow (but grand) build up in the main campaign. With the exception of a short introduction that serves mainly as a brief tutorial for newcomers, you can almost immediately sail the seas, and much of my play time was spent embracing the winds and navigating through stormy weather. While at sea you can take part in hunting wild life like sharks and whales in a very entertaining mini game, which in turn provides you with supplies that you can sell to merchants. Hidden treasure chests are scattered on islands for you to discover and some are also found underwater in nerve-racking sequences that have you travelling through narrow rock passages and maintaining your oxygen level. For those who want a good naval battle the system from IV remains intact, allowing for players to attack enemy ships and board them. By doing this successfully you can repair any damages your ship took while in battle. Be careful though, plundering enemy vessels increases your wanted level, and hunters will be fast on your tail.
Combat remains the same with Adewale making use of his machete for close combat, a blunderbuss for close to mid range combat, and the blowpipe for non-lethal or distracting methods. On top of that, Adewale can also use his enemy's weapons to expand combat potential, much like previous entries. The rope dart also makes a return which can let you grapple enemies to either yank or hang them. Players may not have use for some of these side weapons but I do encourage the variety if only to try and test different ways of approaching encounters.
Visually, the game remains identical to Assassin's Creed IV - which is certainly not a bad thing. The world is incredibly large and robust; not only are the seas expansive but some of the towns and cities are easy to lose yourself in. The lighting system is fantastic, offering a day and night cycle that are a treat to watch as you sail off into the sunset. The foliage system returns, offering volumetric bushes and tall grass to conceal you and hide from enemies. The PS4 version has very sharp textures and a fairly stable frame rate, especially when considering all that's going on.
Overall if you've purchased the season's pass, then chances are you're already enjoying this. Those on the fence and haven't purchased the season's pass it comes highly recommended. $10 is a fair price for what it offers and additional playtime to ACIV as a whole package, and if future expansions are as beefy as this then I look forward to seeing upcoming DLC for Assassin's Creed IV: The Black Flag.
Overall if you've purchased the season's pass, then chances are you're already enjoying this. Those on the fence and haven't purchased the season's pass it comes highly recommended. $10 is a fair price for what it offers and additional playtime to Assassin's Creed IV as a whole package, and if future expansions are as beefy as this then you should look forward to seeing upcoming DLC for Assassin's Creed IV: The Black Flag.
|Adewale is a very interesting character on his own|
|Sailing is introduced much earlier on|
|Basically Django Unchained in the 1700s|
|Supporting cast not as memorable|
|Story isn't as compelling as the world it's set in|
|I feel bad for killing fake whales|