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Asssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was among my favorite games of last year. Ubisoft finally perfected the combination of open world exploration and combat with a lovable protagonist. Unfortunately the Freedom Cry DLC, now recently released as a standalone game, gets almost every aspect of that formula wrong.
Players take control of Adewale, who was the quartermaster of Edward Kenway’s (the protagonist of Black Flag) ship, after he leaves Kenway’s side and becomes an assassin. He controls identically to Kenway, except instead of fighting with swords and flintlock pistols, he has a machete and blunderbuss, and instead of having a fun personality, he is surly and boring.
The combat is as great as it was in Black Flag, and its the one saving grace of the DLC. Whether you are fighting on land with the smooth counter-kill combat the series has come to be known for, or on sea the experience is both smooth and satisfying. Freedom Cry, in this respect, benefits greatly from being identical to the main game.
Where the trouble starts, however, is the mission design. The best missions in any Assassin’s Creed game involve traversal and combat encounters, and exclude instant fail stealth parameters, tailing or eavesdropping. Of the nine missions in Freedom Cry, I counted six that had one or, more commonly, all of those cardinal sins. The three remaining missions included one that lasted ten seconds in total, one featured a frustrating boat chase, and the other was actually a lot of fun.
Freedom Cry, like Black Flag, allows the player to rate each mission on a five star scale. Hopefully in the future Ubisoft will use the data to make their games more interesting, but right now it forces any player to consider if they enjoyed what they just played which works to Freedom Cry’s detriment.
The exploration and collectibles are still well intact. The explorable area in Freedom Cry is just a small section of the Caribbean based around Port-au-Prince, but there are still a good number of viewpoints to sync and chests to find. Instead of increasing Kenway’s crew by rescuing pirates, Adewale liberates slaves.
The majority of the upgrades to both Adewale’s ship and his equipment are tied to the number of slaves you freed, as well as story progress. There are a few different ways for Adewale to free slaves. Randomly throughout the city, slaves are running away, are injured, are being punished, trapped in cells, or are being sold. They can be rescued by simply killing the nearby enemies or bringing them to safety.
Slave encounters happen so frequently, and the rewards are so minuscule that I found myself ignoring them after a while. It made me feel a little gross, but the game never gave you a reason why your time should be spent freeing individual slaves, when you can save a hundred at a time by rescuing a slave ship or taking down a plantation, both of which are actually enjoyable to do.
The story is largely pointless. Freedom Cry takes place in a slave filled area, starring an escaped slave. I hoped it would go somewhere interesting with the touchy subject matter. Instead, all the story boils down to is Adewale helps rebelling slaves, and instead of that going anywhere interesting, the plot gets side tracked by the Governor of the island being a cruel slave owner.
Freedom Cry is a bad piece of content, whether you play the stand alone version released this week or the DLC released two months ago. The combat and exploration can be fun, but the vast majority of missions are made terrible by instant fail stealth scenarios and the like. The story doesn’t do anything interesting with the difficult nature of it’s setting, and it doesn’t try to broaden the conflict of Black Flag. Freedom Cry is mostly frustrating, and I highly recommend avoiding it.