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Black Flag needs to ditch Assassin's Creed and become its own series

In May, I was ready to give up on Assassin’s Creed. I’m one of the few people who were genuinely captivated by the original game, back in 2007, and one of the many utterly delighted by the sequel in 2009. While Brotherhood and Revelations offered diminishing satisfaction, AC3 was flat-out disappointing--as if the series had totally forgotten itself in favour of scale, bombast and fucking boats. The very boaty, very bloated, Black Flag was--I thought, back in May--the end of my relationship with the Creed.

If you’ve read my review of Black Flag, you’ll know that my outlook on the game grew significantly more cheery between May and October. However, that was little to do with the actual ‘Assassin’s Creed’ portion of the game, which I still believe needs a brutal editing by the senior creatives at Ubisoft. No, the true beauty of AC4 is the Black Flag portion.

By ‘Black Flag’ portion, I’m referring to the piracy. The bits where you sail around the Caribbean in a big ol’ ship, sinking Spanish galleons, brawling with drunks in bars, and digging up stacks of loot. I love all that. Seems I’m not alone in my opinion either, as everyone I’ve spoken to has said: “Well, it doesn’t really feel like a good Assassin’s Creed game, but I love being a pirate”. I’m paraphrasing here, but the sentiment remains. So, why the hell shouldn’t Black Flag just become a separate gaming series in its own right? No Animus, no wrist-blades, no stern men wearing cowls. Just pirates. And loot. And maybe parrots.

Even after 30 hours of rampant plundering, I’m still keen to dip back in Ubisoft’s virtual Caribbean. I want more quiet little coves, more legendary ships to sink, more shanties to hear as I chop through the water. It’s such a pleasant place to be. I’d happily play another game in the same sort of world (albeit, with plenty of new stuff to see and do), and I’d absolutely welcome the idea of taking Black Flag’s brand of piracy to other waters. If Gore Verbanski can milk four films out of a theme-park ride from Disney Land, surely Ubisoft can squeeze more quality juice from the pirate theme.

Now, if it turns out that the next Assassin’s Creed game will be Black Flag 2, it wouldn’t come as a huge shock. However, that’s not the point I’m trying to make here--not at all. Black Flag needs to divorce itself from Assassin’s Creed for both their sakes. While a separate series would allow Black Flag to become the best, and pretty much only, pirate franchise on next-gen, it would also allow Assassin’s Creed to make a clean break from all the current-gen games (both in terms of story and gameplay tropes) and really rediscover its identity.

Assassin’s Creed’s past is very much holding the series back. The lore is taking ever more ridiculous steps to try and justify itself, which not only baffles regular players, but totally alienates newcomers. The final few stages of AC4 are totally out of sync (haha) with the main themes of the game, and it feels crushingly disappointing when you’re forced to delve back into the claptrap of pre-human civilisations and daft magic skulls. Add to that the fact that the core Assassin’s Creed mission types desperately need a rethink (especially after GTA showed the world how to keep an open-world game interesting and varied for 30 hours), and it’s obvious that the core of the series needs a refresh.

By giving Black Flag the opportunity to become its own thing, Ubisoft can satisfy our demand for scurvy pirate antics (and fill its own chest with booty for another year) and give the Assassin’s Creed franchise time to heal itself. Imagine the fun that could be had if an independent Black Flag game began to evolve its own mission types, which involve ever more outrageous methods of being a scoundrel. Forget eavesdropping--you could maroon your enemies on remote islands, force people to walk the plank, and romance the daughters of sugar barons--very much like Sid Meier’s Pirates. That’s the kind of stuff that could elevate Black Flag from 'good' to 'brilliant'.

Now, I love the series, but what Assassin’s Creed itself needs is a new game set in a totally new time period, with a return to proper stealth and rich, compact worlds. It doesn’t need to bloat further in some ludicrous arms race to build larger maps than its competitors. We don’t need 1000s of meaningless collectables or a hero who can kill 20 people at once--we need an actual Assassin who can weigh his cunning against one target at a time, making each kill actually mean something. Hey, the series isn’t called ‘Mass Murderer’s Creed’. When better to affect this change? With a new bunch of consoles that offer developers new features and tech to exploit. Like now.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. I know a lot of people really like the ‘People Who Came Before’ hoodoo. They like the complexity, the bloat, the formula. Realistically, I don’t see Ubisoft changing their vision for Assassin’s Creed because some bloke wrote an article saying he wants a bit of change--so if you’re an AC lore fan, I suspect you’ll be well catered for in the coming years. I just think that there’s a great opportunity here to keep the stuff people love and maybe rethink the bits that aren’t working as well, using new consoles as a tool for doing that. Liberate Black Flag--let it sail gloriously free as its own game--and give Assassins the love and attention it deserves too.

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29 comments

  • miiikkeyyyy - April 17, 2014 5:28 p.m.

    I never played Assassin's Creed until the third one. I couldn't stand it. I bought a bundle on Ebay which came with 3 other games for the PS4. Initially I never played it then one day I played it and I fell in love with the pirate theme! I don't want a game called Black Flag 2 as too many people would associate it with AC! They need an open world pirate game, using what they've got already.. And rebrand it! Great Read {5 months after you wrote it}
  • VictorHugo25 - November 17, 2013 11:23 p.m.

    A pirate's life for me!
  • jsonaut - November 17, 2013 3:49 p.m.

    I agree completely with this article, drop the AC bullshit and I'd buy this today.
  • mafyooz - November 12, 2013 3:40 a.m.

    The whole swashbuckling pirate thing is definitely something that has been under-represented in games. Personally, the only entry in the Assasin's Creed series I've enjoyed was AC2. The original was incredibly repetitive, I got bored of Brotherhood about a third of the way through so have never bothered playing Revelation, and not even the fact that AC3 is free on PS+ has enticed me to play it. However, the shipboard sections of Black Flag look incredible, and if it had been developed and sold as it's own thing, rather than a continuation of a franchise that I've no interest in, I'd probably have got it on day one. As it stands at the moment though I'll wait until the price drops before I bother.
  • KidKatana - November 12, 2013 1:28 a.m.

    Yes to all. AC3 lost sight of everything that made the original AC games fun, like interesting cities that could be easily and usefully explored via rooftop, or freerunning that was actually useful as a gameplay mechanic. You couldn't even do ledge assassinations unless the game told you to. I know it sounds nitpicky but for me that's the stuff that gave the series its identity. I'd love to see a return to an 'Old World' setting. Not played Black Flag yet but it looks great as a pirate game - I reckon you're spot on. The AC brand would have afforded it the budget for an epic open world, but now that it's established itself I think it could be successfully spun off. And that'd be awesome, I'm all up for something set in the South China sea or the Mediterranean.
  • Timstertimster - November 11, 2013 7:18 p.m.

    I wish AC went back to its roots. Europe. Middle Ages. DaVinci gear. History lessons. I really misse that aspect. Paris. London. Vienna. Moscow. Czars. Catherine the Great. The possibilities are endless.
  • federico-motta - November 11, 2013 2:11 p.m.

    I do totally agree, this would be awesome, AC does not feel the same anymore but Black Flag is a great game anyways, so why not to take this advice?
  • HowlRiot - November 11, 2013 1:46 p.m.

    You're totally right, I played the first one and saw the potential, although it was really repetitive and I hated that. I've always wished Altair, Ezio or whoever the assassin is would actually BE an assassin, not a bloody paladin killing every single bloke that he comes across, I loved how Dishonored or even Metal Gear Solid lets you go for non-lethal takedowns and how you actually have to hide and plan your moves. AC never felt like that to me, never felt like a true stealth game, I COULDN'T EVEN CROUCH FOR MOST OF THE GAMES!! that's ridiculous, and assassin, pro-killer, is seen over some crates cause' his knees are to stiff to bed a little so he's bloody head isn't in plain view.
  • N7Spartan95 - November 11, 2013 12:45 p.m.

    THIS. 1000x this. Having never really played much of AC before this aside from some of ACIII, I got Black Flag for one reason and one reason only: because it looked like it was going to be the best damn pirate game ever, which it pretty much was. While I did enjoy the freerunning and the counter-based combat that Assassin's Creed brought to the gameplay, and while at some points the Assassin-Templar conflict added a new spin on historical events that I thought was interesting, the modern-day sections didn't hold my attention as much and the pseudo-religious sci-fi conspiracy bullshit having to do with the First Civilization had me going "ugh" at times. So yeah, if they had dropped the "Assassin's Creed IV" part and just made a pirate game called "Black Flag" that didn't have any of the stupid stuff, I would not be shedding a single tear. Not that the game was bad. It wasn't; it was damned fantastic. I just agree with the author that this game might have been better off as a solo pirate game. Slight disagreement though on the "force people to walk the plank, and romance the daughters of sugar barons" part. What I enjoyed about Black Flag's take on pirates was that it was a realistic portrayal of the Golden Age of Piracy. In real life, pirates never walked the plank, they just threw you overboard. And bedding the daughter of every governor or plantation owner in the West Indies sounds pretty cliche and dumb. I'd much prefer if they kept the gritty, realistic picture of pirates rather than the image of pirates we commonly get from movies like Pirates of the Caribbean (and this is coming from someone who enjoys those movies).
  • CitizenWolfie - November 11, 2013 10:45 a.m.

    I felt exactly the same as the author with the series (I jumped on board from ACII onwards but have since played the first) in that my excitement for it was waning and after hearing that AC4 would be this enormous boaty open world without I groaned. AC3 could have been pretty special considering the time period but I feel like too many ideas were put into it and none of them fully followed through. I hated the naval missions especially and I found the frontier map to be an excuse to space the collectibles further apart. But I will be getting AC4 and playing it AS a pirate sim and not as an Assassin's Creed game. I like the AC lore but it's gone completely silly and I miss playing as a real Assassin with a sense of purpose instead of a guy who happens to be in the white hooded robes. I just wish the AC series would go back to historical cities again. AC2 felt HUGE. I thought Florence was massive until I realised there was Tuscany, Venice, Monteriggioni and part of Rome to play in as well. But because each area was dense and had lots to do without thousands of collect-em-alls it never felt a chore getting from A to B. Likewise the parkour felt more natural on the streets instead of running in a straight line through the forest as it was quicker than tree hopping. But even if they gave us a smaller area and packed it with lots of stuff to do (not just find) I'd be happy. Just look at Arkham Asylum/City. You can get straight from one end to the other in a fairly short time but because there's always something going on it can take hours.
  • AKALMoumen - November 11, 2013 10:31 a.m.

    I think it would be great if we got a separate pirate game... It brings back the good old pc days of pirates vs cowboys (Black Flag and Red Dead) and after finishing AC3 recently... It does need at least a reorganization of it's lore... And Andy is absolutely right giving each game a 2 year dev cycle would be amazing... We know what they can do in a year so 2 would significantly increase quality... Hope they listen to you Andy...
  • mrcheesy77 - November 11, 2013 10:23 a.m.

    I've gotta disagree. I personally have loved every Assassin's Creed game more than the last. I never understood the hate that AC3 got. It is one of my favorite games of all time...I still play it all the time.
  • BladedFalcon - November 11, 2013 10:05 a.m.

    Considering that the reason I haven't rushed to play this game is because it has the Assasin's Creed name on it, I absolutely agree. Had this been made exclusive as a game about pirates, i would have been far more excited, and completely willing to dish out 60 bucks for it... As it stands, I still wanna play it just for the pirates stuff, but I refuse to pay full prince for a game that it's part of a series that really doesn't need to have this many games this soon.
  • CitizenWolfie - November 11, 2013 10:48 a.m.

    I know what you mean and totally agree. I wonder if perhaps it started out as a new piratey IP but because of Watch Dogs being developed at the same time Ubisoft lost faith in it and slapped "Assassin's Creed" on it to help it sell...
  • BladedFalcon - November 11, 2013 11:18 a.m.

    That sounds unlikely though, since ACIII also had naval battles, which were clearly there as a testing ground for what would do for Black Flag. Of course, you could still argue that prototype didn't necessarily mean it was for a AC sequel... But it's kinda hard not to think of Black Flag as an intentional AC game from the beginning because of this. I think it's more likely that the writers just got fed up with their own super convoluted bullshit, and thus found themselves more drawn to the aspect that Wasn't focused on the central AC mythos. Which I think by now it has gotten to ridiculous it rivals, or may even surpass the convoluted-ness and stupidity of the KH franchise.
  • ObliqueZombie - November 11, 2013 9:29 a.m.

    Great points, there. I haven't finished Revelations and haven't touched ACIII, but I'm tempted to skip it all entirely and have fun with Black Flag. I don't think there's been a good pirate game this entire generation or last. Let's hope this next generation does something brilliant. Hell, maybe a developer will see this plea and start brainstorming.
  • GR_AndyHartup - November 11, 2013 10:25 a.m.

    We definitely need more pirate games. Definitely.
  • Drekner - November 11, 2013 9:05 a.m.

    I used to love the lore in Assassin's Creed. It was really need, mindboggling and incredible interesting. But after ACIII... I feel like the lore is pretty much sunk as it got way too convoluted for me. Heck, even Revelations ending was pretty sub-par but at least that game was fun. I hated ACIII. Took me months to be it because I just had no desire to play it. Though with all these reviews about Black Flag being good, I wanna play it, just for the pirate aspect. Probably going to hold out for Next-gen though.
  • zelta38 - November 11, 2013 8:49 a.m.

    One comment only: I totally agree.

Showing 1-20 of 29 comments

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