Ubisoft’s Big Assassin’s Creed Mistake

The company stupidly fumbled an obvious opportunity

Alex Rowe

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The title screen for Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag.
PS4 screenshot captured by the author.

Ubisoft had the keys to a vast successful Pirate RPG Kingdom just sitting in their hands, but threw them away with a series of baffling decisions.

Ten years ago, Ubisoft launched the wildly popular and critically celebrated game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. It wasn’t actually the fourth game in the franchise, and its historical storyline was set prior to Assassin’s Creed III, but the silly numbered title didn’t stop it from becoming a big hit that’s still played and enjoyed by many gamers today.

Black Flag is notable on the design side because it kept everything that fans liked from the earlier installments while also charting a bold new path forward for the franchise, akin to a soft reboot. The new emphasis on both ship combat and world exploration brought truly epic scope and scale to the series without the unnecessary bloat that would later come to bury it, and the modern day storyline got to do some fun things without the baggage of the twisty lore that was wrapped up in the previous game.

If you’re a fan of the AC franchise, or friends with a fan, you’ve probably either said or heard that Black Flag is the best game in the series. It’s a case that’s easy to make. Protagonist Edward Kenway brought a lot of charm and adventurous flair to the historical part of the story, and the carefully designed open world perfectly blended the large variety of environments that gamers ever-increasingly demand with more intimate play spaces that were easy to navigate. Icons do litter its map of islands, but most of the side content is truly optional, and spreading it out over smaller and more varied spaces makes it feel less like a grind than the larger games that would come to dominate the franchise.

Black Flag’s modern day evil game development studio.
PS4 screenshot captured by the author.

The modern day storyline is set in an evil game development studio run by the series’ villains, and it’s one of my favorite things ever in a game. It’s impressively self-critical on the part of Ubisoft, and brimming with fun meta narrative stuff to experience, blending a standalone story with tons of little lore bits…

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