*This post contains open spoilers for Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry and Assassin's Creed: Liberation*
Freedom Cry is an interesting point in Assassin’s Creed history because it was the first DLC designed to be a game in its own right that people could jump into even if they didn’t own the base game. Focusing on Adéwalé, Edward’s Quartermaster in Black Flag, this was a good opportunity for him to get an arc of his own. He served as the voice of reason in Black Flag, calling out Edward’s selfishness and recklessness, and would eventually become an assassin in his own right. He was one of the most interesting characters in Black Flag so I was looking forward to a small epilogue of sorts before I jumped into Rogue. Unfortunately though, it does Adéwalé a great disservice with some poor design and questionable morals in the story.
First up - Ubisoft are kidding themselves plugging this as its own game. It looks like it on the surface, but it’s really just a mission pack for Black Flag. Taking place in a select portion of the map from the base game, Freedom Cry also adds in a new city area that’s around the same size as the biggest ones from Black Flag, maybe a little bigger. You can push through the story missions in Port-au-Prince, the main city hub, or explore the surrounding sea and islands. The problem, though… is that there’s nothing there. The game gives the illusion of being an open world game, but it’s really not. It likewise makes it look like you’re going to experience a story where Adéwalé gets more agency and development, but you don’t.
In the opening mission of Freedom Cry, Adéwalé intercepts a Templar ship delivering a package and sets out to find out what it is and why somebody would want it. This is a good hook for the start of the adventure - track down the would-be recipient of the package and get intel from them that opens up a Templar conspiracy, leading you to your next targets.
This is the whole game.
Adéwalé finds out the package was intended for Bastienne Josèphe, a black woman who is the proprietor of a brothel in Port-au-Prince. It turns out Bastienne isn’t a Templar herself, but aligns with them regardless. Adéwalé is baffled by this and calls her out for working with slavers, but she reveals that she’s able to use her girls to get information out of people in power and use the money the Templars give her to fund the black freedom fighters known as the Maroons. Adé, a former slave himself, decides to help the Maroons. However, he remains distrustful of Bastienne and so withholds the package from her until he’s satisfied. You free some slaves, discover a Templar plot to use slaves in a research expedition, and then kill the Templar governor fronting the expedition. This takes place over nine missions, about 2-3 Sequences’ worth, and you perform a grand total of one assassination. Adé hands over the package in the finale and you don't even find out what it is. Not a lot happens and nobody’s character really develops over time. They still find a way to cram a bunch of tailing missions in there though.
The developers seem to have known how short the story was because they pad it out by requiring you to perform side tasks in order to ‘unlock’ the next mission to play. And by side tasks, I mean ‘free slaves in various ways’. Because, you see, the entirety of Freedom Cry revolves around slaves. Other assassins are able to take on assassination contracts and investigate ancient mysteries, but the only side missions Adé can take on are killing slavers parading their slaves about and raiding plantations. Everywhere you look in Port-au-Prince and on the high seas, there’s slaves waiting to be freed. There’s no other way of interacting with the world except through freeing slaves and watching the slave gauge meet the number needed to unlock upgrades or new missions.
Other assassins get stories about realising bloody revenge won’t bring their families back, or about questioning the principles they live their life by and learning to fight for a just cause. But Adé gets a story about how slavery is bad. In what’s meant to be his shining hour and where he's given a new level of agency as the main character, he’s robbed of all characteristics except the fact he used to be a slave, and is tasked with nothing outside of the area of slavery. It’s made worse by the fact that the game actually tries calling him out for something as morally unambiguous as thinking slavery is bad.
Characters are constantly telling Adé that he’s going about things wrong and that freeing slaves will just make slavers treat their slaves worse, so they should slowly work to find other ways to bring about change. What the fuck kinda Boogie-ass nonsense is that!? There’s a climactic mission where the Templars fire upon their own slave ship which Adé is trying to liberate, resulting in an incredibly bleak scene where you try, and fail, to rescue all the slaves from the burning ship. Everyone blames Adé for the casualties because he shouldn’t have been trying to free them in the first place. Uhh no. The people at fault were the people who enslaved human beings and the ones who then tried to kill them out of spite. The story focuses on one thing and can’t even handle it properly.
It made me think back to Liberation, the first Assassin’s Creed game with a black protagonist, and I remember feeling weird about that at the time too. Interestingly enough I found out they had the same main writer. Liberation played second fiddle to Assassin’s Creed III by being a smaller game releasing on a niche platform, but a major franchise like Assassin’s Creed featuring a black female lead was a big deal. There was something about it that sat a bit weird to me though. The game with the series’ first female protagonist had a central mechanic revolving around dressing up. The game with the black lead in colonial America had mechanics and plot beats revolving around posing as a slave and leading slave revolts. It was like she couldn’t just be her own character like other assassins before her, and was instead wholly defined by her status as a woman and as a minority.
Liberation at least had an interesting plot twist, where Aveline’s stepmother who had been helping her free and relocate slaves turned out to be a Templar who was using the slaves for her own purposes. It led to an interesting theme of people presenting as allies while actually taking advantage of those they claim to help. Freedom Cry doesn’t have any such saving grace, it instead gets muddled in its own mixed messaging.
Aside from my criticisms of the story there’s not that much to say about Freedom Cry, it’s just a miniature version of Black Flag with some bad mission design and an empty open world. It does give you a new stealth tool though! You can throw fireworks on the ground to lure guards away, which is something the series has desperately needed. They’re a bit too fiddly to use though, and aren’t an improvement that stands out much when the rest is so lacklustre. There’s barely any reason to spend time with anything you’re not told to, as all that awaits you are treasure chests filled with pointless money and a few collectible weapons and ship upgrades. You don’t need any of it because there’s no content to actually engage with. It’s such a weird experience and didn’t enrich my time with Black Flag in any way.