Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Assassin's Creed IV: Shameless Speculation Edition

Robert Rath | 14 Feb 2013 12:00
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There's been a lot of rumors crowdsourced from Reddit around a maybe-DLC, maybe-AC4-project called Assassin's Creed: Black Flags, that would expand on AC3's ship mechanics. Supposedly, this chapter will follow Connor as a Royal Navy captain pursues him across the seas.

Even if it's true, I'm not behind the idea of Connor taking a Caribbean vacation, as the title seems to suggest. By the Revolution the age of piracy on American coasts had essentially ended, as the British and Spanish navies clamped down on pirate-friendly ports such as Nassau. Besides, someone like Connor wouldn't be a pirate, he'd be a privateer carrying a letter of marque, and wouldn't fly colors like the black flag. But remove Connor and wind back the clock to the golden age of piracy? We could have a swashbuckler starring Blackbeard, the female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read and the psychopath Edward Low, who occasionally forced captives to eat pieces of their own face.

While sailing around sacking shipping and slugging it out with the Royal Navy sounds like a lot of fun, I don't see it as being able to sustain an entire game. Even as DLC, Black Flags better have significant action ashore or it'll soon be as stale as ship's biscuit.

The Ming Dynasty

Assassin's Creed: Embers never really hit it big. Ask around, and it's pretty clear that most people don't even realize that there's a 22 minute short film dealing with Ezio's twilight years. However, Embers is notable for introducing Chinese Assassin Shao Jun, who flees the purges of the Jiajing Emperor to seek Ezio's council in Tuscany. You may also recall her from AC3, where Achilles credits her with inventing the rope dart. After consulting with Ezio, Shao Jun returns to her homeland in order to rebuild the Assassins and take revenge on Jiajing.

While this isn't a lot to go on, Shao Jun would be an interesting change from the Assassins of previous games. Her fighting style seems more fluid and acrobatic than her counterparts, and instead of a hidden blade she wealds a boot dagger with deadly efficiency. But she's not the only attraction China has; the middle period of the Ming Dynasty would make an excellent backdrop. During the reign of the Jiajing Emperor, the Dynasty entered a serious decline. After the Emperor purged anyone loyal to his predecessor, he sank into seclusion to study Taoism, essentially appointing ministers to rule in his stead. While his disinterest in government or change made his 45-year reign fairly stable, the bureaucracy degraded through corruption and decadence as ministers sold public offices and robbed the treasury. Meanwhile the Emperor - unconcerned with the Japanese pirates ravaging the coast, increasing encroachment by armed Portuguese trading vessels, Mongol raiding parties that set fire to the outskirts of Beijing, or an earthquake that killed 800,000 of his subjects - focused on funding Taoist temples, suppressing Buddhism and trying to prolong his life through alchemy and sexually abusing teenage girls. (His courtesans tried to strangle him in his sleep 1542 and were tortured to death for their efforts, an episode that forms part of Shao Jun's backstory.) He died from mercury poisoning in 1567, after drinking an alchemical concoction he believed to be the Elixir of Life.

Considering all this intrigue, a mad monarch, the Silk Road, and raiders howling at the borders, I think there's plenty to create a new title. After all, who wouldn't play a game with Mongols, pirates, and Portuguese galleons? Add in the beautiful architecture of the Ming Dynasty - which includes the Great Wall and the Forbidden City - and you've got a ready-made playground of blood and silk.

Hellenistic Egypt

For some reason, people keep naming Ancient Egypt as a great setting for Assassin's Creed. I don't particularly agree for a number of reasons, but my main objection has to do with personalities - a game set during the time of Ramesses II would have a difficult time fleshing out characters apart from Ramesses, his sons, and other ancient rulers. However, fast forward to the Greek-influenced Hellenistic Egypt and we've really got something, and coincidentally, that's exactly where the clues lead us.

One of the statues in Assassin's Creed II's Sanctuary is of Amunet, an Egyptian Assassin who killed Cleopatra with an asp. Not only does this suggest an interesting gameplay feature - I'd totally play a game where you dispatch venomous serpents to murder your enemies - but it lands the brotherhood right in the middle a fascinating time in Mediterranean history. The characters spring right from the page: Marc Antony, Gaius Julius Caesar, Octavian, Mithridates and Cleopatra herself, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Hellenistic Egypt has all the pyramids, tombs, and statues people want to see in a game about Egypt, but adds the Pharos Lighthouse and Library of Alexandria as well. Players could fight civil wars as Egypt splits between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy, or stand at the helm when the fleets clash at Actium.

And in the background there's always Amunet, quiet and cunning, sending the Queen and her traitors to Anubis with a drop of poison and the prick of fangs.

Whatever period they choose, however, I have no doubt that Ubisoft will try their hardest to bring its streets, alleys, and frontiers to life. In the end, Assassin's Creed's promise is to give the player a part of our human past to explore.

It's telling, after all, that we're more interested in knowing what time period will be used, rather than anything about the main character, the story, or any of the gameplay features. The most compelling piece of equipment in Assassin's Creed isn't the hidden blade, it's the Animus.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Austin, Texas. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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