Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag's Freedom Cry downloadable content will pull players in different directions. At times, players will feel empowered. Taking on the role of the physically-powerful, quick-witted and imposing Adewale, players will feel like the hero with nothing to fear. Other times, players will feel powerless. Knowing at the back of their minds that they can't save everyone and slavery doesn't end with one man, the game induces a sense of helplessness.
In Freedom Cry, players take on the role of Adewale, a former slave and Edward Kenway's second-in-command in the main campaign. Where the theme of slavery was present in a subtle way in Black Flag, taking the backseat to piracy, Freedom Cry places it front and center.
"There's no looking away from slavery in this game..."
Freedom Cry's lead writer Jill Murray told Polygon that because Adewale escaped slavery as a teenager, once he was at the helm of his own game, it felt natural to address it. "Once we did, we saw an opportunity to bring not just the subject, but the systems of slavery under the Code Noir to the forefront with gameplay," she said. "There's no looking away from slavery in this game — you have to deal with it, hands-on."
Players will be surrounded by slavery, whether it's in the plantations they'll have to liberate, the slaves whose lives they'll try to save or the slave traders they're tasked with assassinating. Freedom Cry gives players the tools available to assassins in Black Flag — the stealth mechanics, the eagle view, the control of naval fleets and two new weapons (the machete and the blunderbuss). It also gives players a very strong sense of purpose.
The world is rich with scenarios that players don't have to involve themselves with, but will inevitably shape their experience. Walking through the town center of Port-au-Prince, players will witness a slave auction taking place. They will see slaves trying to escape and the traders who chase them down and brutally kill them. In the plantations, players will also see the complete disregard that slave masters have for the lives of those they held captive.
"The topic will never be tasteful, but if we look at it frankly, maybe we can become better people for it."
These instances build up to give players a sense of the injustices that were taking place in Port-au-Prince and then motivate them to do something about it.
Of course, this then brings us back to the sense of helplessness that many will feel when they can't save a slave or, when trying to liberate a plantation, the slave masters chose to kill their slaves rather than allow them to be freed.
"[Adewale] is everything you could want in a hero designed to make a player feel strong," Murray said. "And you do feel that when you play him. But we know, historically, that one man did not 'win' slavery. So there's a lurking tension between the highs you feel as a player in the game, and the historical knowledge you have in the back of your mind that this is not where this story ends.
"Slavery disturbs me," she said. "The way its echo can still be felt through our economic and social systems today disturbs me. For me, these games are not just about looking back to the past, but about trying to understand the events that shaped our assumptions about our world and its people today. This painful and necessary topic brings me to confront, among other things, the high price of my own privilege, but also introduces me to people I was not aware of before, and the stories not just of their oppression, but of their strength, resistance and enterprising spirit.
"So my priorities in dealing with the subject matter are honesty, compassion, understanding and diligent research. The topic will never be tasteful, but if we look at it frankly, maybe we can become better people for it."