Before we leap into the life of Edward Kenway in Assassin’s Creed IV, we begin by revisiting the events of previous installments in the series. This short chapter offers concise recaps for all core episodes of the Assassin’s Creed story to date, with additional insights into key events and concepts that may – or, of course, may not – inform narrative developments in Black Flag.
September, 2012:Desmond Miles, a New-York-based bartender, is kidnapped by agents employed by Abstergo, a multinational corporation. Held captive within a secure facility, he is forced by scientist Warren Vidic to interact with the Animus – ostensibly a virtual reality machine but, in truth, so much more than that. This astonishing technology enables Desmond to experience and explore events in the life of a direct-line ancestor during the Third Crusade: Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, a member of the Assassin Brotherhood.
1191: Savagely castigated, stripped of rank and subjected to a mock execution as a punishment for his arrogance and disregard for Brotherhood tenets, the disgraced Assassin Altaïr is offered a chance of redemption: inflict a grievous blow to Templar power by assassinating a sequence of nine senior Order officials. The dying words of his final target reveal the existence of a tenth conspirator. This is none other than Al Mualim, de facto leader (“Mentor”) of the Assassin Brotherhood… and the architect of Altaïr’s quest.
Altaïr returns to the Brotherhood stronghold at Masyaf to find most of its populace enslaved by Al Mualim via the fantastical powers of an object known as a Piece of Eden. Though the Assassin is broadly immune to its insidious mind control, he is assailed by otherworldly projections as he confronts the traitorous Mentor. After the death of Al Mualim, Altaïr watches on in wonder as the Piece of Eden transmits a holographic representation of Earth, adorned with a series of annotations that appear to highlight specific locations.
As the Piece of Eden reveals the projection, Desmond’s session within the Animus is abruptly curtailed by Warren Vidic. The Abstergo corporation, now clearly identified as a front for the contemporary Templar Order, has the information that it requires: the potential locations of other Pieces of Eden. Only the intervention of Vidic’s assistant, the Assassin double-agent Lucy Stillman, persuades the Templar scientist to delay the planned execution of Desmond. She opines (quite correctly, as it transpires) that his lineage may yet lead to further discoveries.
Shortly thereafter, Desmond experiences the power of the “Bleeding Effect” for the first time – a process whereby a subject interacting with the Animus assimilates memories and capabilities of his or her ancestors. This unlocks the innate power of Eagle Vision (a capability shared by Altaïr), which enables Desmond to discover cryptic messages left by a prior Abstergo test subject – and, by the appearance of the scrawl, written in blood…
Key Concepts & Developments
ANIMUS: Assassin’s Creed introduces the (alas, fictional) capacity of human DNA to record “genetic memories”. Each time DNA is passed on, the sum of a progenitor’s experiences – up to moments before conception for men, and before birth for women – is transferred to the resultant offspring. Each generation of humans, therefore, is a biological archive of the experiences of former generations. The Animus technology isolates, decodes, and simulates these ancestral memories in a virtual representation of extraordinary fidelity.
Bleeding Effect: There are two complications to Animus use. Firstly, the user must maintain “Synchronization” by respecting and maintaining the natural sequence of events in the life of the ancestor in question. Failure to do so leads to a break (“Desynchronization”) in the simulation. They must also be mindful of the Bleeding Effect: a phenomenon that enables certain users to acquire proficiencies exhibited by their forebears, but may also lead to hallucinations and, in time, irrevocable mental deterioration.
Pieces of Eden:In this debut tale, we learn that fantastical devices known as Pieces of Eden have been sought and fought over for centuries. Al Mualim reveals that Pieces of Eden – and a secret, “true” sequence of events – lie behind many pivotal moments and developments in human history. His intention was to engender peace by using the device to fetter the minds of his subjects on a regional level. The contemporary Templars plan to locate a Piece of Eden and launch the device into orbit to exert such control on a global scale.
Templar Order: The Templars fight for peace and stability through political and social machinations – and, ultimately, the enforced surrender of true self-determination via the power of Pieces of Eden and associated technologies. Though individual agents may be corrupt, cruel or venal, it would be simplistic (indeed, erroneous) to characterize the Order as necessarily “evil”. They aspire to act as the custodians of humanity, and believe that the sacrifice of a little liberty could enable them to preside over a world without war or want.
Assassin Brotherhood: Agents of the Assassin Brotherhood are sworn to preserve free will, and to defend this liberty with their very lives. The core message of their creed – “Nothing is true; everything is permitted” – advocates the right of every individual to act of their own volition. The Brotherhood has fought a long war against the Templars.
Desmond Miles: Despite his early show of bewilderment in captivity, we learn that Desmond Miles is a former member of the modern-day Brotherhood, having fled the organization at age 16. In a piece of trivia that many fans of the series may have forgotten, Desmond reveals how he was caught by the Templars in this debut episode. It transpires that, after years of successfully living “off the grid”, he applied for a motorcycle license. This act united a fingerprint with a picture within a database – and the rest, as they say…