In this in-depth feature, we explore where the "present day" narrative of Assassin's Creed 4 can go. Note that there are many spoilers from across the entire Assassin's Creed franchise.
In unveiling Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, Ubisoft has revealed their vision of the Golden Age of Piracy. Fans are learning much about Edward Kenway and the pirate's life that will surround him. However, little is known about the modern-day setting for Black Flag. Following the fate of Desmond Miles in Assassin's Creed 3, there's a lingering question mark as to where AC's modern narrative goes from there, with the answers only lying within Abstergo.
Black Flag's creative director, Jean Guesdon, has made it clear that Desmond will not be the main protagonist of the game. Given the ending of Assassin's Creed 3, the Assassin's Order in the present day appear to be in shambles. That leaves Abstergo, the grand Templar front, as the only modern-day players currently in the Animus game.
The idea of Abstergo taking players into the past isn't without precedent--in fact, it's the basis behind the PS Vita's Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation, Project Legacy on Facebook, and all of Assassin's Creed multiplayer modes. Project Legacy introduced the idea of the Data Dump Scanner (DDS), a piece of software that allows users to relive extracted memories of a different person's genetic memory. The DDS could very well make a return in Black Flag, as someone else would clearly have to live out the memories of Edward Kenway, in the face of Desmond's absence.
If Abstergo is moving into a more central role, it will likely come through Abstergo Entertainment. This division of the Templar company seeks to influence the public through pre-packaged genetic memories. Liberation is an Abstergo Entertainment creation, having random players all over the world play as Aveline de Grandpré. If that's the case, we may see a similarly-expanded role for the Erudito Collective, a mysterious organization hell-bent on exposing Abstergo Entertainment for what it really is. Erudito made some sporadic appearances in Liberation, having "hacked" into certain sequences by sprinkling in mysterious targets called "Citizen E." They've even hacked into some unlockable videos from Assassin's Creed 3's multiplayer mode.
Erudito was also key in exposing Abstergo's ability to color the past. Liberation saw players live out what they thought was Aveline's life, which culminated with her betrayal of the Assassins--an ending that most players witnessed through a normal playthrough. It was Erudito that exposed the truth, revealing that Abstergo had edited Aveline's memories. If players killed all of the "Citizen E" characters in Liberation, they would see Aveline's true ending, proving that Abstergo was manipulating the main narrative. Abstergo Entertainment is credited for the development of both Liberation and Assassin's Creed multiplayer and will also have a hand in the making of Assassin's Creed IV. This makes it entirely possible that Black Flag could go in a similar narrative direction, with Edward Kenway's tale unfolding as an unreliable narration, leaving Erudito to tell the real story.
Memory manipulation is even evident at the end of Assassin's Creed 3. Players that continued after the end credits may have noticed unknown present-day figures searching through Connor's memories for "pivots" or hacked pieces of data. It's reasonable to assume that in Desmond's absence, Abstergo has been tinkering with Connor's memories in order to mold it for themselves. In fact, Abstergo's tampering could very well be what's behind the entire premise of the "Tyranny of King Washington" DLC that's currently ongoing.
Is any of this to say that players have seen the last of Desmond Miles? Guesdon made sure to emphasize that Desmond is not the main protagonist of Black Flag, but did not go so far as to indicate anything more final than that. In fact, Guesdon made sure to note, "Desmond will be referred to as a very important legacy of the AC universe."
Desmond was last seen sacrificing his life in order to save humanity from an apocalyptic disaster. In exchange, however, the First Civilization's Juno has been released from captivity. It was revealed at the end of Assassin's Creed 3 that Juno had been using Desmond to orchestrate her release, so that she could enslave humanity. Juno's role in Black Flag is unclear, as her final words to the deceased Desmond were, "You played your part well, but now it's time I played mine."
Desmond's final fate is, likewise, unclear. After all, Assassin's Creed: Revelations' Subject 16 demonstrated that prolonged exposure to the Animus could leave behind a residual consciousness. Could Desmond's consciousness remain somewhere within the remnants of the Animus? If so, will it guide Assassin's Creed's next major present-day protagonist and bring a dire warning of Juno's imminent strike against humanity?