Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag does an amazing job of fixing the downfalls that the previous iteration created by expanding the need and desire to do side quests coupled with a wide open world . However, in doing so, it creates its own problems by being perhaps too removed from the main storyline. Luckily, this does not detract much from the game as a whole.
You play as Edward Kenway… well not really(its never that simple in Assassins Creed). You actually play as random worker *insert number* that was just hired at Abstergo to play as Edward Kenway via an animus that has data they collected from Desmond.
Quick Backstory of Previous AC Games- Skip if you played them or don’t want spoilers (I will try not to give away too much)
To make a long story short: In previous Assassins Creed games, you played as Desmond Miles in the modern day who would use a device called the animus that would recreate the history of his ancestors to find where certain objects with special properties are hidden in the modern day. This leads through three main ancestors being: Altair , Enzio, and Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor) all part of Desmond’s blood line which progressively found more and more disturbing information revealing how the world isn’t what we think it is. At the end of Assassins Creed 3 Desmond unlocks a secret crypt that eventually leads to his death, and those at Abstergo (who are after Desmond) find his dead body and extract more stories out of his DNA.
Edward is a pirate, who after a bad encounter with an opposing ship ends up getting blown off of a boat on to a stranded island with an Assassin who threatened to kill him. Edward being the brash lad that he is decides he is going to kill the assassin because he is just that damn good (although being an assassins runs in his blood). Once the assassin is disposed of, Edward discovers a special package that contains a letter instructing where to deliver said package for a reward and with Edward being a pirate, he loves rewards!
Now you may think I am oversimplifying the story judging by that last paragraph but I’m actually not. The main drawback to Assassins Creed 4 is the story is very, very simple and uninteresting, and many times I found myself wondering why I am even doing certain missions as they always feel that you just fell into the situation. Now there is a slight reason why Edward does these missions, he hopes to create a nation where men can truly be free in Nassau and also, being a pirate, he likes money. But you never get that feeling beyond a few sparse conversations during the main storyline. This gives Edward a sort of non-Assassin Assassin quality which carries throughout the game. He follows the Assassins’ ways and beliefs to an extent, but in his own way, which leads to the weak story as he isn’t truly invested in anything but himself. (Not to mention that Edward is never formally trained in the game or in the back story to properly be an Assassin; the only qualification he has is that it runs in his blood.)
One other problem with the story exists in how it restricts your exploration which is the mainstay of this game. It would’ve been much more advantageous for a game that is so focused on being an open world experience to place upgrades that allow you to further explore said world in side quests rather then forcing you to progress through the main story to gain full access to these items.
Welcome to the good part! There is so much to do in this game and the beauty of it is , it all has a purpose. Every island has something worth getting; every bit of sea has random resources scattered about as wreckage; every contract not only has money but builds towards other rewards; every side quest provides an immediate reward as well as building towards a long term reward; every boat you destroy or board has resources; and every last bit of it is FUN! Let me delve a little further in to each side activity:
Just to be clear, everything in this game is an island, but what I’m referring to is the small sand bars that exist throughout the game. They vary from island to island but for the most part are broken into two types: Minor islands which are at best sand and rocks and usually has one chest while larger islands might have people, some animals to hunt, and perhaps a tavern in addition to chests and collectibles. But with the prospect of chests perhaps being something good, you want to check out every single one, not to mention it’s a nice little break from sailing if you have far to go. Larger islands prove an even further distraction as contracts usually task you to kill someone close to the area or a tavern might give you information about a convoy far away that is worth a pretty penny, sending you way off the goal you set forth.
Contracts typically send you to kill someone for a price and can range in difficulty, bonuses, and methodology. They can serve as a quick fun way to earn some quick cash which you are always in need of(upgrades get expensive towards the end). They come in two varieties being Naval and Assassin Contracts and as you might guess one involves a boat while the other involves just yourself.
There are several British & Spanish forts throughout the world in Assassins Creed 4 that protect certain areas of the map and range in three different types of difficulty with a large array of fire power ready to take you out if your not prepared. Taking a fort is broken up into two main stages, the first involves destroying all the outer defenses using many cannonballs, the amount of cannonballs you must shoot is easily the same amount of it your entire ship was made purely of cannonballs. Once the fort becomes breachable you must storm the keep and proceed to kill all the officers resulting in the troops to surrender, all that’s left is my personal favorite part which is executing the Commander. For some reason this is one of the most satisfying moments in the game, perhaps its simply because of all the work involved conquering harder forts or maybe its just because the Commander cowers in terror before you; but regardless of the reason… it feels good *lights cigarette*.
Once you acquire a diving bell you have the ability to go to select ship wrecks and search around and find treasure. Of course, being underwater you lack any proper tools to deal with threats (no harpoon wrist blades) so things such as sharks and nasty eels pose a threat you can never remove and must hide instead. In addition to those threats water tends to lack a certain… “air”-like quality which means not just things are trying to kill you but the environment itself. The diving missions themselves (beyond having great loot if you complete them) also pose as an interesting way of making stealth only missions as you have no tools to deal with anything but hiding in the environment and due to limited air you simply can’t just wait it out for a more favorable time to move.
Is not simply sitting off the side of your boat with a pole. You are fishing for big game , not little fish like tuna or cod but big fish like sharks and non-fish such as whales. Your goal is to harpoon the target enough times until it is dead, and depending on the target that can be an easy or hard thing to accomplish. As you move up to larger sharks and larger whales they become easier targets but as such have more health and, unlike the smaller variety, do damage that can’t be avoided, so you must work fast or get sunk. Another minor detail that plays into fishing is the weather; a calm bright sunny day (as you might imagine) makes it easier to see your target. Change that into a dark stormy day where its hard to see and waves are moving, and an easy task turns into a dauntingly difficult one.
Some side missions are more then just one-offs, others are part of a multiple chain of quests that lead to some fancy equipment once completed. As you are not an Assassin, you can choose to help some Assassins on multiple part missions to help kill Templars. You being Edward of course will not do such a thing for free and you’re not only rewarded per mission but also given a key that can be used to unlock a special set of armor.
The crazy part is there is still more you can do in this game that I can mention, such as hunting for treasure via treasure maps, collecting chests, completing islands, and defeating legendary ships. But the key to remember is that all these side activities are enjoyable from start to finish; they never feel like a chore and they always help you in some manner (usually providing resources to upgrade your ship or you) .
Combat has been slightly improved upon in Assassins Creed 4 however the same set of Attack, Counter, and Break still exists but the flow has speed up from previous versions. Many times in past games you would have to wait for a parry opportunity to actually make progress in combat, this is not the case anymore with the exception of officers who are few and far between. Even with officers, you can always circumvent this by simply shooting them one, two, three, or four times (because that’s how many pistols you can carry) which provides a way to clear out an area quickly. You will also notice that a fair amount of tools are missing from previous Assassins Creed’s; this is a good thing as many of those items would go largely unused so their removal no loss and actually keeps the streamlined feel. Stealth has also received a revamp in both pacing and in how it is laid out; generally sneaking about is a much quicker affair with more of a focus on moving quickly and hiding than waiting around for a target to move. The bow and arrow has been replaced by a blowpipe as the silent range weapon (although it doesn’t kill) allowing you to put enemies to sleep or causing them to go berserk and attack those around them randomly, allowing you to control the situation in silence.
The other major part is Naval Combat (Editor’s Note: as opposed to “Navel Combat” which he won’t get into here ) which I can best describe as slow and epic. Everything you do when in Naval combat you hear and see with such momentum (and rumbles) that it makes you feel like you are actually in the fight. The slow nature of the combat makes it more of a strategy game more then anything where knowing your prey results in the most victories and allows you to tackle larger boats much earlier and gives the freedom of allowing you to choose how to tackle each challenge. Do you ram the enemy vessel and then load them with heavy shot? Or do you rather keep your distance and luring them into traps of fire barrels and barrages them with Mortars from the distance? All are viable options and you can choose which works best for you by upgrading those items first.
After each battle you have a choice of what to do with the opposing vessel: board the boat or destroy it out right. Boarding drags the boats together and allow you to assault the opposing crew with guns and swords (yarrr!), with the type of boat determining how you must conquer the opposing vessel.
You may not notice all the minor touches that are placed in this game to give a great sense of immersion. Simple things like your crew singing sea shanties add a certain depth to what is really you just moving through open seas with no action around. Which just speaks in general of how your boat feels like your home, your crew always reacts to the actions you are performing giving a sense that this is your crew. When fishing for large prey your crew will yell out information alerting you of what the target is about to do, and when that great white jumps up and tries to bite, you’re going to jump.
What’s interesting is that while there are lots of these little additions that turn something good into something great, there exists two small parts of the game that fail to receive the same treatment.
The first (as I’ve shown above) is the intro mission, which is puzzling from a design perspective. If any part of the game is supposed to be the best looking, it should be the beginning in order to get the player hooked in and not be turned off. Not only did I find the beginning confusing due to a complete lack of setup in terms of story, but the graphics also felt subpar compared to the rest of the game, giving it an almost grainy look.
The other worse offender of breaking the atmosphere is the rude interruptions by Abstergo when you have to go to some “meeting” to discuss the progress you’ve made on the Edward project. I have never been so disinterested in a part of a game… Even when it attempts to tie in the previous games in the smallest way possible in the modern day, it’s just such a complete bore and distraction that it almost makes you put the game down as they serve as a distraction from being the pirate. Not to mention its just looks……bad…. so very very bad.
Beyond these downfalls, the look and feel of the world is wonderful and enjoyable to look at and be apart of. Overall Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag gives the feel of being in the Caribbean and being a pirate all in one nice package of fun and manages to be somewhat historically accurate while doing so!
The gamepad has very limited use for Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag beyond Off -TV play; for the most part it simply serves as a mini map and nothing else. That minimap function doesn’t serve much of a purpose except for one instance: when you need to tail an enemy boat. As enemy boats show their FOV (Field of View) on your mini map , having that mini map right in front of your face actually makes it easier to avoid enemy boats by purely steering your boat via the mini map. What I would’ve preferred to see as one function the game pad is to simply leave treasure maps open on the game pad screen. This would allow you to run around to find the actual spot while referencing your game pad without pausing.
Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag is above all a fun an enjoyable game. While it does suffer in the story department, the sheer amount of content and activities will make looking over the story line a breeze as you can simply put it off indefinitely once you reach a certain point. I do hope that storyline comes back into play in the next iteration as Assassins Creed 3 left its audience on a cliffhanger. Regardless, this game is worth picking up and playing , especially if you are new to the series, as this is the best jumping on point and example of what makes Assassins Creed a fun and enjoyable franchise.