Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Incredible overall experience as a pirate. Immersive world complete with exhilarating action. Naval game play is top notch
Main story wasn't as engrossing as it could've been. Don't acquire darts until much later in the campaign
Gameplay ( 9 )Graphics ( 8.75 )Sound Quality ( 9 )
- Total score
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is an open world action-adventure game developed by Ubisoft and takes place in both the 18th-century when pirates owned the seas, and in the present day where the truth contained in that history is priceless. You play the role of Edward Kenway, the grandfather of Ratonhnhaké:ton, the assassin from Assassin’s Creed 3, and it opens up with Edward on a ship with everything in disarray. It doesn’t help that the captain doesn’t know what he’s doing during the attack on this ship so Edward makes his way to the helm and has to steer the ship while the crew returns fire. Things go from bad to worse when an assassin jumps on the ship and takes out the captain immediately. He turns his sights towards Edward but before he can reach Edward the ship explodes throwing them both overboard. But Edward can’t give up as he reflects on the promise he made to his wife that he would be back in no more than 2 years and he was doing this to make a better life for them. So when he finally reaches shore he makes a deal with the assassin who washed ashore too, and that deal is he will pay Edward a part of a reward if he gets him to Havana because he has to make a delivery. The deal goes awry immediately and Edward ends up chasing him and ultimately killing him. Edward still wants the reward that was promised to the assassin for delivering an item so he takes the assassin’s clothes, the letter and item and makes his way towards Havana pretending to be that assassin. But he doesn’t know the importance of the item he delivers and with Assassin’s and Templars all around he’s become involved in more than he’s bargained for.
I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed 3 but I felt an opportunity was squandered with the main character and all that could’ve been addressed with his personal story and development, so I was unhappy with the decision to go away from him completely so soon. But I loved the naval missions in AC3 and even mentioned in my review that I felt it could’ve been a separate game, so when AC4: Black Flag was announced I knew I had to get my hands on it, and not just because I enjoy the series but because the story would center on pirates, i.e. the naval gameplay. And it opens up with that immediately as you’re required to steer the besieged ship and you’re shown how to return fire. The controls are much more refined for steering and attacking other ships but I’ll get to more of that later. And that’s because the gameplay would switch to the familiar controls in the previous Assassin’s Creed games so if you played any of them then you’ll know how to control Edward on land. If you’re unfamiliar with the Assassin’s Creed character game mechanics then welcome to parkour heaven as chasing the initial assassin, i.e. the tutorial will show you the basics. The ability to climb trees is back and it’s possible to do so from the beginning as the initial island, although beautiful, will require you to navigate the jungle since there are no buildings around. It might take some getting used to since the automatic leaping can result in jumping in the wrong direction but the good thing is you’ll never fall off a cliff or tree unless you specifically choose to jump in that direction. The combat starts off simple enough and you’re given the option to either approach situations using stealth picking guards off one by one or enter into an all-out fight, and at this stage it’s also not much different from previous installments with a balance of attacks, counterattacks and defense breaks being the core of combat.
Considering Desmond, the modern-day protagonist, died in the last entry the story is possible this time around due to Abstergo developing technology that allows them to retrace the stories of Desmond’s ancestors just using his DNA and a willing participant. And it was a risky move, and one that I initially had a problem with, but the fourth wall was shattered here and the Assassin’s Creed games were named and promoted in this game with Abstergo as the entertainment company producing them. So the modern-day counterpart was being treated as one of many being promoted as participating in an innocuous entertainment company’s program. I would warm to this idea as it would start to take a darker tone further into the game and the missions and mini-games were a fresh break in terms of gameplay, and the story added another dynamic as you’re required to become a hacker and uncover the truth behind the scenes. So maybe it was the blatant advertisement of other Assassin’s Creed games that turned me off as it shattered the illusion but one thing that was correct about this was this adventure would truly be your own. Of course you have to follow the main story, which has Edward Kenway delivering the items he took off the assassin before impersonating him but in doing so he gave the Templars a tremendous advantage over the Assassins as that assassin was on a mission to betray his order. So to make amends for this Edward decides to help the Assassins to undo the damage he caused but for a price as well and in true pirate form. However all the Assassins don’t want to accept Edward Kenway fully but since he’s the one who has seen and can identify the Sage he becomes even more valuable. And when the game opens up and you can take your ship, the Jackdaw, anywhere you want it’s a glorious thing.
It’s easy to get sidetracked from the main story because there are so many different enjoyable activities to participate in, and even more than that you truly take on the role of a pirate in an extremely engrossing experience. Whether it’s the changes in the weather while in the open seas that requires you to navigate like a pro to prevent damage to your ship or the different shanties sang by your crew while sailing, the little touches add to the experience. Yes, you have a crew and you recruit them either by finding them in towns or at sea and they’re crucial in everything you do. And the Jackdaw is a complete ship, and one you will be proud to be a captain of, so you can climb every inch of the ship and if you want to sail somewhere you have to walk to the helm yourself. It’s not all cosmetic, of course, and as missions become more difficult you have to make sure you have the strongest hull and weapons for your ship in order to survive. And how do you do this? By being a pirate of course and attacking other ships. You’ll need specific resources for your upgrades and you have the capability to scout other ships in the sea to determine their cargo before attacking. Mastering the five different weapons on the Jackdaw is a lot of fun, and when you disable a hostile ship you have to board it to acquire its full cargo and that requires hand to hand combat between your crew and the opposing ship’s crew. And at the start of the game the world map is hostile to your ship so if you’re spotted by a patrolling ship they’ll engage you in combat. But you can change this by attacking forts, which control a particular area on the map and this is extremely thrilling as you have to circle the area avoiding fire while hitting crucial points on the fort. Here’s a video of a random attack I made on a fort and it shows not only the dynamic weather patterns but how intense the combat can be. Capturing a fort gives you additional missions and that fort will also attack any hostile ships in the area giving you very powerful backup. I was enjoying this part so much I wanted to just focus on attacking and capturing forts just so the entire world map would be revealed to me until I realized I couldn’t do the underwater diving missions until I advanced more in the game. And did I mention hunting on land and sea as one of the many activities? What about the treasure maps that lead to elite parts for your ship? Probably not but there’s just so much to do and it’s easy to become engrossed in it.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag doesn’t just take place at sea as you’re required to dock at different cities to perform different activities there and complete missions on land. And there have been upgrades to combat and stealth is emphasized more this time including the much-needed improvement of not having every guard in the city alerted to your presence and chasing you around for 5 minutes. Two new weapons, the sleeping and berserk darts became instantly welcomed and there’s nothing like hitting a guard with a berserk dart and watching them break out in a fight wondering who’s going to win. I never got tired of this and if I had unlimited darts I think I would have taken every guard out like this. In addition to the customary hidden blades Edward has dual swords, which makes combat visually pleasing, and can have up to four guns, which can be shot in quick succession giving you a variety of ways to take out enemies. So the combat feels fresh even for those who have played this series from the beginning. And being a veteran of the series might also help in following the main story too because even though there’s a fresh start with a new character, there’s still the overall story of Templars vs Assassin’s and I felt engaged but not as engrossed as I was in the gameplay and my own adventuring. There were a few memorable characters but where there was potential for the story line to be great it was just good while suffering from elements that were introduced but not fully explained. So a lot of the smaller story lines were more intriguing than the grand plot itself, although the quests varied and stayed fresh throughout. However, the many engrossing activities make it very easy to make the story your own, and it’s such an incredible experience you might just start humming shanties while going about your business and not even realize it.
Multiplayer mode is back along with the Wolf Pack mode, which is story driven co-op mode. The essence of the series is maintained as there are 7 different multiplayer modes and they’re all enjoyable. The objective is simple and there are basic game play mechanics in all the modes. You have to eliminate your target while avoiding your pursuers and this varies based on the multiplayer mode you’re in. You have to hunt down and identify other players in the various towns/maps and the more discreet the kill the higher your score. The problem is while you’re trying to identify your target among a crowd of people including look alikes, you’re being pursued by another player who’s also trying to eliminate you. You can’t kill your pursuers and can only stun them, which would require them to be assigned another target, or you can contest the kill reducing the points they earn. You won’t know who your pursuing is (unless they perform a rash action like jumping off a building) and you’re only alerted to their presence by a heart beating faster and whispers getting louder and this is intense. There’s no other multiplayer mode that duplicates that nerve-wracking feeling if you’re on the receiving end or that thrilling moment if you’re the one eliminating your target. There are various cues that help you such as a compass that shows the direction your target is in and if that target is in your line of sight, and you can unlock various abilities and weapons to customize your character and keep things fresh and enjoyable. And there are modes where you have to play as a team and you earn points based on how well you perform as a team, such as hiding together. So you truly get to experience being both the hunter and the hunted in order to earn points and it can be just as engrossing as any other multiplayer out there.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is an extremely enjoyable game and offers such an immersive experience you’ll wonder why you can’t just quit your line of work and become a pirate. The naval game play is very thorough while never feeling tedious, and combined with the open world dynamics such as changing weather patterns, hostile zones, and various enemy ship types it’s unlike any previous Assassin’s Creed game. And the new combat mechanics and interesting locations make the experience on land arguably the best in the series to date aside from the majestic buildings in previous installments. The main story is good although it suffers from more questions being raised than answered and Edward’s personal story isn’t as memorable as it could have been. But truly the strength of this game is the overall experience and how it pulls you into its world and as a result it’s easy for you to create your own memorable experience. I highly recommend Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for all fans of the series, past and present, and newcomers alike.
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