Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag sails back to series' roots

Let’s be real for a second: Assassin’s Creed III was a bit of a disappointment. It tried some new things that, in the end, made it feel less like past Assassin’s Creed titles and more like a deviation towards a new direction for the series as a whole. And that was scary. Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed IV, from what we’ve seen, seems to cleave closer to the original formula. It's as though the developers recognize what made past Assassin’s Creed games so great and are working to build AC4 around those qualities. 

Connor is out, but his grandfather, Edward Kenway, is in. Kenway is a reckless, charming, and poor pirate who spends his days swashbuckling throughout the Caribbean islands. Assassin’s Creed IV takes place during the dawn of the 18th century, when piracy was flourishing in the Caribbean. Most surprisingly, it seems to be a continuation of the Kenway family saga, rather than focusing on the direct ancestors of long-time series cipher Desmond Miles.

Taking place in the Caribbean opens up a living, fully open world filled with random events and battles as you sail between islands and objectives continuing the naval-focused gameplay that made its debut in Assassin’s Creed III. Kenway operates the Jackdaw, a ship that the player will operate throughout the entire game. It's meant to become a part of your character, as you command and foster relationships with the ship’s crew. While they won’t mutiny, they will abandon you and leave you to command the ship for yourself.

While AC4 takes place in the Caribbean and should sport more than 30 unique locations, there’s three major cities you can expect to visit: Havana, Kingston and Nassau. Nassau is especially important, as it’s the home of the Republic of Captains, a menacing group that includes such legendary pirates as Calico Jack, Charles Vane, and Blackbeard himself. They’re basically like the Sons of Anarchy, but for pirates.

Naval combat takes a much more prevalent focus this time around: you can expect about 60 percent of your time on land and the rest at sea, which is far more than ACIII. As you travel between locations, you’ll come across battles that require you to take down enemy ships. You can do this from the comfort of your ship or, once you get damage the enemy ship enough, you can fire hooks into their ship and board for a face-to-face battle.

The coolest part? You can do this from any angle and it’s not scripted, meaning that instead of swinging over on the ropes, you can dive into the water and climb up the opposite side of the ship to assassinate the captain. 

One of the biggest problems I had with past Assassin’s Creed titles was that once you figure out the core mechanics, there weren’t really any fresh challenges. It was all about countering at the right time or running a certain way, and enemies never got smarter; they just got better weapons or started attacking in groups. That’s different this time around, as Edward will face a full gamut of enemy ships, including military vessels with better armor and weapons. I think it's a more interesting way to up the difficulty without feeling unfair or cheap.

The story of Desmond Miles ended with Assassin’s Creed 3, but there’s still a story justification for being able to harness the memories of ancestors. It's the same contrivance that lets you play as female Assassin Aveline de Grandpré in Assassin's Creed III: Liberation for the Vita: After the events of AC3, Abstergo upgraded Animus technology to allow anyone to enter into the memories of anyone’s ancestor as long as they had some strand of DNA. This allowed them to open up Abstergo Entertainment, which is basically like a kind of virtual reality attraction.

During our briefing Ubisoft representatives were very specific in pointing out that the story of Black Flag is about you as a player when you’re outside of the Animus. What that means or how they’ll frame it we don’t yet know, but personally I’m hoping for first-person sequences or deep character customization. Given how much emphasis has been put on the real-world story in past games, I bet we can assume things will be drastically different this time around.

Now that we know the basics of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, it’s only opened up so many more questions that I want answered. As someone who wasn’t impressed with the direction that Assassin’s Creed III went, I’m cautiously optimistic that Black Flag is returning to the series’ roots in good faith, but only time will tell.

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