Should Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag Walk the Plank?
The Assassin’s Creed series is one of Ubisoft’s most well-known franchises, and arguably their best. It’s known for its unique storyline and gameplay.
I’ve really enjoyed the series; the second entry in the series is one of my favorite experiences in video games. Assassin’s Creed 3 got a bad rap, mainly due to its bugs, which I won’t deny it had. But bugs aside, I thought it was still a good game.
Each game in the series takes place in a different time, with its own distinctive feel. Assassin’s Creed 4 has opted for a pirate atmosphere, and it does it quite well.
It’s an interesting take on the franchise, and it really feels like Ubisoft brought something new.
Up until Black Flag, you played the role of Desmond reliving the adventures of his ancestors. I felt the parts where I was forced to play as Desmond were pretty boring, and just filler until I got to get back into the action. However, Desmond is now gone, and in his place is an ambiguous game developer employee.
Abstergo, the company that made the animus, is now making video games based on the data they gathered from previous animus encounters. You are in the employ of the game design company, reliving the experiences of Edward Kenway. Unlike the other games in the series, this portion of the game is played in the first person perspective. I still never really felt invested in this part of the game. It felt like they tried to replace Desmond’s boring and strange gameplay with something new that I still just couldn’t really get into. I spent as little time wandering the Abstergo offices as possible, so I could get back to the better part of the game.
The pirate hero of the game, Edward Kenway, is a privateer turned assassin. Kenway doesn’t feel as fleshed out as the previous protagonists of the series. He doesn’t have the charisma of Ezio, or the mysticism of Connor. He seems more motivated by money than by the assassin’s cause. This is, of course, normal for a pirate, but I just couldn’t identify with Kenway the way I could with Altair, Ezio, or Connor.
In spite of roaming the boring Abstergo offices, the signature gameplay returns. Stalking a target and assassinating them, whether stealthily or boldly, is as fun as ever. The open sea acts like a hub for the game world. There are plenty of distractions from the main story within city limits, and sailing provides even more exploration. There are loads of islands to explore while sailing, with loot and secrets to find.
Naval battles were one of the best parts of Assassin’s Creed 3, and control of this aspect of the game seems to have been expanded.
Plundering enemy ships is loads of fun, and you can spend hours just attacking and looting other ships. It almost feels like its own game in itself.
Each battle and upgrade for your ship and crew feels like a significant achievement, it really gives you a sense of power. In terms of upgrades and customization, Black Flag far exceeds its predecessors. New mechanics allow better control over your ship and its weapons.
It’s fun and interesting to set sail and hear your crew sing the sea shanties that you’ve unlocked. The ambiance adds a lot to the experience. Ubisoft clearly knew what the shining parts of Assassin’s Creed 3 were and expanded on them.
Eventually, you can build a fleet of ships accompanying your own. This leads to the ability to send your fleet on trade missions and ship battles, similar to the previous game’s mechanic of being able to send your assassins on quests apart from your main mission.
It’s interesting and creative how Ubisoft found new ways to incorporate the previous game’ city building and apprentice training mechanics into this new game, and I feel they did a good job.
There are also several new ways to gain assets. Harpooning is a fun little distraction and exciting way to gain new resources. And with diving bells, you loot chests and animus pieces at the possibility of drowning, and shark or eel attacks.
The game seems to have a truly staggering amount of content. You can now fast travel between previously synchronized viewpoints, saving voyage time. Black Flag is more focused on rural, spread out areas, which explains the emergence of this fast travel system.
The open locations are fresh and intriguing juxtaposed to the close quarters of the previous iterations’ cities.
The rural areas are rich and colorful looking, and fit the setting well, but they have their ups and downs.
Free running can be a bit aggravating, particularly when climbing ships, and opportunities for air assassinations are slightly reduced.
I encountered some slight glitches and clipping issues, similar to the problems of Assassin’s Creed 3, such as enemies sometimes warping from the ground to a roof top to pursue me. I felt that the third entry in the series was more focused on the main game, and was a bit neglected on attention to bugs. In my opinion, this same attitude was sustained for Black Flag. It’s a great game, but remains slightly unpolished.
My copy of the game came with the unremarkable Aveline downloadable content. In it, you play as Aveline, a young woman liberating slaves. It moves very quickly, and is very linear. It doesn’t feel quite as interesting or engaging as the main game. It takes place solely on foot, and is more reminiscent of the feel of the older games, like Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. It’s extremely short, and lasts only about an hour (although that’s how it was advertised on the box, so I can’t really complain).
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag follows the same mechanics and composition of its forerunners, but it really feels like Ubisoft truly expanded the capabilities of the franchise.
I was afraid the developer would just start cranking out Assassin’s Creed games as quickly as possible for the sake of a quick profit. Perhaps they are, but if that’s the case it’s still fun, and with Black Flag, the franchise still feels fresh. Although with some glitches signature of the series, in entirety, they’ve combined the best aspects of the series into a great compilation. If you have even the slightest interest in the Assassin’s Creed games, this is definitely worth your money and your time.