Assassin’s Creed 2 starred a suave Italian man making his way in the world by taking down popes and high-ranking political figures. Assassin’s Creed 3 starred a Native American with a grudge against life, who was determined to avenge his people but never actually did anything to aid the cause. Assassin’s Creed IV goes back to 2’s winning formula: a suave European with impeccable combat skills and a knack for getting women. Oh, and he’s a pirate assassin. That alone warrants a purchase.
Black Flag isn’t the first yearly installment to the series, but it’s the first one that’s admittedly “a yearly release”, as told by Ubisoft. With the announcement that as long as sales keep up AC games will be provided to the consumer yearly, there was some doubt about Black Flag, especially after the divide in fans that the previous game, AC3, created.
Thankfully, Black Flag learns from the series’ mistakes and churns out one of the most exciting gaming adventures in a very long time. The best element of AC3, the naval combat, makes a return in a massive way. Being a pirate, you’ll be living out a good chunk of your pirate career on the open seas, finding secrets, singing shanties with your crew, and even taking down a big ‘ol Spanish frigate every now and then. It’s one of the most engrossing and fun experiences I’ve ever had in gaming, to put it mildly. While the typical AC stuff occasionally brings me back down to reality, whenever the game lets me back onto the open sea, there’s a level of excitement that not many other games can create. The fully realized naval traversal/combat system might just be the most revolutionary inclusion to a game this decade.
While being a pirate assassin is great fun, the road to getting there is a tricky one. The plot follows Edward Kenway, a young man optimistic about his future even after his wife ditches him for having his head in the clouds too much. His goal is simply to get rich and be happy, hence the pirate part of his pirate assassin job description. But as he goes about his merry way impersonating assassins and Templars for the sake of coin, he gets entangled in a struggle much bigger than his own. This then forms an interesting plot where his allegiance is tested between the likes of legendary pirates like Charles Vane and Blackbeard and the assassins like James Kidd, who isn’t what he seems. It’s not the strongest plot in gaming, but it’s quite a bit more than just serviceable. And the voice acting is phenomenal, especially in Blackbeard’s case.
The game takes a solid twenty minutes to get you on your own two feet and after that it pretty much leaves you to your own devices. This differs substantially from AC3’s four to five hour-long prologue, which saw you playing as a Templar, a young child and even an eagle at one point. It was an ambitious intro, but seeing as how it didn’t fare so well with most people, Black Flag stuck to what worked: letting players be pirates as soon as possible. So after a brief prologue mission where you kill a grossly incompetent assassin, you begin the regular Assassin’s Creed shenanigans which is well and good, but soon enough you acquire your own ship and crew, which is when the game goes from good to golden, almost instantaneously.
Upon acquiring your ship you are bombarded with a plethora of options, ranging from changing the color of your sails to raiding convoys to taking down coastline fortresses. Needless to say, the sameness of Black Flag’s cities and missions are in league with the sameness of past AC games’ cities; but once you hit the open waters, variety is at a maximum. You could upgrade your mortars, take down two random hunter ships, capture a fort, harpoon a whale and you’d still have a dozen other types of quests to do.
Obviously, being a game about pirates means that the naval combat needs to be a strong foundation for everything else to be built off of, and luckily its rock solid. While the basic naval combat tactics from AC3 remain intact, you’ve got a wide array of new cannon types and weapons to upgrade your ship with, giving new life to the relatively slow paced ship-on-ship fighting. The payoff of the ship fights is when you’ve battered down the enemy to the point where you can board their ship, in true pirate fashion. These are hands-down the most exciting sequences in the entire game, when you swing from your ship to theirs decked out in pirate garb performing air assassinations with your huge pirate swords, all in the midst of your crew raiding their ship. While it’s a relatively brief ordeal when dealing with a single ship, every single time you get the opportunity to do it feels new and exciting. That’s when you know you’ve got a good single player open world campaign; when the side missions are so engrossing that you literally have to force yourself to complete the main quest, just so you can go back to being a pirate.
The multiplayer of Black Flag remains good; with some much needed improvements over AC3’s. While Revelations still remains king of the series’ multiplayer hill, Black Flag is a good time for anyone craving new maps and characters. The sizes of the maps are still a little too crowded for any solid stealth-play, but it does make good fodder for fast-paced online assassin action. The cooperative mode introduced in AC3, Wolfpack, makes a return and is much improved, having multiple objectives and a wide variety of score multipliers to keep you and friends playing for much longer than in the previous Wolfpack rendition.
Asassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is one of those rare games that really demonstrates why open world adventures are so good: you just can’t get away from the bevy of fun distractions the world has to offer. So, while I definitely recommend that you pick up a copy right away, beware: Once you set sail, it’ll be hard to stop.