Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Thank God It Doesn’t Suck)
It sucked HARD.
Assassin’s Creed III sucked so much that I wrote over 3000 words of reviews, broken up into three parts, detailing many of the ways that it sucked and I never even got to the economy or crafting systems.
Assassin’s Creed III sucked so much that even now, over a year later, the mere mention of the game fills me with a rage so intense that I get short of breath and dizzy. (Edit: Amelia informs me that this is just my asthma acting up and that I should stop blaming it on ACIII.)
Assassin’s Creed III sucked so much that it GAVE ME ASTHMA.
(Okay, the asthma thing is probably not true. Please don’t sue me, UbiSoft, I don’t have any dollars.)
It takes a special kind of courage to pre-order the sequel to a game that may or may not have given you asthma. Fortunately for all of us, I have that kind of courage. I looked at the ads for this game that heavily featured naval combat, which was possibly the part of Assassin’s Creed III I loathed the most and I said, “One more chance, Assassin’s Creed. For Ezio.”
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag takes place simultaneously before and after the events of Assassin’s Creed III. This will probably be confusing for first-time adventurers in the Assassin’s Creed universe, unless they are fans of Doctor Who in which case they will feel right at home.
You start out playing as an unnamed employee at Abstergo Entertainment, a video game company that is working on a game about famous pirates. (The original title of this game was probably Assassin’s Creed IV: UbiSoft Gets Meta.) Your job is to sort through the data they have on file about the infamous Edward Kenway. In this new, first person incarnation you’re a dedicated desk jockey- no fancy parkour for you. Instead of climbing skyscrapers you get to… walk. Slowly.
That doesn’t mean that the present day sequences are without tension, however. It becomes clear very quickly that there is more going on at Abstergo Entertainment than meets the eye, and you get pulled into the heart of it. Most of the objectives in the modern day sequences are met through a variety of fairly simple “computer hacking” puzzles, and the extra content and information you can unlock by completing these puzzles adds a great deal of depth to your knowledge of modern-day Abstergo, including what happened to Desmond after ACIII.
When you aren’t sneaking around an office building eavesdropping on your co-workers and breaking into their computers, which seems like a “hostile work environment” complaint just waiting to happen, you’re sailing the seas watching Edward Kenway rise from nothing into one of the most feared and respected pirates during the golden age of piracy.
You are first introduced to Edward during an epic sea battle, which concludes with all the ships involved sinking. Edward finds himself on a deserted island with a person that we, the players, already know is an Assassin (because duh, hidden blades) but Edward sees as an easy mark. The Assassin asks for Edward’s help completing an important and very profitable mission, but when Edward acts shady (like Edward does, because PIRATE) things go badly very quickly. Edward is forced to kill the Assassin. By “forced” I mean “Edward chases the Assassin through the woods even though he’s repeatedly warned away, corners him, murders him, and steals his shit.”
Pirates, man. You just can’t trust them.
Edward’s actions propel him right into the heart of the ancient war between the Templars and the Assassins, but for a long time he has no real investment on either side. Edward is motivated purely through self interest. He’s not in it for vengeance, to right wrongs, or to protect the weak; he’s fighting because he saw a suit of armor that looks pretty awesome and he would like to wear it.
Edward was a fun character to get to know. When he was first introduced my heart sank a bit, because he just wasn’t very likable. I was reminded a bit of Connor, the protagonist of ACIII. Both characters were staunchly committed to the course they were on and careless of the damage they caused in pursuit of their goals. Where Connor was a static character that never showed any real growth, however, Edward does. He experiences doubt, fear, regret and hope, and they feels genuine.
Edward isn’t the only character that makes Black Flag so memorable. Other famous pirates pass through Edward’s life to various degree of effect; Blackbeard serves as Edward’s mentor, for example, while historic figures such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Charles Vane all impact Edward’s life in powerful ways.
The biggest complaint I had about Black Flag’s story was that it ended so abruptly I was actually shocked by it. I sat through the all of the credits (0/10 do not recommend these credits) (seriously they lasted like 45 minutes and I didn’t even get an achievement for them) thinking that there had to be more story content on the other side.
The story ended with the credits, but there was still plenty of game to be played. Black Flag is overflowing with side objectives and collectibles. You can collect treasure chests, of course, but now you can also chase down sea shanties so that the crew aboard Edward’s ship, The Jackdaw, have a variety of things to sing and you don’t have to keelhaul every last one of them for singing “Roll Boys Roll” for ten hours straight.
They will be singing for much longer than ten hours, too, because there is a lot of ocean to be conquered in this game. Fortunately the Jackdaw is a joy to handle. Naval warfare is smooth and intuitive, and I spent entire days (real life days, not in-game days) just commandeering British and Spanish vessels.
Edward’s combat was just as satisfying as the Jackdaw’s was. Buttons did what they were supposed to with very little lag and I was able to reliably trigger kill streaks. Edward felt lethal and I loved it.
The economy and crafting mechanisms in Black Flag have been streamlined until they’re a pleasure instead of a burden. Crafting is necessary if you want to carry more than three of anything, but they’ve eliminated some of the ruthless realism that made the system so unwieldy in III. If you want a bigger smoke bomb pouch, get two of this type of pelt and you’re all set! You no longer have to hire a tanner, build him a house, hunt fourteen deer, help him propose to his girlfriend, then hire a seamstress, build HER a house, and arrange the marriage of her eldest daughter before you could start working on the pre-requisites to carry SIX smoke bombs instead of three. (The crafting system in III was a little…intense.)
The best addition to Black Flag’s economic system is the ability to help your friends by healing or speeding up the ships they have on trading missions. You can also share discoveries with your online friends- did you find a secret chest or a royal convoy? Well, now it’s available in their games, too. It adds a sense of community to single-player gaming I’ve never experienced before and I really enjoyed it.
I really enjoyed all of it. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was an excellent game; it may even be the best game in the series. It reignited my love for Assassin’s Creed and has me on the edge of my seat for the next installment in the series.
You should play it.