The long running Assassin’s Creed franchise, one could argue, has been reaching a point of stagnation. After all, there is only so far you can go with mere above-average games. But that is not the opinion of Ubisoft. “If they’re buying them, we’ll keep making them” is the policy Ubisoft has adopted with their biggest ever brainchild. When Assassin’s Creed III launched earlier, I said to myself, this has to be the last of the series, but I was wrong. Ubisoft almost immediately announced Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. And that’s not the end, as rumour has it that a follow up is already in the making.
As I’m taken around Ubisoft’s massive E3 booth, I wonder, can Ubisoft really pull off another Assassin’s Creed? I am prompted by its executives to take a look at the Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag demo, which I agree to, but with my heart in my mouth.
The demo is led by a Ubisoft developer of the Assassin’s Creed team. Edward Kenway returns as the protagonist in AC4. To refresh your memory, Kenway is a British pirate and a member of the Assassin’s Order.
My first impression of AC4 is that it’s scope is much larger to the that of its prequel, Assassin’s Creed 3. From the top, it is pretty much the same game, but with mechanics more refined. The first evident refinement is how big the open world is. Ubisoft points out that the open world in AC4 is available for exploration much earlier in the game. Their prime focus has been sea exploration and navigation on ships. In Assassin’s Creed 3, I remember accessing the open world only after being a few hours deep into the ultra-scripted first chapter. The map in AC4 is a real life world map with real life locations. That means, say you’re in New York, you can actually view the full world map, and sail to locations such as the West Indies and Cuba. Like I said before, the game is super large in its scope.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag places a huge focus on ship exploration and naval battles. While on your ship, which is called the Jackdaw, if you manage to spot another pirate ship, you can engage it in battle and try to take down their ship, which will grant you the resources the ship carries. Resources can be anything from basic commodities to special luxuries like rum. You have access to the ‘spyglass’ while on board, which allows you to examine distant ships, along with their cargo and strength. The spyglass is a newly added mechanic to the series.
Battles between ships has gone through a much needed progression in AC4. I felt they were more like fillers in Assassin’s Creed III, as they offered no thrill at all. Its different this time. You can use cannons on your ship to attack the enemy ship. If you manage to get close to the enemy ship, you can climb the sails of your own, and make your way by jumping from pole to pole and hanging from ledge to ledge, to the other ship, where you can assassinate the captain of the ship to seal the deal.
If you do manage to take over the enemy ship, you have a set of options of what you can do with that ship and its remaining crew. You can recruit the remaining men of that ship to strengthen that of the Jackdaw. The ship belongs to you now. If you want to keep it, you can promote a member of your own crew as the captain of that ship. Then you have the option of sending that ship to anywhere in the world on its own expedition, to collect resources and explore unexplored territory. You can have many ships under your command, however the limit to how many ships you can control is not clear yet. Likewise, if you don’t want to keep the captured ship, you can abandon and loot it and salvage its gear to strengthen your own. You can also sell the ship for in-game currency.
Looting ships at times will find you treasure maps. These maps are not points on your world map as you’d expect them to be. To elaborate, these treasure are not mere locations added on your world map GPS. They’re actual hand drawn maps of caves, forts etc. and you’ll have to figure out the treasure location by matching them to the maps.
The hunting system introduced in Assassin’s Creed III makes a return in AC4: Black Flag. You can hunt on land and sea. A new addition to sailing is storms. During any of your sea expeditions, your ship can be overwhelmed by storms. Storms make sailing difficult, as your ship is difficult to navigate. You also run the risk of losing crew members and resources during a storm. Lesser crew members means more difficulty in sailing. The storms feature is an exciting addition, and it looks really cool. We wish we could have shown this to you, but we were not allowed to film/take pictures of any of the footage.
Other additions are more generic in nature. We personally don’t care for social media engaging features, like the one where you can spot a whale and let your Facebook friends know its location so they can hunt it down in their own game. New types of ammunition and weapons are also added. From what we could gather, we see the introduction of sleep darts and berserk darts. This adds on to the stealth experience Ubisoft promises its focus on.
To sum it up, the least I can say is that yes, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag does seem intriguing to me, for a change. I didn’t expect to feel this way after watching the demo, but sadly (or maybe not), I left the private demo room feeling satisfied. I feel Ubisoft is changing as a company when it comes to their art direction. From merely pushing out innovation for the sake of it, their titles at the E3 convention do look promising and next-gen. They pulled off a good one with AC4. More to follow on the game as details suffice, hang in there.