Since it first arrived on the scene, the Assassin's Creed franchise has grown considerably. There have been over 10 titles on numerous platforms and in some ways, it started to suffer from a bit of burnout. This was somewhat evident when Assassin's Creed 3 released last year. It still received praise from many quarters, but the spark of the first three main games wasn't quite there. With Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Ubisoft are looking to rectify that while also expanding upon the successes of the previous game.
As Desmond's story arc ended with Assassin's Creed III, Assassin's Creed IV has you controlling a scientist at a new branch of the Abstergo Corporation called Abstergo Entertainment. They have developed the Animus equipment to the point that only a sample of DNA is required to unlock the memories of an ancestor. Have a drop of blood from a descendant of George Washington? You could live the life of the first President.
To try and shift away further from Desmond, you're now playing as "˜you'. It's all in a first person view and you make the decisions. That means the choice to aid the Assassins is up to you. It's an interesting element and how far that freedom stretches is yet to be seen.
In the Animus, your focus is investigating the Kenway family. This time around in the year 1717 with Edward Kenway in the West Indies. As a change from the typical protagonist, Edward seems to be a more energetic lad with a kindle for the pirate's life.
The original Assassin's Creed and what we know of it today may be vastly different. This is especially true when looking at how the story drives the game forward. The stealth focus is also there, but there's a much greater focus on action oriented gameplay. From what we've seen so far, Black Flag looks to hone in on a perfect blend of action and stealth mechanics. This can be seen when escaping after being spotted, as it's significantly sped up.
However it's not all a bed of roses. One of the more troubling aspects is the franchise's silly obsession with trailing targets. While it makes sense in many portions of the game to gather information or catch a target red-handed, Black Flag looks to use this "˜feature' to trail ships as well. Using your ship, you'll trail target ships in wide open areas.
Don't let that paint a bad picture for you when it comes to the ship. This was a very popular, but underutilized addition to Assassin's Creed 3 and in Black Flag, players will see a significant portion of the game being centered on sea gameplay. Indeed, it's said that there is a 40 percent sea to 60 percent land gameplay ratio.
That increased ratio will see an overhaul to ship gameplay that has been in develop for over 2 years. New frontal haul cannons, explosive barrel dropping off the rear, improved fire rate, new aiming mechanics, improved controls, and more have been tweaked to make ship combat much less tedious. Getting around is also quicker as travel speed improves standard travel and quick jump can place you at different points around an island.
This travel system will be useful as you will be doing quite a bit of running around in order to find treasure about the map. Obtaining clues and treasure maps will lead to chests, some deep under water. Since Edward can obviously not breathe underwater, juggling risk and reward seems to be a constant theme in pillaging lost treasure. You'll also have to now deal with the dangers of the sea, such as sharks.
One thing that is immediately noticeable when looking at Black Flag is similarities with Ubisoft's other successful title, Far Cry 3. In Black Flag there will be a heavy emphasis on collecting materials from hunted animals and this will allow you to customize and upgrade Edward's personal gear as you progress through the world. For example, getting 2 ocelot pelts will allow you to upgrade so that you can carry an additional pistol. Get 2 iguana leather can upgrade Edward's health by 25 percent. It's a neat and much welcome system that could provide for hours of hunting.
The upgrades don't stop there as your ship is also upgradeable. As you travel the seas, you will spot possible target ships that you can enter into combat with. After taking down them down, you can then plunder the ship for resources that can then be used to upgrade your ship. Some examples are upgrading the hull's armor so that it has an increase resistance to damage. Then there are upgrades for cannons, ram strength, mortars, swivel strength, and tons more.
One final interesting element that is being added to Black Flag is the new rating system. As you go from mission to mission, Ubisoft will be seeking to get player feedback which will come in the form of a prompt. It's not designed to be obtrusive or required, but it is interesting to see a developer taking in immediate feedback in order to know what resonates with players for future content.
That wraps up our preview coverage of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. It seems Ubisoft is taking a lot of new steps in their franchise. Are there any improvements or lack of improvements that stands out for you? If you're excited for this latest installment or maybe passing it up, let us know in the comments below.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is due to release on the 29th of October, 2013 on the PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii U (in North America). Versions for the PS4 and Xbox One will be releasing at a later date.