To me, The Golden Age of Piracy is perhaps one of the most intriguing times in history, and this is exactly where the latest Assassin’s Creed takes us. Many feared what yearly entries would do to the franchise, but with the setting in the early 18th century Caribbean, the improvements to gameplay, and the leap to the PS4, this is probably the best version of the best Assassin’s Creed yet.
In Black Flag, the Caribbean is yours for the taking, and it doesn’t take long before the game sets you loose on the world with your own ship, your own crew, and an enormous amount of things to find and do. Gone are the days of the naval portions being cordoned off from the rest of the game. In fact, you’ll spend the majority of your time on ship this time around, but if you want to scour that small island off to the starboard side for loot, you just need to drop anchor and make the short swim to shore.
This easy and abundant gameplay makes getting distracted in Assassin’s Creed IV a very common occurrence. I found myself stopping and plundering every small island, boarding every ship, and exploring every undersea wreck. Many things are not available right up front, or you are just too weak to take them on, but the game’s progression feels very natural, and I never felt like I was locked out of doing too much at any given time. In fact, if I was able to do even more earlier on, I would have never gotten this review done.
The story in Black Flag is one of the most interesting me, simply because of Edward’s rogue dynamic. Edward is not an Assassin. He stumbles into the conflict between the Assassins and Templars purely by chance while seeking riches to provide a better life for his estranged bride. He is a pirate. The growth and evolution of Edward and his external view of the conflict was a much more interesting story to me than the fairly static “creed locked” nature of the previous games’ heroes. The modern day aspect is also quite interesting and I did not dread being put outside of the Animus as much as I did in previous games. There are also a couple of interesting Easter Eggs connecting the world of Assassin’s Creed to Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch Dogs as well as possible hints at future entries in the Assassin’s Creed series.
The free running through the world feels improved over Assassin’s Creed III, and while I did run into a few areas of frustration and difficulty climbing, these were much fewer and farther between than I was used to. Anyone who has played the past games knows the issues of running up a wall only to grab onto nothing or jumping out into open air instead grabbing onto a ledge. This being my biggest downside of any Assassin’s Creed game, I was very happy to find that the free running and climbing in Black Flag feels a lot more intelligent to what you are actually trying to accomplish.
Being that it is such a primary focus, the naval portion of the game has been much improved over your time at the helm in Assassin’s Creed III. Dynamic weather can affect your ocean voyages as sudden storms attempt to topple you, fog limits visibility, and waterspouts damage your ship.
The Caribbean seems extremely alive with a vibrant and varied world that feels much more organic and real than any Assassin’s Creed before. Being a free roaming pirate in this world is incredibly freeing and the only time I got any feelings of redundancy was actually during the Assassin focused missions. While being a pirate is extremely fun and open, playing the Assassin is the exact opposite. I felt limited while slinking around in foliage and tailing enemies without being seen. These may be staples of the Assassin’s Creed series but they have not evolved in the same way as the rest of the gameplay. Fortunately these sections play a much smaller part in Black Flag so they do not overshadow the awesome feeling of being a pirate.
Collectibles are not a grind in Assassin’s Creed IV as they seemed to be in prior games. Money and supplies to upgrade your gear and ship are found by hunting the wildlife of the Caribbean and plundering the various ships found out on the open sea. Setting out in a creaky rowboat to take on a killer whale or a great white shark is just another daily occurrence for the times, and boarding a ship twice the size of yours to steal its contents is a necessary means for survival and fortune, but all of it remains fun throughout as there is so much to do that no one specific thing gets to feel too repeated.
For those not familiar with the multiplayer, it consists of numerous game modes that involve hunting targets stealthily. The more stealth and discretion that you use, the more points you will be awarded. The execution is done wonderfully, but the online mode is largely the same as the multiplayer that we’ve seen before. While massive focus was put into overhauling the way the single player game was played, multiplayer was slapped with a few minor updates and a facelift for the environments and characters. The lack of change isn’t a bad thing as I feel that Assassin’s Creed has one of the most unique and fun multiplayer modes on the market, but don’t expect to be floored by the multiplayer in the same way that the campaign will get you.
Even though it is cross generation, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is one of the must have launch games for the PS4 and should hold you over with its vast world until the next slew of PS4 titles hits the market. Ubisoft have proven that they are not milking the Assassin’s Creed franchise for all it’s worth as much as they are cultivating the great things about the series to continue to bring us amazing and fun games. This impressive interpretation of a pirate’s life mixed with the Assassin and Templar influence was a thrill ride that will surely be hard to beat in the inevitable next entry in the franchise.