Assassin’s Creed 4 Hands-On Preview: Fresh Waters for the Series
Disclaimer: For this preview, the writer was flown to an event at Ubisoft’s expense.
It’s no secret that Assassin’s Creed III was off-putting to some fans of the series. I was one of those fans. In fact, it wasn’t just off-putting, I actively disliked it. Despite its simultaneous overarching familiarity, it just didn’t feel like the Assassin’s Creed that I had grown to love. It was different, but that difference was a shift in design philosophy that felt only partially completed, resulting in a game that fell somewhere between familiar and innovative. It lacked any form of personality and was the first time that the series truly faltered.
Things are different with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Gameplay ideas that were previously disjointed concepts are now fully formed. It feels more complete, but in a way that players might not be expecting.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag starts the series anew. Well, sort of. The Desmond Miles story has been wrapped up, but employees of Abstergo Entertainment are still exploring his ancestors’ memories. They don’t know why, just that they’ve been told to. You play as Edward Kenway, the father of Haytham Kenway and grandfather of Connor from ACIII, as he lives the life of a pirate aboard The Jackdaw sailing through the Caribbean Islands.
Aboard your naval home
If you weren’t a fan of the naval combat in Assassin’s Creed III, you might be quick to write off Black Flag, but that would be a mistake. Sure, I can understand. If you didn’t like it then, why should you like it now? The basic mechanics are still there, but the justification behind the naval setting makes the experience into something that feels completely different. It doesn’t just seem like something thrown in there to show off some new water tech, but rather, it feels like home for Edward and the player.
Throughout my four or five hours with the game, I never found myself tired of the naval combat or dying to be on land. Naval exploration took precedence and it felt right that way. This is quite intentional, as the developers were quick to point out that the split between sea and land events is about 60% sea, 40% land. That might seem like a pretty drastic shift for a series that was, up until this point, based almost entirely on land, but it most certainly works in the game’s favor.
As you’re navigating between the many islands of the Caribbean, dynamic events will happen around you. I found myself stumbling across other pirates trying to take over ships or little islands for me to explore. They didn’t feel staged and I felt as though it still would have happened with me there or not.
Board me timbers
Boarding ships felt just as unique and dynamic each time I did it. As I sailed out into the open waters, I could identify other ships with my spyglass and once I zeroed in on it, it would tell me what kind of materials the ship was carrying. This made it feel like a true pirate game. Materials gathered can be used to upgrade the Jackdaw, so pirating becames an important part of keeping myself prepared for some of the game’s random encounters out in the open seas.
Boarding is simple once you get the hang of it. Disable the ship with a few round shots from your side cannons and you’ll be able to initiate boarding. This can go down a few ways. You can jump aboard the enemy ship and start eliminating crew members, perform an air assassination on the captain from the ship’s masts, or simply fire your cannons to kill the captain without even boarding. It’s all up to you how you handle it and I found each to be just as satisfying as the next. Once you’ve taken control, you’ll receive whatever materials were on the ship and can choose to take the crew aboard.
Crew, no, not that kind.
I always went out of my way to make sure that I had as large a crew as possible, as they are extremely important to having a successful ship. If you don’t have enough happy crew members, things won’t work out as well for you. Though, in my time with the game, it wasn’t readily apparent what happens if you don’t have enough of them, so the penalty could be minor.
There are a number of ways to acquire crew members. In a perfectly fitting manner, pirate crew members can be recruited at the town tavern. It might be somewhat of a cliche, but it’s the best way to build a crew when you’re short on numbers. Otherwise, you’ll have to go searching on the water. It’s not too difficult, but it’ll require some time.
The two ways that I found of recruiting new crew while out on the water were rescuing them from wreckage and giving them the choice to join your crew or die after boarding. Either works, but it’s just as easy to get them in town.