So recently a good friend of mine let me borrow the newest release in Ubisoft’s popular series Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is actually the sixth installment of the series and is the sequel to 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III. This time around, players are thrown into the early 18th century Caribbean during the height of piracy, and follows the adventures of Edward Kenway, an ambitious young man out to seek his fortune on the high seas and ultimately stumbles into the long-fought war between Templars and assassins. While the previous game wasn’t as well received with critics and gamers, there were high hopes for this next game.
So how did it do?
The story follows Edward Kenway, a man of humble beginnings and big dreams. His dream is to find wealth beyond his wild dreams and to live just as ell off as any of the snobbish aristocrat that he tires of living under. Leaving his wife for a two month expedition, his ship is suddenly caught in fierce storm and is capsized with no survivors except himself. Well, himself and a wounded assassin. When assassin dies before he has a chance to reach his employer, Edward takes on the assassin’s identity hoping that he can cash in. What Edward finds instead is a plot to uncover an ancient temple, a mysterious man that could possibly hold the only clue to finding it and an artifact that could possibly give a person access to spy on every person on the planet. Naturally, Edward just sees this as an opportunity to get rich, never knowing that he has become a part of the seemingly unending war between Templars and assassins. With a ship to call his own, Edward sets sail to uncover this ancient temple before either side has a chance to while making a name for himself as the most feared and respected pirate of his time.
Of course, this being an Assassin’s Creed game, there is another story that needs to be told. Jump ahead to modern times where the Templar-run organization Abstergo is stronger that ever. Following the events of the previous game ((SPOILER ALERT)) where Desmond Miles (the series long protagonist) sacrificed himself to prevent the world from ending, Abstergo has been using samples from his body to continue exploring his genetic memories in hopes of locating more Pieces of Eden, tools that can used for world control. Abstergo has been profiting from the collected samples with the creation of new advanced games and gaming systems, using this as an guise to shadow their movements in monitoring the world’s activity. The player takes on the role as of a faceless and voiceless new employee to Abstergo whose job it is to search through the memories of Edward Kenway for new material of their newest game about to be released. And much like Edward, this new employee is unaware that he is now taking part in the fight against the Templars.
The world of 18th century Caribbean is vibrant and practically breathing with life. The environments feel so real and flushed out that does feel as though you are there in that moment, smelling the salt air and walking on the sandy beaches on some majestic island. The small towns and villages you come across such as Havana are given the full treatment of character. The random NPCs you come across aren’t just there as background noise. You come to appreciate having them there because it adds more to the environment. And this experience is made even better given the fact that it’s open world. The Caribbean is vast and wide and open for full exploration and Ubisoft takes full advantage of that. Unlike in Assassin’s Creed III where ship exploration was just being introduced had barely a feature, it’s here that the feature is fully realized.
Let me tell you something now; I wasn’t a fan of the ship exploration feature in the previous Assassin’s Creed game mainly I felt as though it didn’t feel like it was meant to be there. It was great and very challenge but it was given such a small role in the broad story to the point that you really didn’t need to play around with it if you didn’t have to. However in this installment, it’s all about sailing your ship. As a pirate, you find your wealth in discovering buried treasure on uncharted islands, plundering smugglers stashes and stealing their goods for your own, salvaging sunken ships for treasure, attacking rival ships to either take their booty (lol booty), recruit them over to your crew or to take their ship as your own to build your own pirate army. I have to say; there is nothing more satisfying than taking over an enemy fort and then having it as your base. I didn’t think I would enjoy sailing as much as I did in this game. I can saving say that days after finishing the game, I continued playing just to continue the experience of coasting the ocean at my leisure while my crew sang sea shanties.
For everything that Assassin’s Creed IV did right, there was one crucial thing that they managed to overlook, and as a long time Assassin’s Creed fan, this was a big disappointment. The lack of coherent story telling, especially when it came to the continuing the story taking place in the modern era. Some fans of the series have long complained that the modern time story of the assassins and Templars was boring or uninteresting. Most fans wanted more of the action found in the past era stories, having less to do with the sci-fi element as much as possible. Well, it appears as though the fans got their wish. In fact, the involvement of the modern era is practically nonexistent. And that’s unfortunate.
As I said I’ve been a fan of the series for a very long time, and I guess I fall into that minority of fans who actually enjoyed the modern era story plot as much as the past era plot. I stuck with it through every game, and I only found it all the more interesting with every release. After the events of Assassin’s Creed III, I was extremely curious to see where the story was going to go following the death of the main protagonist. Unfortunately this whole part was barely given any attention. In fact, and I’m not giving anything away, there is a moment in the modern age story where something big and unexpected happens that you would think that this would change the whole direction of the game.
Nope, sorry. The moment happens, and it’s never talked about or hinted upon ever again. Almost as if it didn’t even matter in the first place.
Ubisoft’s answer for replacing the character of Desmond was to add a character whose is portrayed completely in first person view. This character does not have any speaking lines whatsoever nor does he have any effect in the modern era other than complying to whatever fetch quest he is sent on. We are never introduced to who he is or what his backstory is or any inkling on what his persona is like. This is such a let down. I’ve seen first-person shooters with more flushed out characters that this that actually make you feel something for the person you’re playing as. This felt more confirmation to me that Ubisoft might have killed off Desmond far too soon if they’re way of replacing him was to not even try creating a more interesting character.
As you play, you will get the sense of what element in the game got the most attention. Critics has said this installment felt more like a pirate game more than an assassin game, remarking that Black Flag does everything it can not to be an Assassin’s Creed game. And I would have to agree. For the first few days of playing, I was anxiously waiting for it to feel like I was playing an Assassin’s Creed game, not just a pirate simulation game. Elements didn’t come into way late into the story, and when they did, it felt more of an reminder of “Oh yeah, this is Assassin’s Creed.” It was a strange quagmire I found myself in where I came in ready to play an assassin, and got something totally. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the pirating aspects of the game but you don’t expect that when you’re playing Assassin’s Creed, that being an assassin is just a side note.
Even the character of Edward warranted some getting used to. I will praise the character for being much more light-hearted and even funny that his predictors. It’s refreshing to see an assassin behaving more human random than a robotic killing machine. However, in the beginning of the game when we’re first introduced to Edward’s character, he’s not at all likeable. His attitude toward both organizations is pretty standard for a pirate. He swears no alienage to either and treats both as a means to an end; his own.
It’s really hard to have an empathy for Edward at time. Edward goes through a lot and his choices have rippling events on his enemies as well as his friends. Some not for the best. Edward pays a heavy price for his actions, so when tragedy doesn’t strike, you can’t help but feel as though the consequences are justified. And by the time Edward does pick a side, the game is half-way over. You have to go through the entire game in order for it to finally feel like Assassin’s Creed and by the time does, credits are rolling.
But I don’t want this to come off as though I hated Assassin’s Creed : Black Flag because that’s far from the truth. I really did enjoy this new installment! I found the pirating aspects to be great fun and challenging. The environments were gorgeous and fun to play around in, and I eventually grew to like the character of Edward Kenway. However, if you’re looking to continue your journey in the Assassin’s Creed world, don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t an Assassin’s Creed game by any means. It’s a pirate game and very good one. Let us hope that when I comes time for the next release, we’ll see more stealth and leap-of-faith dive into hay and even more exploration into the sci-fi genre.
Overall rating: 8/10