By Alan Danzis
At this point, odds are you know that "Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag" exists. After a variety of leaks last week, Ubisoft had to release the box art and confirm its existence. I, however, had a preview event a few days before the leaks started. What leaked was just the tip of the iceberg however as "Assassin’s Creed IV" is a large undertaking for the company.
While a new "Assassin’s Creed" game every year is now expected, it was a bit of surprise to find out we’d be getting the fourth numbered game as opposed to a spin-off ala "Brotherhood" and "Revelations" this year.
"Black Flag" introduces a new hero and a new setting. According to developers, it’s the “perfect franchise to bring piracy to life” so you’ll get more of the best part of "Assassin’s Creed III"—the ship combat. In fact, developers said you can expect to play about 40% of the game at sea.
The game takes place in the Caribbean in the early part of the 18th century. You’ll meet a variety of real historical pirates such as Blackbeard, Ben Hornigold, Charles Vance and Calico Jack.
You’ll star as Edward Kenway. If the name sounds familiar, yes, he is the grandfather of Connor and we’ll assume the father of Haytham given the last name. He’s a pirate, but he was trained by the assassins, so it’s reasonable to assume we’ll find out how Haytham wound up becoming a Templar. Kenway holds two dual guns on his chest and can also wield dual swords.
Throughout the game, you’ll take part in historical and iconic moments such as the Spanish Armada, get marooned with Charles Vance and escape Nassau, which was the site of the first democracy in the Western world. (A pirate democracy, but a democracy.)
The plans for this open world game are massive—as is the massive in-game map. You’ll explore over 50 unique locations across a variety of islands. The game is both open-world on sea and land. Each island offers its own unique gameplay features because of the location. For instance, you can explore plantations on one and use the plantation for stealth missions. Alternatively, you could go traipsing through jungles and climb on trees and vines. Luckily, you’ve got a spyglass tool that will allow you to scan islands and ships for rum, gold, clothes, items. You can even discover a ship’s strength should choose to attack it.
More importantly, for the first time ever, you can explore underwater locations. You can loot undersea wrecks with a diving belt and yes, you can battle a shark.
The developers promise big things such as no loading screens when you anchor off and island swim to the coast. They promise the same when you attack and later board a ship.
The Jackdaw is your ship and developers liken it to the second main character in the game. It’s upgradeable and you need to take care of it—if it dies, you die. Unlike "Assassin’s Creed III," you’ll also need to recruit new pirates to help you successfully attack ships.
When you do engage in ship to ship combat, once you’ve disabled the other ship and choose to board it, there’s no cut scenes anymore. Instead, you’ll board it in real time depending on how you chose to approach it whether it’s from the stern, the bow or something in between.
While on your ship, you’ll also have the option to harpoon ocean creatures. I practically screamed out, “Am I gonna hunt a whale?” during the preview. “Yes,” the developer told me.
"Black Flag" is described by the developers as “one fun, epic and fluid game.” It’s a massive undertaking and they haven’t even talked multiplayer yet. (Developers said they’ll talk more about it in the future and it will offer new modes.)
So where does the present day fit in all this? Especially since this is the first Assassin’s Creed that goes backward in time, not forwards.
According to the developers, the “Desmond saga is over” but his friends are still there. You’ll be playing "Black Flag" as yourself, akin to how the Vita title "Liberation" worked. You’re a nameless employee of Abstergo Entertainment who is helping to test their Animus project. But when asked if any of Desmond friends will make a return, “maybe” was the answer.
"Black Flag" will be out this fall on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC. (We have to imagine it’ll be on the next unannounced Xbox too.) As for a Vita title, developers would say “not this game on Vita,” implying perhaps we’ll get another standalone Vita title at some point.
"Assassin’s Creed III" was a massive undertaking and the story and various bugs diminished people’s expectations for a strong game. "Black Flag" looks to fix a lot of those mistakes, as well as present a more compelling lead character. We’ll find out if they succeeded this fall.