By now we've all seen the E3 footage shown for the next Assassin's Creed game. Assassin's Creed IV - Black Flag. We've heard the dulcet tones of Edward Kenway proclaim that he'll be 'Back later love' and so on. Ubisoft has proven that it's capable of taking history and giving it a unique spin in the last few games, yes there have been missteps along the way but even though Assassin's Creed III was a mixture of game elements which didn't quite gel - I felt it was still a good game, even though I don't know much about that period of history myself.
I was more excited about the Naval Combat in III than I was anything else; I'm stupidly fond of naval style games - underwater - sea combat and so forth. So when Ubisoft opened the curtain on AC IV: Black Flag my eyes lit up like a lighthouse off the coast of Kingston. The blurb promised more than I could ever dare hope for, all wrapped up in the story of the Templars versus the Assassins set during a time I have a huge fondness for: the Golden Age of Piracy.
This isn't Disney's Creed though, there's no ill gotten Cortez Gold to whisk you away into a state caught between life and death, cursed to roam the oceans for an eternity just longing for a bite of an apple so you can taste that sweet nectar. This is the rough and ready age around the 1700's - the recent demo is 1717 and showcases one of the very reasons I am putting Ubisoft up there as one of my favourite developers - the attention to detail and the remix into the Creed verse, as well as their unflinching dedication to listen to the fans of a series. Ashraf Ismail might just be my favourite person at the moment for his two words: Player Agency. We'll come to that later though.
This is what I didn't like about AC III as an aside; trust me it frames my next point after this perfectly.
You see I don't care for Connor at all and that's just a personal gripe of mine in that he wasn't really as personable a character as Haytham Kenway. I'd have quite happily played a game that let me be Haytham all the time, 24 hours of Haytham every day would have suited me down to the ground. Connor though was just wooden, he didn't have much in the way of an interesting backstory to him and once you come from a game where you've been playing Ezio - the last thing you want is the sheer boredom of Connor's delivery and character to act as a focal point for a game.
So as much as I liked AC III - I didn't gel with the main character and I was glad to see the back of Desmond Miles too.
So many people have said that AC IV is just a cash-cow to milk the series - I don't see it that way. If it was, then it would literally have been AC III.V - a literal Brotherhood to Revelations iteration and feature very little in the way of change. You'd be back in Connor's shoes and doing the same old same old in the USA.
Assassin's Creed IV in many ways is a return to form for the series, or at least a promised return to form. A new character, linked to Desmond in some ways (he's Haytham's father for example) is a chance for Ubisoft to refresh the series and inject another loveable rogue (ala Ezio) into the mix. Edward embodies the core concepts of the Golden Age, including one which runs through the narrative of the game.
For a brief moment in history from the 17th Century until the mid-18th there was a lawless breed of anti-hero, who robbed from ship after ship amassing a vast swathe of wealth in the process. Many of these pirates were ready to die at a moment's notice, citing that they'd rather have a short and happy life full of adventure and profit, than a long miserable one of toil and back breaking labour. It is into these waters of history that Black Flag sets sail, along with one of the most notorious pirates of the time: Edward Teach - Blackbeard, a man so fearsome and ruthless, so clever and cunning that his reputation spread far and wide because he left his enemies alive.
Not for any love of life of course, Blackbeard spared most of his enemies so that they might bring tales of the daring captain to poor man, governor and sailor alike - thus he cemented his reputation and amassed an incredible string of tales surrounding his name. Those who saw him often mentioned a devil who was a man, lit cannon fuses under his hat and black ribbons in his beard.
The man's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge was a slave vessel called the Condord which Blackbeard captured - a Man o'War no less - a ship he stole using only intimidation and a single cannon shot if you look into the history books. It must be a daunting task for Ubisoft to dig into so rich a historical period and probably much easier than the American Revolution, since these are the times of tall tales and skulduggery.
I really like how they do the interaction between Teach and Kenway in the first few opening moments of the E3 demo. It gives me hope for the whole of AC IV and perhaps a glimpse of Edward Kenway as a character - even now more personable and interesting than Connor. Perhaps he might become as beloved as Ezio? I would personally like to see that.
So as Edward throws a knife at a soldier strapped to the mast, Blackbeard's snide commentary frames a cunning pirate who is attempting to make a spy show himself. "Wide of the mark, Kenway," Blackbeard sneers. I can't help but smile - I'm kind of hooked.
Kenway threatens the man a little more and when the ferret slips from the crowded area, Kenway grins at the older pirate, "Well, that flushed him out."
I want to walk with Edward into the night air, smell that ocean and taste that rum. It's a trick to engage a player in an open world, and AC IV promises to be one of those games which give you a dearth of content out of the box without having to dig into DLC. Again AC III was a good game, but outside of some pointless delivery quests and so on there really wasn't much to do with the open world and it didn't really feel like it interacted with the player at all.
Yes there was hunting and some minor side quests - but the world kind of stopped beyond the Homestead - a part of AC III I actually really enjoyed. I liked that slice of life and having a place to really build up. Boston and New York felt isolated though, along with the Frontier - and the inclusion of random events (like Red Dead Redemption) would have beefed that up a lot.
IV promises to rectify that and offer a slew of connected activities to engage in, things which feel themed to the world's narrative and design. It's also offering trade through Kenway's Fleet and even the Jackdaw - the upgradeable player character ship...can we say I am hoping for enough of a deep trade experience to be able to play AC IV like Elite - yeah Elite 1715 here I come!
There's piracy against other ships, taking their cargo, their crew - the vessel itself or scuttling it so no one else can have her. I want to load up on the cargo of a Spanish trader and sell it for profit: A tidy profit which I will sink into my ship and Kenway, as well as his crew. Ubisoft promise this and more with AC IV: Black Flag and having seen the videos and interviews I can now believe it. I was sceptical at first, but the more and more I see of this game the more I want it to be the best one yet. The potential is there and Ashraf and his massive team have made me happy by letting slip some of the features of the game, features which aren't going to make you a master pirate assassin - but add to the overall world building and atmosphere.
You can find sheet music and teach your crew to sing around 70 authentic historical sea shanties. SOLD!
Immerse me in this world and I am happy - give me a no-holds barred sense of exploration and I'm in. That's what Ashraf promises in his teaser interviews, the sense of Player Agency. No canned cut-scenes for boarding action, it's all dynamic real time. If you want to take a ship by force and climb aboard sneaking over to kill your foe - you can. You can also leap into the rigging and swing over cutlasses in hand to do some brutal hand to hand murdering.
The choice is totally yours this time. No 100% Synch objectives and by the look of it, not a single: you need to kill the soldier exactly how we want you to do it, or you'll fail the mission.
It could be the perfect game for me. It could also all fall apart, but so far so good. I think it's going to be an amazing game and the background for it is grand. The Golden Age of Piracy is the best backdrop that could fit an Assassin's Creed game and it promises to contain a veritable rogue's gallery of historical figures like Anne Bonny, Mary Read and even Calico 'Jack' Rackham - how these historical figures are treated is anyone's guess but I like what I've seen of Blackbeard so far and I am curious to see if there's a bit of betrayal going on between him and Edward - since Blackbeard was notorious for doing that so he could keep the largest shares of wealth for himself.
It's a long wait till November and I can't wait.
So hoist the Black Flag and drink a tot of rum with me!