The Golden Age
Not since Assassin's Creed 2: Brotherhood with Ezio, have I enjoyed an Assassin's Creed game so much. It helps that one of my favourite eras of history is the Golden Age of Piracy in the mid 1600's to the late 1700's. So, as much as I love my Pirates of the Caribbean and the ghost stories that surround nautical history, it's interesting to see these larger than life historical figures given a realistic treatment, whilst still wrapped in the background story of the Animus and the ripples from Desmond's early adventures.Tell me a tale of pirate's gold?
The Animus is used as a framing device a lot, but this time you're the hero of this particular real world excursion. A newly hired employee of Abstergo Entertainment that is a tongue-in-cheek (at times) poke at game development in general, and at Ubisoft themselves. Hired on to work the Kenway Line at your own Animus you delve into the history of a Welshman from Swansea, with dreams of fame and fortune.
As he meets a cast of colourful characters from the Golden Age, interacts with the war between the Assassins and Templars and ultimately... well... I'll leave you to find that out.
The storytelling is not as sharp as in the Ezio era of the game, and it leaves a few gaps that could have been smoothed out. Yet it's still good, don't get me wrong and provides a satisfying tale both in the real world and more importantly on the high seas of the massive gameworld.
Yet it's grand to meet up with Blackbeard, Ben Hornigold and Calico ‘Jack' Rackham, not to mention the murderous Charles Vane and the likes of Anne Bonny and Mary Read.No Edward, don't climb that wall into the compound!
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has a few issues, most of them stem from the inclusion of single player content locked behind Uplay Passport. Things such as Kenway's Fleet cannot be accessed unless you have one. Ubisoft recently made their current games (such as this) passport purchase free – promising that the passports will be phased out for upcoming titles. This is all well and good, but unless you're online you're going to miss out on a chunk of money/treasure earning potential from Kenway's Fleet, including certain items that can't be earned any other way.
If the servers go down mid-battle, you'll have to do the whole fleet battle again. (I'll talk more about Kenway's fleet later)
Then you have the at-times clumsy navigation system that we've come to know and love (or hate) from the series. It works beautifully when it works, but when it fails Edward looks a right fool as he attempts to climb a washing-line rather than elegantly ducking under it and continuing to run.
The odd misdirected Leap of Faith occurs and I am suddenly reminded of the glory days of Tomb Raider, with Lara plummeting to her doom in various hilarious ways. The Animus seems a little glitch these days too, with ships vanishing into thin air from time to time and the same with people. Abstergo really needs to fix their software – honestly you'd think Templars could have sorted that by now.
It'll be interesting to see, all joking aside, if that issue plagues the next-gen version of AC IV.So, how does she handle lad?
Let's talk about the real world element of the game first, a first person area that you can freely explore when you're not piratin' about the seas and having a whale of a time with the new naval combat. You spend a lot your first person adventures at the beck and call of your superiors and hacking various Animus stations around the offices of other employees. There's a lot of hidden information scattered about, videos (including an interesting Desmond tie-in) and emails to read. Each one gives a deeper look into the current state of affairs in the real world since the end of AC 3.
The hacking is fairly fun with a series of mini-games and tasks, probably the most annoying part is the Frogger-a-like hack where you need to guide a data-dot through various barriers and just like Frogger - it's tedious and repetitive to the point of frustration.
There's only about 5 real world forays to sit through that are forced on you, they break up the narrative a little and it can be a little jarring to come back to the Abstergo building after experiencing a powerful bit of Edward's story, it almost takes the wind out of that moment's sails.
The rest of the time you're free to go do what you want in the Animus.On foot, on rooftops, through trees and at sea... or under it...
Freedom is the core concept of the AC IV experience when it comes down to the gameplay. A lot the previous ideas for mini-games have been thrown out and Ashraf Ismail and his team has managed to fill an open world fully detailed Caribbean open world with tons to do. You never feel constrained by the story or your surroundings, and if you're being blown to bits by stronger enemies in harder areas – an upgrade or two is always within your reach as long as you're willing to work for it.
See Ubisoft has been clever; they locked upgrades and various elements of the game behind the main story progression. So you need to play up to a certain point before you go off and try and make the Jackdaw into the ultimate killing machine prior to big battles. It makes sense too in the context of the narrative and keeps you on your toes. You can't just sail into the core story fights with your ship bristling with cannons and mortars, you have to think tactically and look at your upgrade options.
This is a game that makes you want to play Edward's story to find out what's going on, and more importantly to get that sweet upgrade you know is locked behind the gate.
Of course you can try your hand at beating the tougher ships with a mix of luck and bravado, Ubisoft isn't stopping you in that regard... just don't expect it to be really easy.
Then there's various memory-gates that pop up now and then, locking out areas that aren't available during the current memory to prevent you from reaching places you're woefully outnumbered and outgunned for. These are few and far between, but they do exist and they've been used in AC since day 1.