Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Reveal Preview
As the latest generation draws to a close, time will inevitably come when sites and gamers everywhere look fondly back on our latest stint and pick out the titles that helped define the last few years of our industry. Ubisoft’s flagship franchise Assassin’s Creed will no doubt be added to most of those aforementioned lists, with the Animus adventures telling the story of Altair, Ezio, Connor, and by proxy one Nolan North-voiced Desmond Miles – a descendant of said assassins accessing the memories of his ancestors to help get one over on the Templars, with whom they’ve been at loggerheads for the last millennia. After years spent stabbing, climbing and flag-collecting their way through the annals of history, players may be expecting something outside the realm of Rome or Revolutionary America. Perhaps – Ubisoft wondered – they were yearning for something a little more… piratey?
Thanks to enough leaks to sink any seafaring vessel, 2013′s worst-kept secret so far has finally brought us Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a swashbuckling tale taking place at the turn of the 18th Century, with players quantum-leaping into one Edward Kenway – father and grandfather to the protagonists of the previous title in the series. Described by the developers as brash, cocky, reckless, handsome, selfish and ingenious – to name but a few of his attributes – Edward is a former privateer turned pirate, trained by the Order of Assassins. Throughout the events of Black Flag, as his pirate lifestyle and the world of assassination that he’s brought into begin to clash, he’ll slowly learn that maybe there are more important things at stake than endless booty and wenches.
Cited as the “perfect franchise to bring piracy to life”, Ubisoft’s dedication to historical accuracy will be well-maintained in the latest chapter of the series, as there’ll be no grog-drinking competitions or Jack Sparrows sullying the waters; clichés will be cast away in the name of dealing with the reality of the golden age of piracy. There’s no need to be worried about this being a po-faced take designed to expose you to the gritty underbelly of the past either, as the truth was often stranger and more bombastic than the fiction that surrounds it, meaning that there’s no need for ghost ships, krakens or Johnny Depp.
Taking place within the infamous Republic of Pirates – a mostly lawless society residing in the West Indies, on the fringes of the most powerful European empires – the events of Black Flag will also see Kenway swash buckles with a powerful array of captains, whom you’ll be working with and against as the story unfolds. Throughout your time in the first democratic society of the new world (pre-dating the American Revolution by nearly sixty years), you’ll likely come across what the developers are calling an “incredible cast” filled with “larger-than-life personalities”. First of these is Ben Hornigold, considered to be ‘The Gentleman Pirate’, as he refused to attack British-flagged ships in order to maintain his guise as a privateer operating against England’s enemies. Next up was Anne Bonny – a feisty Irish pirate who rose to supremacy thanks to the republic regarding female pirates as equals, though historically was never a captain nor owned a ship of her own. Also entering the fray is Anne Bonny’s lover Calico Jack , a ruthless, psychopathic pirate who invented and popularised the infamous Jolly Roger, and Charles Vane, a similarly ruthless scallywag who carved his own reign of terror until he was left stranded on a desert island. Rounding out the cast is perhaps the most recognisable of them all, the famed Edward Teach, or rather Blackbeard, famed for his luxurious facial hair and his understanding of the reputation of violence actually preceding its necessity.
Those accustomed to the historical accuracy of the Assassin’s Creed franchise will know that it provides the chance for players to take part in famous historical events of the era, and Black Flag aims to be no different thanks to a careful selection of some of the most important occurrences of the golden age of piracy. To name but a few, Edward Kenway will soon become a vital part of the battle of one ship versus forty-two Portuguese vessels, join other gold-rushing pirates during the 1715 wreck of the Spanish Armada, assist their escape from Nassau when the empires come a-knocking and become stranded on a desert island with the infamous Charles Vane. Though these are but a selection of what will comprise the grand scale Ubisoft are aiming for, there’s already plenty to cater to those in need of some serious swashbuckling.
Alongside the cast of historically-accurate pirates from the days of yore, Black Flag will also provide players with over fifty unique locations to explore. The three primary locations consist of Havana, described as the most ‘European’ town, Kingston, giving an insight to the world as it was back in the day, and the pirate haven Nassau. The other forty-seven locations encompass a variety of different locales, including coconut islands, fishing villages, hidden caves, forts, jungles, Mayan ruins and plantations, with equal pirating opportunities on both land and sea. The jungles were given particular attention, as these have been designed in order to level the playing fields more significantly against Edward and alter his role into more of the hunted. These locales aren’t strictly locked to land either, as for the first time in the series the assassin du jour can make his way underwater, allowing him to discover deep-sea plunder and enter the occasional scuffle with a shark.
Assassin’s Creed IV also heavily builds on the naval combat introduced in the series’ previous iteration, with a litany of changes and improvements at the bow. Naval combat will also be bolstered by the addition of five new enemy archetypes, with one such cited as being a charger ship that aims to create distance between you before charging your ship head-on. Scouting targets for your next battle is also made easier with the presence of the spyglass, as focusing it on a ship will tell you its name as well as the contents of its cargo, with the example shown being the Golden Hind, which history fans will know as Sir Francis Drake’s precious vessel. Another such improvement has been made to the boarding mechanics, allowing the battlefield to open up and provide a greater freedom for the player strategically, though they’ll also have to be on the lookout for these tactics being used against them.
Entering combat in the first place can become a huge risk that requires careful planning if the ship you’re attempting to take on is escorted by an empire military vessel. Said military craft may become the bane of your naval adventures, with one of the most powerful foes being a British galleon equipped with a hundred cannons. In comparison, your ship – The Jackdaw – can only be equipped with a maximum of fifty-six. The developer’s intent is for The Jackdaw to become the second main character of Black Flag, with its maintenance, upgrading and crew all becoming a priority as you progress and acquire more booty to play with. There’ll also hopefully be a strategic element to this as well, as any extra equipment must have new crew members hired in order to operate it, but their mortality is far from assured with the constant peril of naval combat and storms.
Far from just a simple expansion to the formula from Assassin’s Creed 3, Black Flag seems to have completely taken the blueprints and built something monumental at its core, as would be expected with the sea comprising such a large part of the upcoming experience. It won’t all be seafaring sword-fighting come October, as there is an incentive to explore beyond the fifty locales, with treasure hunting and harpooning the creatures of the sea being some of the extra tasks Edward can set his crew to if he so wishes. The game’s naval philosophy is represented by a circle: at the top is exploration, traversing the world in order to find plunder, while the second part of the circle is used to upgrade the Jackdaw, which takes the circle to its final phase – defeating the enemy, and starting the circle anew.
This wasn’t the only philosophy at play, as Jean Guesdon – the Creative Director – was sure to point out; Black Flag is a title wholly influenced by the intention to retain the legacy of the brand, and at least one key design element from each previous entry was a major part in influencing the design of the newest entry. From the franchise starter was the open-ended Assassination set-ups, from Ezio’s first foray was the “Tease, Teach, Use, Challenge” philosophy, Brotherhood’s influence was the way it played with already-established systems, Revelations inspired the focus on the stunning beauty of the environments, and Connor’s adventure highlighted the appeal of becoming part of history. Though the multiplayer wasn’t specifically mentioned as a key influence from any of the previous iterations, its presence in IV was confirmed with a few brief words noting a new cast of characters and maps to play with.
Given a similarly short description was how the present day interactions would be implemented, as after the events of Assassin’s Creed 3 the storyline stopped taking place in the future, and – as the developers put it – both our timeline and the franchise’s have merged into one. As Desmond won’t be making an appearance in the latest chapter, there’s a new hero ready to step into the Animus and access the memories of the past: you. You’ll be able to customise your own character who’ll become an employee of Abstergo as part of the developer’s desire to have you become part of the world of Assassin’s Creed.
By far the most intriguing change to the series is that the developers have done away with the obvious loading times in an effort to make the entire experience absolutely seamless. Whereas before most loading screens would be justified by the existence of the Animus, this time loading screens will be a thing of the past to help prevent broken immersion. Everything will take place on the same map, so theoretically Edward could start in one town, climb onto his ship, take the wheel, sail to another location, enter into a naval battle, win, reach his destination, hoist anchor, dive off the ship, swim to shore and never see a loading screen.
When presented with footage of the upcoming release, it was hard not to find it very graphically similar to Connor’s exploits last year, albeit with more colours and a distinct lack of snow, giving rise to the suggestion that it was built in the same engine and might have been bypassing the newest generations later this year. However, this thought turned out to be in vain, as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was confirmed to be released in the holiday season of this year for the 360, PC, PS3, Wii U and the PS4. Oddly though, the Playstation 3 version is the one receiving exclusive content, not the newest console. It seems especially odd to me considering that the PS4 won’t be back-compatible with the PS3 due to the lack of a cell processor, meaning that the biggest experience comes as a console’s swan song, not a launch title.
As someone whose ears prick up at the word ‘pirates’, I can’t help but be intrigued as to how Ubisoft are going to pull this one off, as while the seamless adventuring comes across as a masterstroke, the actual assassinating that the series is named after seemed to be consigned to a footnote in the name of historical gallivanting. Though there’s plenty to sell me on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I’ll be keen to see what treasures it holds before it comes to shore.
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