Well here we are again. Like an annual check-up, Ubisoft keeps giving fans more Assassin’s Creed year after year, ramming this franchise down our throats in an effort to keep up their bottom line. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag truly is the franchise’s most ambitious title to date, with a sprawling world that can be traveled on a whim, an improved combat system, and a likeable protagonist. Unfortunately there just seems to be too much repetitiveness in this latest title. Along with a forgettable story and cast of characters just adds to the dull scenarios I was often found myself participating in. Black Flag still offers plenty of sword fights and the occasional star-studded pirate sighting to keep you entertained, but this latest entry into the series sinks faster than a scuttled ship.
What Is It?
Assassin’ Creed IV: Black Flag is a sequel/prequel, in the sense that it is numbered numerically as the newest entry in the series, but the story precedes the events of Assassin’s Creed 3. Black Flag follows the adventure of Edward Kenway, father of Haytham and grandfather of Connor, two of the main characters from last year’s game. Edward, who bears a striking resembles to actor Chris Hemsworth (of Thor fame), dreams of becoming an adventurer and sailing the seas to become rich and famous. His ambitions lead to a life of piracy and intrigue, as he tries to understand the link between the Assassins and Templars and a mysterious place known simply as The Observatory. You get to meet some popular Pirate characters from history like Blackbeard and Black Bart along the way, but the story for which Edward travels is often full of linear characters who serve no purpose other than to give you information before they are killed off. Many of these characters are not even mentioned by name, so trying to follow along as you meet up with new characters and later kill them off could be quite confusing. Ironically enough, the modern-day story sequences in Black Flag were actually much more enjoyable to me than the pirate-infused frolicking. Since Desmond is not around anymore, you control an employee at Abstergo Entertainment, a movie studio of sorts who uses the Animus to gather footage of historical characters to turn into movies. It’s a neat idea and sets a nice change of pace from all the pirating.
Because this is the most ambitious Assassin’s Creed title to date, there are plenty of things to do. The new world map is absolutely huge, spanning from the Caribbean to Africa, with dozens of islands to explore in between. These islands can range from uninhabited, where you can simply scavenge for chests or Animus fragments, to sprawling cities bustling with thousands of people. Since the world is so massive, a fast-travel system is thankfully implemented, allowing you to quickly zoom to any discovered island or synchronized viewpoint at a whim. Edward’s ship, the Jackdaw, can be updated regularly to become a massive, powerful threat. Controlling the Jackdaw is as simple as looking in the direction you wish to travel and adjusting the camera towards the enemy’s position. Looking to the sides fires the broadside cannons. Easily maneuvering between these positions makes taking on multiple ships a breeze. Taking down these enemy ships also helps in gaining the necessary materials to upgrade the Jackdaw further, increasing the number of cannons on your ship or its armor. Once you damage a ship enough you than can board it, in which case you swing aboard the ship and start killing everyone on board. The larger ships have different scenarios you have to complete before you successfully take the ship over, but once it’s yours, you have the choice to repair the Jackdaw, lower your wanted level or send the ship to your own personal fleet. Accessing the fleet menu gives you yet another way (if somewhat forgettable) to get more resources. An option to allow you to buy materials at a shop would have been welcome, since having to plunder ships constantly can become a taxing affair. Attacking naval forts and harpooning whales and other marine animals are just some of the other side activities you can waste a good amount of time on, as well.
Why Should I Care?
All of this naval fighting aside, the main adventure for Edward is a boring, repetitive affair. There are far too many eavesdropping missions, requiring you to follow enemies to a certain place without being seen before you can actually kill them. Other missions require you to infiltrate a location to hide and listen before you can go on. It gets somewhat exhausting to have to do these various tasks so often, since once you reach the open seas it is such a breath of fresh air to freely move around as you please. As a pirate, I expected more sword fighting and betrayal, not hiding and listening.
Fighting has been improved to allow better combo executions, making taking on enemies a truly satisfying and enjoyable experience. Edward can carry up to four pistols at once, so you can chain together successive kills in a short amount of time. While the fighting makes up for the lack of suspense in the story, it too often gets a little cumbersome with the amount of hiding you are forced to do in the game. If spotted, you will be bombarded with an insane amount of enemies at once. I feel as if the game purposely is punishing me for not acting like an Assassin and going in guns blazing. It’s a gameplay design flaw that often can create a broken scenario if not done correctly, since trying to find a hiding place is impossible with dozens of enemies always attacking you at once. A real shame considering how well the fighting and controls blend together.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is as ambitious as they come, but it fails to live up to the exceptional pedigree of the previous games. A great sense of adventure and freedom on the open seas is bogged down by repetitive missions and a forgetful storyline. Fans of the series will no doubt enjoy having a new entry every year to get their hands on, but perhaps it is time to give this franchise a break to regain its bearings.