Assassin’s Creed games have turned into an annual affair for Ubisoft and thus it should come as no surprise that the franchise is getting its next iteration announced for the current year, a mere four months after the release of the last game in the series; Assassin’s Creed III.
What may come as a surprise for long time fans of the series is that Ubisoft’s next foray into the Assassin’s Creed brand is Assassin’s Creed IV.
While in the past, Ubisoft has stayed in a particular time period after their numerical iterations, like Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles and Bloodlines after the original game as well as Brotherhood and Revelations after Assassin’s Creed II, this time the publisher has taken a direct jump to numerical sequel from III to IV.
Revealed last week as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag; the game is played from the point of view of a new protagonist and is now set in the swashbuckling era of the 18th Century pirating world.
A New Character; a New Approach
As previously mentioned, past games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise have been prone to provide its fans with sequels in between the main, numerical iterations of the game, and with these sequels came a focus on a specific person and a time period.
With the first game and its two handheld sequels, the franchise focused on Altair and the era of the third crusade. The second game as well as its sequels Brotherhood and Revelations, focused on the Renaissance era as well as the exploits of Ezio. This time, however, Ubisoft seems to have changed their strategy.
With the third game’s focus on American Revolution and a new character named Connor, the general consensus seemed to expect the following few games to focus on that era as well as be a Connor Trilogy, mirroring the Ezio trilogy that preceded it. However; Assassin’s Creed 4 will feature a brand new character by the name of Edward Kenway.
Unlike the previous iterations, Assassin’s Creed IV seems to move backwards in time to tell the story of grandfather of the protagonist of the previous game; the Assassin, Connor and father to the Templar, Hytham Kenway. According to Ubisoft officials, the game is part of, what they are calling; the Kenway family saga.
The Present (Assassin’s Creed III Spoilers):
The other side of every Assassin’s creed game is the dynamic between the past and present. With the Previous slew of Assassin’s Creed game told the story of Desmond Miles, a reluctant modern Assassin. However, with the demise of Desmond in the last moments of Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft has chosen to take a new approach to the modern element in the Assassin’s Creed IV.
Rather than following the same formula and entrusting the player in the hands of another Modern Assassin, Assassin’s Creed IV dares to do something new. The present day gameplay of Black Flag revolves around the players playing as themselves, as an employee of Abstergo entertainment.
As long time fans of the game know, Abstergo industries is the front for the modern Templars and therefore this predicament opens the game to a whole slew of possibilities.
While the core of the gameplay has always been focused on the ways of the Assassins, the Assassin’s Creed games have also been about exploring exotic locations, visiting by gone eras and rich character narratives. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag seems to be no different.
Just like Connor was a Mohawk first and an assassin second in Assassin’s Creed III, Edward Kenway will be a pirate first and an assassin second in Assassin’s Creed IV. It is a good thing, then, that the game is set in the early 18th Century, during fledgling Colonial era and the hay days of the pirates.
The crux of the story and gameplay seems to revolve around pirates and their pirating ways. Players get to lead the life of a pirate while partaking in historical events and exploring several real life town and areas like Havana, Nassau and Kingston as well as explore the seas as they helm the wheel of their very own vessel.
Like any game from the series, the personality of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag seems to be more focused towards portraying historically accurate pirating, rather than the swashbuckling, campy tom foolery depicted in mainstream media.
So if you are thinking Pirates of the Caribbean, think again. While the game will feature pirating staples like Shipping and looting, the developers have stressed that players should expect a gritty and realistic take on pirating akin to Sons of Anarchy and various HBO series rather than cheeky one likers and goofy walking the plank routines.
In keeping with the series’ roots, players will also get to meet real historical figures from the Golden age of Piracy, in their time exploring the seas of Black Flag.
Along with Blackbeard, who was featured in the game’s introductory trailer, players will also get to interact with real life pirates like Benjamin Hornigold, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack and Charles Vane.
As with any game, the setting is a small factor in success of a game, even a vast expansive world cannot save a game devoid of proper working gameplay elements like exploration and combat.
Thankfully Ubisoft has revealed a slew of information regarding how it has focused on updating, refining and evolving these elements from the past games in the series.
With naval exploration being the big focus of Black Flag, the game provides the player with their own ship named Jackdaw. However unlike Assassin’s Creed III’s treatment of Connor’s ship like just another mode of transport, Jackdaw is treated like the second main character of the game.
Playing a crucial part in the dynamics of the game as players are able to upgrade and tweak the ship and its crew.
Building on what they had achieved with Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft Singapore returns with a deeper and more flexible naval combat.
Players can scan the waters from afar using their spyglass and decipher crucial information about the approaching ships in order to better prepare for an oncoming encounter.
Furthermore the naval action also features ability to seamlessly board the enemy ship as well as the ability for the player to recognize and utilize different tropical storms and wave patterns for strategizing actions in the wake of naval combat.
Players are also introduced to the ability to explore the underwater environments of the game world. While Altair was prone to death upon contact with the water and Ezio and Connor had the ability to swim, Edward has the ability to dive and stay underwater for great periods of time. This not only affords new grounds to explore but also affords new gameplay possibilities to the players.
Even though the life of a pirate is spent on voyages across the seven seas, that does not mean that Assassin’s Creed IV shies away from exploring the land.
Continuing the tradition of the previous games, Black Flag also includes on-foot action across the cities, forts and other locales encountered during the span of the game.
The developers have made it a point to make changes to the routine formula followed by the franchise when dealing with the on-foot missions.
Gone are the Brotherhood management systems, as well as the Notoriety mechanic of the previous games. This streamlined approach, give rise to expansion in the scope of on-foot action.
While retaining the ability to use swords, daggers and cutlasses, Edward Kenway can also support four side arms and has the ability to employ them simultaneously in combat situations. Furthermore, for the first time in the franchise, players have the ability to aim their guns freely, without any hindrance from the traditional auto-lock aiming system.
While not much has been revealed on the subject, it is known that the players can also expect underwater combat where Edward can employ his fighting prowess to engage with the enemy below the surface of the sea.
The hunting system, which played a role in Assassin’s Creed III, seems to have returned in Black Flag. Not only do the players have the ability to hunt on land but they can also hunt creatures underwater as well as employ harpooning to hunt whales while sailing the seas.
Current or Next Gen?
Coming at the heels of next-gen console announcement, the announcement of a numbered sequel in the Assassin’s Creed franchise leads the question of whether the game is in fact made with the next gen consoles in mind.
Though revealed to be releasing on both current and next-gen consoles, the developer discussions and the trailers seem to indicate that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has been developed with current gen consoles in mind. While there are several rounds of updates in gameplay that the game seems to offer, all of them are evolutions to the gameplay elements available in the past iterations of the franchise.
Even the concept of naval combat was explored a great deal in Assassin’s Creed III and there does not seem to be any revolutionary new mechanic that utilizes processing ability that only the next-gen consoles may afford.
While it is not a total reinvention of the series based on next gen expectations, it is fair to assume that the PS4 and Next Xbox ports will be home to upgraded graphics and better physics.
However, even though it is based on current-gen console capabilities, the game seems to deliver enough new elements and changes in gameplay to offer a fresh gameplay experience to the fans of the series.