ac4-coverEvery long running video game series eventually runs into the same problem. It’s how to continually keep each entry fresh and not just the same iteration with a new coat of paint, so to say. The best company keep ahead of this and Ubisoft more than accomplishes this with the latest entry into everyone’s favorite assassination-based series in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The ambition of the game is nothing short of astonishing. The scope of everything that the player can do is so much more then any previous entry in the series. Not only is the amount of area to be explored significantly larger, but the core mechanics are back and some have even been expanded.

One of the best parts of the game undoubtedly has to be its main character. Edward Kenway is a return to the flamboyant and outgoing nature of Ezio Auditore. Whereas Altair was born into the Assassins and Ezio and Connor joined because of family connections, Edward is never really one of them as he becomes embroiled in their conflict with the Templars almost by accident. He soon finds himself caught between the two while trying to pillage the high seas and set up a new republic with like-minded individuals. He is after all a pirate and in keeping with the series’ theme of historical figures he meets famous pirates like Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Anne Bonny.

ac4-explorationPerhaps the single biggest way Black Flag is different from its predecessors is in the vastness of its world. Set in the Caribbean in the early 1700s, the map is not a city divided into different districts but a wide expanse with a plethora of islands ranging from big ones like Cuba to small ones that dot the seas. These can consist of sandy beaches with a few plam trees to lush jungles with Mayan ruins. Infiltrating enemy plantations to loot warehouses by creeping through underbrush or stalking high amogst the trees is just one of the many things the player can do when not following the main quest and their level design is varied enough to not get boring. For fans who want the cities of previous games, they still exist in the form of Havana, Kingston and the pirate haven of Nassau, but are less of a focus. The whole point of the game is to explore this extensive world and its many locations. It also makes collecting all the items and completing the many side quests that much more fun. What would an Assassin’s Creed game be without hundreds of chests/fragments/feathers/etc to collect?

What was a mere side quest in Assassin’s Creed III is now the main form of transportation in Black Flag as Edward has very own ship at his disposal, which he calls the Jackdaw. Invariably, he will encounter other ships which he can choose to attack just like Connor did in AC3, but now after having done enough damage they can be boarded to steal their cargo. which can be sold or used to upgrade Edward’s vessel. These aren’t just instances where you can bum rush your way through, but since there are many types of ships and they often travel in packs, it means strategy plays a big role, which makes ac4-ship-boardingthis one of the more rewarding aspects in the game. When not plundering ships, can hunt whales with harpoons or even explore sunken shipwrecks. Given the enormity of the world that needs exploring, one welcome feature is the liberal use of fast travel points. Unlocked by visiting certain islands, they provide a welcome relief from having to continually traverse the ocean. This isn’t like in previous installments where you had to reach a booth or tunnel entrance, but now you can open up on your map from anywhere and select one of said points, literally traveling from one end of the Caribbean to the other in mere moments.

The Desmond story arc was finished at the end of the last installment and there’s a new present day story to follow in Black Flag. Instead of Mr Miles, players control a nameless Abstergo employee in a 1st person perspective whose job is to sift through Edward’s life in order to provide material for commerical ‘experiences’. It’s essentially a parody of the today’s game devolopment industry which provide for some humorous moments. Of course how the previous portrayal of Abstergo’s sinister side is involved plays an important part as well

ac4-whalingVisually stunning even on current consoles, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is an extremely entertaining chapter in Ubisoft’s incredibly successful series. The expansion of the naval travel and combat keeps the game fresh and exciting, while tweaking long-running features helps as well. The mammoth world Edward has to explore provides for hours upon hours of adventure that one can easily get lost in, but in the end that’s one of the ways that makes this game well worth the price.