Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag In-Depth Analysis

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Assassin’s Creed IV was released October 2013, a mere month ahead of the next generation of consoles. A bold move and one that probably didn’t pay off all that well either. At the time of release, I did not hear a lot about this game, and that is a shame because this game deserved more hype.

Brand New Face of Abstergo

Desmond died at the end of Assassin’s Creed III so we are left without the main protagonist. This time, you start the game as a new play-tester for Abstergo entertainment. The animus is going on to the market as a VR experience, the launch title of which was Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Which means the Assassin’s Creed games are now games within the world of the game (cue inception noise).

Abstergo Entertainment is a front for the Templars. They are using DNA obtained from Desmond’s corpse to search for more information on the precursor race and pieces of Eden, and also make money to fund their other enterprises. As an employee, it is our job to delve into the latest descendant of Desmond to find out what he knows about a piece of Eden.

Outside of the animus, we are tasked with meeting the head of the company to talk about our progress, and get access to hacking our colleague’s computers for secret files to give to an undercover Shaun and Rebecca. Inside the animus is where the fun happens.

Pirates, and ships, and whales, oh my! (Source)

It’s Pirate Time, Baby!

Ladies, Gentlemen, and everything between, I introduce to you all the best character of the series, Edward Kenway. Father to Haytham Kenway, grandfather to Connor Kenway, and all-round mad lad. Edward was a working-class man down on his luck wanting more. He wanted luxury and riches, and wanted to be able to spoil his wife rotten. So, in the early 18th century how do you make bank as a working-class man?

Take to the seven seas on a swashbuckling pirate adventure!

Edward begins his journey as a cabin hand aboard a privateer ship, which gets attacked, leaving him stranded on a desert island. The only other survivor is a man in hooded clothing. Edward tries to approach the man to offer his help, but the man responds with hostility. After some chasing, Edward manages to get the upper hand and kills him. Now, you may have guessed the hooded man is an assassin, and you’d be right, he is, but he’s a traitor to the Creed on a mission for the Templars. Edward takes the mission letter and the maps that need to be delivered. On top of this, he steals the man’s identity, Duncan Walpole, as well as his clothes.

We hop aboard a ship after rescuing a new acquaintance by the name of Stede Bonnet, a merchant and something of an underfoot character. Following this, we reach the port at Havana and meet with the governor of Cuba who wants the maps. This section serves as an introduction to the main targets of the game and a tutorial to teach you the main mechanics. After meeting with the governor, Edward is sworn into the Templar Order. He is told that after one more job he will get his pay. All he has to do is escort a man called Bartholomew Roberts to the governours mansion, sounds easy right?

Well no, Roberts is a Sage, and his blood is needed to gain access to the observatory which is explained to be capable of tracking anyone so long as the welder has a vial of their blood. Obviously, this would be used for nothing but evil in the hands of the Templars. So on route to the mansion, we get attacked by Assassins. Edward fends them off and gets Roberts to the Governor. Finally, he can get his reward.

Change of Money, Change of Heart

Edward gets a measly pittance for his work. Frustrated with this, he decides to spring Roberts and try to take the Observatory for himself, figuring it’ll be worth all the riches in the world.

Unfortunately, Roberts is already gone and now the Templars know Edward is a fake. He finds himself on a prison ship along with a man named Adewale. They break out and steal the ship, renaming it the Jackdaw with Edward as captain and Adewale as quartermaster. They set course for Nassau, the pirate haven. There they meet Edward Thatch aka Blackbeard and Benjamin Hornigold. Edward is all set to be a pirate. He has got his boat, he’s got a crew, and with the help of Benjamin and Thatch, he knows how to plunder ships. The world is his oyster, in that oyster is an ocean, and that ocean is full of riches.

James Kidd joins the gang and they devise plans to rob plantations and steal a galleon to protect Nassau. It’s a pirate’s life for Edward, and it’s a pirate’s life for me!

To Creed, or Not to Creed

From left: Edward, James Kidd, Ah Tabai. (Source)

Kidd invites Edward to the Assassin hideout on Tulum to meet with the mentor of the Caribbean Assassins. He reveals that Edward goofed up and gave the Templars a map leading them to several assassins posted around the Caribbean islands. After trying to brush off the responsibility, Edward’s good nature kicks in and he travels around the islands warning the assassins and admitting guilt.

What follows is Edward’s goals clashing with Kidd’s and the assassin’s at large. Edward wants the Governor of Cuba and his associates alive to bait out Roberts in order to gain access to the observatory to make his riches and take care of himself. Whereas Kidd wants them dead because they are Templars. Kidd also reveals himself to be a herself who hides her real identity because it’s easier being a pirate when everyone thinks she is a man.

Roberts appears after the death of one of the governor’s associates and slips away again. Edward heads back to Nassau defeated, Kidd nudges him towards taking on the creed and dedicating himself as an assassin.

The golden age of pirates begins to come to a close, the royal navy arrives on Nassau with offers of royal pardons from the king for any pirate crew willing to join the navy. Benjamin Hornigold takes the pardon and changes sides. The navy puts a travel ban on the island and plans to sink the ships of every noncooperating pirate.

Edward is not having any of that. He is a free man and intends on keeping it that way. He assassinates the envoy from the navy and escapes with his ship. Edward heads towards an island far from Nassau to find Thatch, who is celebrating his retirement from the pirate life. Unfortunately, the navy caught wind and attacks the celebrations, killing Thatch and putting Edward back on the run, but not without the knowledge he needs to be back on the trail of Roberts.

Edward and Blackbeard (Source)

Turbulent Waters

His search for Roberts immediately comes to a halt as his crew turns against him, leaving him stranded on an island. As soon as he can, he escapes aboard a passing ship and sets upon getting his ship back and looking for information on the whereabouts of Robert’s ship, the Princess. It doesn’t take him long to find him but once again it ends in Edward being imprisoned.

While in prison, he is taken to the trial of Kidd, who has been outed as Mary Read. Both Read and her close friend and crewmate, Anne Bonny, are sentenced to death. To escape the sentence and give the assassin’s time to free them they both announce they are pregnant, forcing the guards to postpone the execution until the children are born.

Roughly 9 or so months pass and the assassins spring the gang out of prison. Edward carries an ailing Mary Read out of the prison, only for her to die in his arms. Her last words leaving Edward with a newfound dedication to the Creed. Edward reclaims his ship, Adewale leaves to help the assassins elsewhere, and Anne joins Edwards ship as the new quartermaster.

Expectations and Why you Should Learn from the Past

The Observatory showing Anne Bonny (Source)

Edwards takes down a group of government ne’er-do-wells and gains the respect of Roberts who agrees to take him to the observatory. The Observatory is a skull with a square receptacle for special blood vials. When the blood vial of someone alive is placed inside the skull, it projects the location of whoever the blood belongs to. He then promptly takes the Observatory and betrays Edward.

Who could have seen that coming!

Edward tracks Roberts down and kills him, and instead of selling the Observatory for cash like he always wanted, he does the right thing and returns it to the Observatory. With his journey thus far this decision makes sense, his selfish aim to get as much money as possible has shifted and he now has a sense of right and wrong.

Edwards returns to his manor where he learns his ex-wife back in London has died and his daughter is on her way to meet him. He has a touching farewell with his quartermaster, Anne Bonny, and the West Indies Assassins. He departs aboard the Jackdaw for London with his daughter where he lives the rest of his life aiding the assassin cause. All in all, his story was great. It starts at a point where he isn’t holding a child’s hand through the game and feels less like they were trying to push you through someone’s life to get their story across and more like you were seeing just the important bits of his life.

Edward and his daughter meet for the first time (Source)

Back to the Future

In Abstergo Entertainment, things get pretty hairy. The higher-ups discover the hacking and imprison the suspects under the guise of security measures for safety. The IT head gets us to do more hacking and uncover more secrets before leading us to the mainframe where we unwittingly bring Juno back to the real world. She reveals herself to us and explains she’s not strong enough to form a living body yet and fades into the Abstergo network to build her strength.

The IT head is furious he didn’t get to see her and takes that frustration out on us by trying to kill us. When he does we learn that he is the descendant of Roberts and is a Sage himself tasked with bringing Juno back to life. Abstergo accuses him of hacking and sends us our way back to our desk to finish off with Edward. And that wraps up the story for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Juno back from the dead (Source)

Old Mechanics Kept Fresh

Assassin’s Creed IV has amazing gameplay, it’s tight, it’s precise, it’s fun. Combat has been revamped with the addition of double cutlasses, tighter controls, and four pistol holsters for four quick kills. Adding to the ranged combat is sleep and berserk darts. One dart puts them to sleep for nonlethal takedowns, and the other sends enemies into blind rages to get them to attack for us.

The crafting system actually works in this game, with craftable health upgrades in the form of armour, craftable consumables, pouch upgrades to hold more darts and bullets, and the option to craft new outfits.

Assassin’s Creed IV brings hunting back but with an actual incentive to hunt as the resources gathered can be used to craft upgrades and items.

Scattered around the map are Mayan statues which require Edward to climb them and use his eagle vision to line up lines on the ground with certain rocks or trees to reveal a key. Once all the keys are collected, Edward can get the Mayan armour from the Assassin’s hideout. It is the same kind of thing as in 2 and Brotherhood with Altair’s armour and the Romulus set.

To battle, lads (Source)

New Mechanics to Add that Sweet Spice

The naval sections are back and better than ever in Assassin’s Creed IV. The Jackdaw is Edward’s main mode of transportation around the West Indies and sailing it, is a dream. You have your standard naval weapons, broadside cannons and a smaller swivel cannon for more precise shots, both of which can be upgraded. The swivel cannon can be used by Edward at certain parts of the game. Alongside the standards, are mortar cannons to deal massive, long-range damage, and fire barrels to attack chasing ships. Every part of the ship can be upgraded, both for combat and for aesthetics making the Jackdaw feel like it’s the players’ ship.

Assassin’s Creed IV’s naval warfare is also completely reimagined. Small boats are not much of a hassle and are easily taken out, larger ships can also be weakened and boarded. The boarding mechanic allows for strategic play.

Boarding a weakened ship has most of the crew jumping across to kill the soldiers on the opposing ship. Each ship has different requirements for surrender, and a different number of crew members to kill. Some ships have you destroying their flag, taking out the captain, taking out the lookouts, and/or destroying supplies.

Rallying the crew (Source)

Ocean Full of Tricks

Dotted around the map in Assassin’s Creed IV there are sunken shipwrecks. Using the diving bell Edward dives to the seafloor to pillage the wrecks, having to dodge sharks, jellyfish, and colonies of sea urchins. The developers did a fantastic job of conveying the tension of being surrounded by sharks and there is nothing more unsettling than watching a giant shark silently glide past, just barely missing you.

Speaking of sharks, there are hunting spots in the ocean specifically for hammerhead sharks, great whites, bull sharks, orcas, humpbacks, and the elusive White Whale. Each has a different amount of health, damage outputs, and attack patterns. It never failed to give me the heeby-jeebies watching a great white shark come directly upwards towards the tiny harpooning dinghy from the depths of the ocean. Each animal drops resources as well as bones which vendors will buy for money.

In Assassin’s Creed IV, there are now collectable song sheets which directly translate to new sea shanties for your crew to serenade you with. There are enough of them that in the multitude of hours I spent with the game I didn’t hear the same one twice. And never before have I more truly asked myself the question of what do we do with a drunken sailor.

The hacking sections in the present future offer a fresh take on the glyph puzzles from 2 and Brotherhood, with more variety in puzzles and more instant rewards. The rewards are pieces of world-building and Desmond’s past. Which, okay hold on…

Continuation of Issues with Desmond’s Backstory

In Assassin’s Creed IV it is revealed through audio recordings from Desmond that he had extensive training as an assassin from a young age before running away to be a bartender and attempt at living a normal life. Which still begs the question.

What was the point of teaching Desmond how to be an assassin in Assassin’s Creed 2?

It could have just been to find Ezio’s Apple of Eden which is all they really did with Ezio’s life anyway, so what was the point? It’s a minor gripe that I have but it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Summary

Assassin’s Creed IV is a swashbuckling good time and the best time I’ve had with the series. The game is just fun, and if you’re interested in playing any of them, this should be your pick. The story is engaging, the mechanics are well integrated, the naval sections are a blast, and listening to sea shanties while sailing around the beautiful sandy beaches and pristine waters of the West Indies is an experience in and of itself. I’m placing it 1st in the series, to me it’s the best, it took elements from the previous games and improved on them. Get a copy of it as soon as you can.

And surely Ubisoft wouldn’t do all that with Assassin’s Creed IV just to completely forget what made it great and make the following game bad, that would be stupid, right?

Right Ubisoft?

You wouldn’t do that, would you!?

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