Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag preview
Having witnessed the Third Crusade, wandered through Renaissance period Italy, and incited a revolution during the Colonial Era, it is the murky waters of the West Indies that grant the next expansive setting for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series.
Set in the 18th Century, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag sees players embark upon an adventure amid the golden age of piracy. You’ll stand at the helm of your very own ship, the Jackdaw, experiencing the memories of Captain Edward Kenway, father to Assassin’s Creed III’s conflicted antagonist Haytham Kenway.
Historical relevance still remains a key goal, with Ubisoft wishing to redefine public perception away from cliches and toward more gritty realism behind the fantasy of the era. Something that will surely prove a challenge, considering the global popularity of Johnny Depp’s comical turn as the bumbling Captain Jack Sparrow.
Yet such period reveals it to be ripe with inspiration. After the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, peace was established across Europe between previously warring nations – Great Britain, Spain, France, and Portugal being but a few. However such treaty came at a price, with navy crews soon finding themselves in unemployment and at a loss as to how they could best employ their seafaring skills.
The answer was piracy, such men sailing the seas and becoming known as “Men of Fortune” – legendary criminals that held the world’s most important commerce route hostage.
Protagonist Edward Kenway was once a British privateer working for the Royal Navy, himself turning to piracy as his livelihood crumbled around him. Described as being as rebellious, brash, reckless, although ingenious and resourceful, he immediately appears a striking contrast to the rather subdued monotone of Assassin’s Creed III’s Connor (Ratonhnhaké:ton).
Wielding dual cutlasses and four flintlock pistols we’re told that having received training from the Assassin Order, he is renowned for his battle prowess both at sea and on land.
Creative director Jean Guesdon explains that the game entered development in September 2011, and seeks to move away from a few conventions that many now expect of the series. Broadening player exploration is a main ambition, lead developer Ubisoft Montreal elevating the player experience by crafting a seamless, open world environment for you to explore.
As this suggests you’ll freely be able to move between navigating your ship across the open sea, to diving overboard and swimming ashore to continue your search on foot. Guesdon doesn’t promise that there won’t be loading screens, but suggests that they’re seeking to make them have as minimal impact on the experience as possible.
Ubisoft are also drawing upon the strengths of the series legacy: player choice in how to approach key character assassinations in Assassin’s Creed, the introduction of new gameplay systems in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and the stunning vistas of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, for instance.
Black Flag’s world will see 50 unique locations that player’s will be able to discover, with three main cities spread across the region: Havana, a Spanish town and capital of the Caribbean; Kingston, the English town and capital of Jamaica with its plantations and sugar cane resources; and Nassau, the pirate’s capital.
On your travels you’ll interact with historic pirates such as Ben Hornigold, Anne Bonny, and Blackbeard, as well as more pyschopathic sailors such as Calico Jack and Charles Vane.
Key events within the game will also draw inspiration from those that occurred within the course of history, such as the Assault on 42 Portuguese Ships in which a single pirate ship neutralised an entire fleet. Further examples include the Wreck of the Spanish Armada, the marooning of Charles Vane and an explosive escape from Nassau.
Further locations will include Fishing Villages where you can repair or upgrade your ship, Plantations which act as ground targets for raids, Hidden Coves, Jungles, Mayan Ruins and Coconut Islands. Forts were a further example, blending both land and water-based combat. Players blasting fortifications with their cannon, before capturing the fort alongside their crew. The sheer breadth shown is astounding, hinting toward the largest map Ubisoft’s series has yet seen.
Storms, harpooning giant whales for resources, and the introduction of swimming underwater are further extensions to the gameplay concept, players able to investigate shipwrecks for sunken treasure.
Within a game that has shifted its focus to pirates, it isn’t surprising that ship-to-ship combat is an integral focus during development. Players will be able to choose any ship to attack, with Ubisoft recognising that sequences within Assassin’s Creed 3 were perhaps too linear and scripted.
You’ll initially use a Spyglass to evaluate your prey, revealing its strength, as well as the supplies it holds such as rum, gold, clothes and special items. Enemy ships themselves will range from smaller scouting vessels, to colossal Galleons that house in excess of 100 cannons aboard. Certain areas will be blocked by such strong ships, the player having to come back later in the game to surpass them.
Player progression will be key to successfully tackling such monstrosities, gathering resources that will allow you to upgrade varying parts of your ship. Of course, to ensure that it’s run effectively you’ll also need a crew, which can be lost during naval battles, or swept away during natural disasters.
There will be five enemy archetypes within the game, introducing several layers of gameplay. An example of these being the “Charger,” which will try to ram the player with its bow. It’s therefore down to you as to how to fend them off – will you attack from afar, drop explosive barrels behind you as it chases, or ram it back?
Perhaps what excites us most is the way in which players will be able to board enemy vessels. This is described as another significant addition to Black Flag, players able to instruct their crew to launch grappling hooks that pull warring ships together whenever you wish.
This then dynamically creates a combat environment within the midst of the ocean at the player’s whim, soon opening up choice in regards to how to dispatch the enemy crew. Climb the mast and hop across to assassinate the Captain, swim around the ship to catch enemies off-guard, or simply hop across to join your crew as they attack head on. It exuberates ludicrous appeal.
In regards to the present day scenario, what players may not realise is that after the events of Assassin’s Creed III the series’ narrative is actually now running alongside our daily lives. Desmond’s story arc closed at the end of December 2012, and we’re now part of its universe… apparently.
What this means, is that within Black Flags you as the player themselves will be the identity of the present day character, although we’ll have to await further details. What we do know is that you’re researching into Edward Kenway’s memories, and that Ubisoft are seeking to retain a “cohesive, consistent universe.”
Multiplayer, as can be expected due to its popularity, will also make a return with new characters, maps and modes, yet we were provided with no further details beyond this.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will release on Wii U across North America on October 29th, and Europe on November 1st.