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The open ocean, whale harpooning, and booty: PARRR rounds up info on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The open ocean, whale harpooning, and booty: PARRR rounds up info on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is something of an oddity in the Assassin’s Creed series. It has a new number behind it, indicating a full-fledged, wholly new experience, but it has a subtitle as well, which is a convention typically reserved for not-quite sequels, revisions, and expansions: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction. FarCry Instincts: Predator are good examples.

It also takes place in the 18th century, a few decades before the story of Assassin’s Creed III. Some slight spoilers to follow for that game.

You’ll play as Edward Kenway, father to Assassin’s Creed III star-turned-antagonist Haytham Kenway, who was father to AC3‘s true hero, Connor. Game Rant has a particularly thorough dissection of who Edward was, and where he fits in relation to the events of Assassin’s Creed III.

And yes, Edward has a lot of guns.

Now, some major spoilers for Assassin’s Creed III:
This presents an interesting problem which will no doubt spur all manner of speculation, because Desmond, the connecting thread to which all these adventures through genetic memory have been tied, is dead. Alex Hutchinson, creative lead on Assassin’s Creed III, told Polygon in September of last year that Desmond “needs to end,” and it would seem as though that has happened. End spoilers.

This game is similar to Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation in that you’ll be playing as a full-time employee of Abstergo, not Desmond, exploring the life of Edward via the Animus. Whether that means the employee of Abstergo is actually descended from Edward – and thus, related to Desmond – or whether Abstergo has merely appropriated the memory sequences – which is apparently a thing, because science! – remains to be seen.

So the game is titled as though it occurs later in the Assassin’s Creed universe, but the memories take place before the most-recent game, and the actual protagonist of the series is gone. Yeah, that’s not confusing.

A pirate’s life for me

Life on the open seas will be an open world, where you can transition from land to ship, ship to enemy ship, ship to underwater, and back and forth as you please. Game director Ashraf Ismail wants players to constantly be experiencing new content, seeing new things, exploring new areas.

“...this one world, the Caribbean sea, is filled with stuff to do, there’s lot to do in it,” Ismail is quoted saying in a Destructoid report. “Exploration is really important for us. We’re creating a world that has many locations, and we needed to make sure that players were motivated to explore this world, that there’s always new content to find. There’s always something new on the horizon.”

There will be three cities this time – Havana, Cuba, Nassau, The Bahamas, and Kingston, Jamaica – along with more than 50 other unique locations and islands, plus the open sea between them, which is also explorable.

In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you could dive just below the surface of the water, but in Black Flag, you’ll be able to go all the way to the ocean floor. Whether or not you can dive deep just anywhere, willy-nilly, is another element yet to be seen.

The ocean will be full of its own challenges and scenery. The frontier in Assassin’s Creed III often felt too open and empty, but Black Flag looks to take a page from the Far Cry 3 playbook by inserting movement, life, and action wherever it can. You can even harpoon whales, which, as far as I know, is a first for video games. Progress!

Nature won’t be your only opponent on the high seas, though, as you’ll occasionally run into enemy vessels to do battle with. Again from Destructoid: “Edward will be able to use a spy glass to get information on ships from a distance, find out what type of ship he’s about to engage with, how difficult it will be, and what kind of loot it carries. Ships aren’t just like ground enemies, as they will come in different flavors and scale in difficulty which actually affects player progression.”

Ships are also being used as a means of deterrent; instead of bumping up against the Animus’ shiny magic walls to indicate an area is off-limits, tougher ships will block yours, the Jackdaw.

Hopefully this means the side-missions are a more integrated part of the game, instead of being almost entirely optional, as they were in AC3.

Pirates < assassins

Although Black Flag will be pirate-themed, and feature plenty of pirate iconography, this is still an Assassin’s Creed game, and that means assassinations. Or, at least it does in theory. Recent entries have become more and more linear, which is a stark contrast from the genesis of Assassin’s Creed.

That game simply gave you a target and sent you on your way to carry the contract out as you saw fit, and it seems as though Black Flag will be returning to its freestyle roots. “We know that in AC3 there was a lot more handholding done, and we do want to go back to an older philosophy where we just present you with a simple objective and we let you choose the game play you want,” Ismail said, as reported by Joystiq.

As for the assassinations themselves, Ismail said that Black Flag will have more contracts than the original Assassin’s Creed. Who you’ll be targeting and why, however, are still a mystery.

There are concerns, however. Stephen Totilo, EiC of Kotaku, gave his thoughts in a post titled “Be Excited About Assassin’s Creed IV. And Be Skeptical.” He also spoke with Black Flag producer Sylvain Trottier and art director Raphael Lacoste about the context-sensitive stealth in AC3 and asked what players could expect this time around. The response was non-committal, and doesn’t inspire confidence:

“I don’t know how much detail I can go, but we … push stealth opportunities into the design of the layouts,” Lacoste told him.

“We want to make sure it’s there. If you look at all the images, plantations are super-good places for stealth. Jungles are super-good places for stealth. Cities are good,” Trottier said. “There are lots of spots where you can do good stealth, and we’re making sure that, for the users that like this kind of play style, they can [do it].”

“They promise me they are aware of the concerns about this stealth stuff. But without seeing a stealth sequence in action or, better yet, controlling it, the jury’s out and the series hasn’t earned the benefit of this doubt,” Totilo wrote.

Rated ARR

So what’s the takeaway? A new Assassin’s Creed is coming, and it may be on damage control. By becoming an annual franchise, gamers are going to compare each Assassin’s Creed game more and more to the title that came before, and AC3, while not a terrible game, certainly had its weaknesses.

Black Flag has been in development since 2011. It’s being penned by the writer of Revelations, and developed by a team that’s (mostly) separate from the team which produced Assassin’s Creed III. Expect something different, but familiar.

Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.