Upon first getting control of our new swashbuckling protaginst, Edward Kenway, I found myself at the helm of his fearsome ship, The Jackdaw. Faced with the choice of directions to a story mission or the call of the open sea, there was really only one choice to be made.
Sailing around aimlessly in The Jackdaw is a truly liberating experience, as the beautiful waves hit your ship you never know what will happen next.
As I sailed around the open sea I saw a few small sail boats over the horizon. Raising my sails to their full glory, I charge along side them and let loose with a barrage of cannon fire. Splinters of wood fly everywhere as I smugly realize that I am making short work of these (almost) intimidating vessels. Sailing past the wreckage, I happily proceed to pinch their floating cargo, but unluckily for me, my not so noble activities managed to attract the attention of some rather large English ships. Before I know it, cannon fire streams toward me from both sides, a fellow crew member shouts a warning to brace but its too late – my trusty Jackdaw has already taken the full brunt of the attack. I hastily turn the wheel 180 degrees, drop some explosive barrels behind me and pelt the nearest ship and surrounding barrels with cannon fire. I glance behind me just in time to see the battered ship slowly sink to the depths of the ocean.
As the smoke from the explosion gives way to the pursuing fleet, I hurriedly raise my sails and set off at full speed into the horizon.
The sheer unpredictability of Black Flag’s world, and the freedom to traverse it at your own leisure instills a rare and powerful sense of freedom that not many open world games seem to manage to achieve. Sailing to different islands will trigger different story events, and you can do so in whatever order you fancy, but what makes it truly special is how seamless it all is. See a cool looking town while sailing? Then you can dock or jump off your ship (or if you’re me,crash the ship into the shore and dive off the mast) and head straight onto the island – completely loading free.
When I land on an island full of boozed up pirates I overhear a conversation about an English agent who runs a local plantation. After sneaking over to him, in typical Assassin’s Creed style I have to eavesdrop on his conversation without being detected, and after gaining the information I need, I then hopped back into The Jackdaw to follow his ship to the plantation and kill a whole a whole lot of English soldiers. This mission has a string of consequences and subsequent missions, but you can choose to do these or not to do these as you please. The eavesdrop and assassination missions may be old hat, but contrasting with the naval missions and fort battles they look to fit pretty nicely into black Flag’s overall collection of diverse gameplay types.
Upon my way to the next mission I discovered another new feature – fort raiding. Perched upon a huge cliff face I found a fort with some rather mean looking cannons sticking out of it. In order to raid the fort, you must first take down its defences by finding its weak points. Avoiding the mortar esque cannons and the barrage of regular cannon fire coming from the fort is a blast (sorry), and seeing your perfectly placed hit tear down one of its walls is hugely satisfying. Once the cannon’s are gone you can climb over the walls and engage in some pretty large scale skirmishes with the fort’s troops. You can even take some of them prisoner and add them to your crew, or you can slaughter them all and save them the scurvy.
The AC team seem to have taken on board a lot of the criticisms from AC:III, and promise to let you dive into the action straight from the start – no six hour alternate character tutorial to be found here. The user feedback doesn’t just end there though, on the PS4 build I was playing, you were given the chance to rate each mission upon completion, giving it a star rating out of 5 that would be sent to Ubisoft. This kind of instant feedback and communication with players could herald some very interesting changes for future games, and it will be great to see if Ubisoft have anything else like this in store for future titles.
Speaking of the PS4, the textures, water effects and lighting on show here are noticeable nicer than the current gen versions. What I played was pop-in free and ran at a silky-smooth framerate. Visually it wasn’t exactly a generational leap, but this build was up there with a mid tier PC title, and looking pretty good for a launch title.
The customization of weapons and gadgets also extends to your ship, and you can pimp out The Jackdaw at any time, with various weapons and enhancements that you have stolen from other ships. You can upgrade everything fr0m how much storage space The Jackdaw has, to improving it’s hull armor or to adding viscous player controlled chase cannons which tear up enemy ships. The customisation and the ability to recruit crew members of your choice adds a personal touch to the seafaring, and also constantly encourages you to explore in the hope that you may find some game changing updates for your trusty ship.
The seamless transition between land and sea really makes you feel as though you are actually exploring the world, and also means you can break up traditional stealth sections, side missions and sea battles as you see fit. This doesn’t just apply to certain parts of the game however.’You can start from the top left corner [of the map] to the bottom right corner without any loading’. promises Producer Micheal during my playthrough, meaning that AC:IV is shaping up to not only be the most ambitious Creed yet, but one of the most ambitious open world games to date.
If I could use only one word to sum up my time with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, it would be freedom. Sailing the open seas without limit is a unique experience, and the freedom of being to travel anywhere with virtually no loading really is revolutionary. Assassin’s Creed IV is looking like its going to be something very special indeed.