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Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Pirates fascinated people for centuries. The cry for freedom was a huge deal for pirates. They wanted to live their life like they wanted to. No rules, no rulers, no boundaries. The life of a pirate is all about money, rum and women. It’s a hard but beautiful life to lead. Ubisoft offers you the opportunity to become a mighty pirate in Assassin’s Creed IV. Will this be the treasure you’ve been looking for or will it be a true curse? Let’s find out!

Assassin’s Creed IV is the first game in the franchise that doesn’t feature a loyal assassin as protagonist. Instead you’ll play as privateer and free man Edward Kenway (great grand-father of Conner in Assassin’s Creed III). Kenway is a reckless and  arrogant man who only acts because of his selfish desires. Everything he does, he does for money. Even killing an assassin and stealing his outfit is part of that. Edward came in touch with the Templars and Assassin because he’s sure he’ll find a valuable treasure at the end of the ride. Needless to say, interfering with both Templars and Assassins comes with a price…

At first you won’t have a lot of connections to the Assassins and their creed. That’s a huge change compared to other games in the franchise. No longer will you need to watch a long prologue. Black Flag starts of fast and is way more action packed than previous beginnings. Edward is a brutal character who lacks the charisma of his precursors and therefore is harder to connect with. This is something you’ll notice a lot during your stay in the world of Black Flag. The assassin and story aren’t as important as before, this is a pirate game in the first place and it’s a damn good one!

Aside from the typical Assassin’s Creed gameplay you can see this game as a new IP for Ubisoft. The pirate theme is worked out to the bone and brings historical correct facts on a fun and adventurous way. You’ll really live the life of a pirate and you’ll enjoy every second of it. Pirates are associated with freedom, an open world comes as a natural answer to this freedom.

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For the first time in the franchise you’ll be able to go on an adventure in a true open world sandbox. The map of the game is huge and even bigger than the map of Grand Theft Auto 5. Ubisoft has put a lot of effort in creating a breathtaking and thrilling world and they succeeded.

There’s a total of fifty unique locations that can be discovered. Each location offers its own kind of reward. Treasure, rare animals or specific missions, you can find it all on those locations. Every location is found somewhere in the big sea and awaits your arrival whenever you feel like scouting the environment.

Aside from those fifty (smaller) locations, the game features three big cities (Havana, Kingston and Nassau). Each location has its own and unique atmosphere and buildings. You’ll find the more traditional Assassin’s Creed gameplay in those cities. You can go wild on rooftops, follow important characters, synchronize with your environment and many more things. Ubisoft included this classical gameplay so you’ll feel like you’re not just playing a pirate game but you’re still playing a new episode in a legendary saga.

This classic gameplay has been fine-tuned and plays very fluently. People who had troubles with the way Connor moved over treetops will be relieved that Edward is a very good runner with high skills. It’s good to see that the company made this gameplay as good as it could possibly get on this generation but what’s more important are the innovations. Let’s start with the biggest one, the Jackdaw.

Not long after you start your adventure, you’ll become captain of your very own ship, the Jackdaw. The first thing you’ll do with your ship is of course discover the new open world but there’s a lot more that can be done with your ship. You’ll spend a lot of time on the sea in this game, the Jackdaw therefore is kind of a protagonist as well. You can upgrade and decorate the ship as you please and that results in a true connection. The Jackdaw isn’t a random generated ship, it’s your ship and your baby… You’re proud of being its captain.

 

Pirates really know how to live the good life!

 

Because you’ll spend a lot of time on sea, Ubisoft made sure you’ll never get bored. As said before, you can discover a lot of islands if you like but there’s a lot more to do. Sea battles with other ships are definitely one of the most epic things to do on sea. You’ll have to bomb other ships with everything you got and get rewarded by entering the enemy ship and stealing their supplies. Those battles are worked out very well and form the heart of the sea gameplay. Sea battles were found in Assassin’s Creed III as well but they can’t be compared to those in Black Flag. They feel like a complete game and offer enough variation in difficulty.

But there’s a lot more that can be done on sea. You can hunt down rare sea creatures, dive into beautiful underwater locations or try to survive a fierce storm on open sea. The Jackdaw and sea offer something you haven’t seen before in an Assassin’s Creed game and sets the bar high for sequels in the future.

You’ll spend a lot of time on sea but of course not all of your time, you’ll also have a lot of ground gameplay. As said before, the game features three big cities that offer traditional gameplay, the rest of the world is far more tropical and wild. Black Flag will often ask you to go on missions in the jungle and other paradise-like locations without buildings. Those locations force you to use a more stealthy way of playing. Instead of rooftop, you’ll find cover in bushes and trees. This results in a more thrilling ride where you’ll have to use your skills very wisely. When it comes to combat however, Kenway isn’t quiet at all.

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Your skill-set looks similar to other assassins but is a little more brutal. Edward fights hard and doesn’t always play fair. Ubisoft made some small but great little improvements such as free aim or picking another weapon without pausing your game. This means you don’t interrupt the flow of fighting and that’s really a great improvement.

What isn’t that great of an improvement, is the new style of gameplay in the present day. You’ll no longer play as Desmond but as a new employee in Abstergo Industries. Your job is to create a family friendly pirate adventure, that’s the reason why you play as Edward but you’ll notice soon that creating a family friendly world isn’t your real task. By running around in first person and delivering messages you’ll discover that the Templars are after a big secret found in Edward Kenway’ world. Those sections in Abstrego Industries are important for the story but aren’t that fun to play. Those missions just feel boring compared to the thrilling world of pirates. It’s a shame those missions don’t offer more variation.

Aside from that little point of critic we can say for sure that the solo-adventures offers a lot. It’s a different approach for the franchise but it feels fresh and new. The combination of the pirate-like sea battles and Assassin’s Creed-like ground gameplay is a match made in heaven. It isn’t the best story in the franchise but it’s definitely the most enjoyable Assassin’s Creed game we got to play the last couple of years. The pirates really know how to live the good life!

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You’re not alone.

Assassin’s Creed isn’t really a franchise that needs a multiplayer but just like the last games, Black Flag has its own multiplayer mode. Instead of a lot of brutal action, the multiplayer requires more stealth and tricks to gain points.

The regular mode stayed the same like in previous games, you have to hunt down several players between AI driven characters. After a session, the hunter becomes the hunted. Keeping a low profile is key in surviving this kind of death matches. Previous Assassin’s Creed games already proved this multiplayer can be fun and thrilling to play. Black Flag offers that same experience but on different and beautiful (pirate) maps.

Just like in Assassin’s Creed III, the wolfpack game-mode makes its return as well. In this mode you can join some strangers or friends to form a group of assassins. The goal is to work together in a co-operative mode to complete several missions set in the same world as Edward Kenway’. The wolfpack offers new missions and enough variation on the ones you’ve played solo. Teaming up with friends to kill some enemies never gets old.

As far as it goes, the multiplayer stayed true to the known formula but brings one big innovation: the Game Lab. The Game Lab lets you use over 200 different elements to create your own game experience. Players can create several challenges on different maps the way they want to. This also means you’ll be able to configure the game to encourage stealth gameplay or not. Creating your own game-modes and seeing them getting more popular really is satisfying. The Game Lab offers a lot of possibilities for players to get creative and make Assassin’s Creed IV an even better place to stay in.

Ubisoft has put a lot of effort in the multiplayer and it wasn’t a waste. Although the franchise doesn’t need a multiplayer it sure is fun it’s included in the package. The different game-modes and Game Lab result in a lot of things to do. If you’re done with the solo adventure you’ll find yourself in the multiplayer mode for many hours to come.

Every Pirate needs a companion.

Last but not least, Ubisoft created a Companion App for Android and iOS that can be activated while playing. The (free) Companion App offers an interactive map of the world in the palm of your hand. The map features the same symbols that are used in the game and can be activated by family members as well. Other players can indicate a location on the Companion App while the player will see that location on the television screen. It’s a small but useful App that keeps you into the beautiful world of Black Flag without the need of a pause-screen.

Conclusion:

Assassin’s Creed IV is a very complete game and will offer you hours of fun. It’s without a doubt the perfect pirate game and probably one of the best pirate games ever made. It’s not an Assassin’s Creed game like you’re used to play but don’t let that scare you. Black Flag really deserves the hype and takes you on a thrilling ride. The open world, multiplayer and islands are all worth checking out. Black Flag is the game you need to play.

9/10

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.