With the official announcement of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag… well… official, TGL can finally lift the lid on what we saw last week. While at first glimpse, Black Flag might appear to share more than enough in common with previous outings, Assassin’s Creed III mainly, there’s a promising, and rather surprising amount of change in the air thanks to a total of six, yes six, Ubisoft studios at the development wheel. The premise behind the development, so we’re told, is based around four primary pillars; Explore, plunder, upgrade and defeat.
Set in the West Indies in 1715, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will be spread across 50 unique and explorable locations. According to creative director Jean Guesdon, the world will be “as seamless as possible”. Simply put, it means you can sail from Havana to say Kingston for example, and experience minimal loading – if any at all. This of course comes coupled with the ability to target enemy ships, scuttle or even board them, loot the remains then return to your objective – all on the fly. Speaking to TGL last week, Guesdon said the team is aiming to create “one unified world”, a world where Ubisoft will attempt to “redefine the conception of piracy”.
As far as characters go, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag sees gamers take on the role of Edward Kenway, grandfather of Assassin’s Creed 3′s protagonist Connor. A pirate by trade, Edward sees himself fall into the ongoing battle between the assassins and the Templars. Detailed by the team, we were told Kenway is brash, selfish, rebellious and reckless in his endeavours. Beyond Kenway, there’s a string of ruthless and notorious characters you’ll meet on the way including the fearless Blackbeard, Ben Hornigold, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack and Charles Vane. In what capacity they’ll appear, or on what level you’ll engage with them, is currently unknown.
Exploration in the Assassin’s Creed world is vital to the player feeling as though they are part of the world, and from what we’ve seen, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag aims to push the boundries beyond anything previously seen in the franchise. At the start of the game, after the initial establishement of the story, we’re told players will then have the freedom to come and go as they please. Akin to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the ocean will be explorable, and open to the movements of the player. It won’t all be clear sailing though, as TGL were told of sudden storms and other “natural” elements that are thrown into the mix to spice things up. Truth be told, Assassin’s Creed III’s naval battles were the saving grace of the game, and clearly Ubisoft are building on the interest as sailing isn’t simply restricted to missions — it’s now part of the exploration concept – one that sees a wealth of things to do. Aside from boarding other ships, you’re now encouraged to explore fishing villages, engage in side-missions, hunt for food, recruit other pirates to man the ship, cast anchor and dive for treasure as well as the relatively expected upgrading and repair work needed for your ship, the Jackdaw. Ubisoft have called it the most “varied world we’ve created”, and it’s not far off that by any means. There’s certainly a greater variety of locations present now, locations that simply couldn’t have existed in previous outings. New locations, we’re told, include Mayan ruins, which offer up hidden treasure, hidden caves which will provide gamers will a loot reward, coconut island will see players being able to recruit new crew members and jungles which will challenge you as Ubisoft points out: “Edward is master of the ocea, not the jungle.”
Black Flag appears to be built on the idea of freedom: freedom to tackle objectives in a way that you, as the gamer, want to. One such example handed down by Ubisoft was detailed as “unified and seamless.” Drifting through the ocean, players can now scout potential enemy ships with a spyglass. By doing so, you can expect to get an idea of the loot present in the bowels of the hull. Acting with aggression could see you disable the means of escape for your enemy. As the enemy’s mast crashes to the seabed, and as the two ships sit there, players can instruct their crew to invade the opposing vessel. Hooks and ropes fired, the ships lurch closer together. As the moment of engagement nears, there’s suddenly a new proposition granted to you: how will you attack the vessel? Ubisoft told us players can simply leap from one to another, find the captain and eliminate him. There’s also other options available such as leaping to the water, swimming under, then attacking the enemy from the rear, as well as travelling from mast to mast. With all of these variables in the air, it should be interesting to see what players actually pull off when the game hits stores later this year.
If you’re worried about the latest installment negating lessons learned from previous Assassin’s Creed titles, then you shouldn’t be. As Guesdon points out, the game will “fully respect” previous games with Assassin’s Creed 1′s “open-ended assassinations” being very influential during development, as well as Assassin’s Creed II’s “challenge philosophy”, coupled with the level of customisations to be carried forward in some capacity. Some of the core pillars from Brotherhood, the example told was the strategy behind attacking and liberating the Borgia Towers, will be present in Black Flag, as well as the “stunning beauty” found in Revelations acting as inspiration for the team. Finally, Guesdon added it’s important for players to feel as though they are, or have been, “part of history” – something Assassin’s Creed III aimed to instill in players.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s development started in 2011, and while the yearly installment of the franchise might be a little off-putting for some, the sheer scale of the ideas, and the ambition from the teams at Ubisoft must be applauded really before any kind of rejection can occur. As the year pans out, gameplay will emerge and details will roll, but from what we’ve seen so far, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag looks to be a fine way to end this generation of consoles.