Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Preview

“There was a time when I thought myself the scourge of all these seas.”

If Captain Blackbeard, one of the most infamous pirates the world has ever seen, measures himself against you and considers himself less of a scourge, you’ve got a serious attitude problem. Of course, Edward Kenway has an excuse: He’s the latest hero in a centuries-old war between two factions. (I’m sure you Assassins know their names.) Ubisoft has released the sails on Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, and we were there for a first look.

Still, the French publisher has a lot to prove in their next AC game. To say that Assassin’s Creed III was polarizing would be putting it lightly, but Ubisoft Montreal and the stable of support staff in Ubisoft’s studios around the world have smartly identified the best elements of each game in the series, all to drive this sequel forward yet again.

In that sense, they’ve gone back to the well to build and improve upon the naval warfare mechanics introduced in ACIII. Lining up a shot, firing, inching closer and closer to high-seas dominance, these mechanics quickly captivated players despite the detachment it suffered from the rest of the experience. To that end, Ubisoft promises that Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag won’t require players to watch a loading screen or extended cinematic, just to depart their vessel and walk on dry land.

In fact, Black Flag allows players to peer through their spyglass, pick a point on the horizon, and immediately set sail for adventure. [Assassin’s Creed: Wind Waker? ~Ed. Nick] Along the way, players can drop anchor and dive overboard, get swept up in a vicious high-seas storm, or attack and board merchant ships. Piracy and the culture of brigands and thieves play perfectly to the core strengths of Assassin’s Creed: melee combat and traversal gameplay.

Ashraf Ismail, Game Director on Black Flag explained this during a presentation at Ubisoft’s offices in February: “We wanted to set Black Flag in a world that motivated players to explore and feel like they were always seeing new content.” To that end, the massive world map includes Cuba, Nassau, and Kingston, with over 50 unique locations spread across the map. Fishing villages, plantations, hidden coves, jungles, forts, Mayan ruins, and the picturesque coconut islands that dot the landscape all offer new opportunities to interact with history.

And what a history Ubisoft has chosen to draw from. Larger-than-life characters like Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Charles Vane, Ben Hornigold, and Anne Bonny will cross paths with Edward as he struggles to reconcile his own ideals and those of the Assassin order. Ismail explained that “the real Blackbeard, Edward Thatch, didn’t want to murder people, so he created a flag and a persona of fear so that the fear would overcome any need for violence.” Blackbeard is one of the player’s close friends in ACIV Black Flag, but fans of the series might also recognize Edward’s name more than the other pirates on hand.

Edward Kenway is in fact Haytham Kenway’s father and Connor’s grandfather. Ubisoft says we’ll discover how Edward and the Kenway family are inducted into the conflict between the Templars and Assassins, but wouldn’t offer up many more details on the way the family toes the line between each side. What’s more, Black Flag will answer questions many of us were left with at the end of Desmond’s story in ACIII.

Players will again cross paths with Abstergo, but this time their subsidiary, Abstergo Entertainment, is the target. Desmond won’t return, and in fact, players will simply play as themselves and discover the conflict anew. The Templars hope to discover some ancient event in Edward Kenway’s history and thanks to upgrades to the Animus hardware, they don’t need a member of the Miles family to do the work.

Outside of the single-player campaign, Ubisoft Annecy’s kill-or-be-killed multiplayer will return with new characters, new maps, new modes, and a whole lot of pirate culture. Black Flag won’t allow for multiplayer naval warfare, but Ubisoft’s world seems to provide for plenty of adventuring on the high seas. Coming off of development of Far Cry 3, Ubisoft Montreal is poised to further the “toy-world” that started to open in Assassin’s Creed III.

“We’re building a lot of systems with simple sets of rules,” Ismail said. “But those systems also mix together in-game. You can see the storm ahead of you, and you can see the enemy, but pull that tough enemy into the storm and watch the enemy react to the rough waters.”

Ubisoft says that roughly 60% of the campaign has players exploring the islands and cities while the remaining 40% allows for naval progression and ever-increasing resistance from other pirates and military vehicles. Still, those simple systems mix together on the high seas, and setting a waypoint will be a lot easier than getting to it. Players will have to navigate aggressively and rely on their crew to board valuable mercantile vessels.

“You can approach an enemy ship from any direction and once you’ve got your grappling hooks on your target, it’s your choice how to act,” Ismail said. “You can rely on your crew to board and use free aim to shoot at targets on the other ship, you can climb the mast and air assassinate a target on the other ship, you can swing over and fight everyone, or you can jump over the side and climb up the enemy’s hull to sneak up on your target.”

With the spoils you’ll find on enemy ships, you can upgrade your ship and crew whether that means adding offensive capabilities or reinforcing your hull against incoming damage. It’s your choice, but Ismail stressed that this progression is key to exploring the entire map. “Different ship types will try different tactics. We tell the player ‘you can see it, sure you can go there,’ but if you’re not properly equipped, you won’t reach the area you’re trying to get to.”

With a seamless wide-open world, deeper, more engaging naval gameplay, and a colorful history to draw from, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag hopes to discover gold once more for Ubisoft. The sequel is planned for consoles and PC later this Fall. We’ll bring you more as it develops.