Here we are again! Ubisoft continuing in one of their more popular franchises. There’s a fair bit to be said about Assassin’s Creed 4; some positive, some negative, and some questions towards the future of the franchise. Needless to say, there will be some spoilers in here, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.
Assassin’s Creed 4 brings us a new protagonist and a new setting. We are introduced to Edward Kenway: an ambitious sailor in a less than ideal situation, and the Caribbean islands and seas. Edward’s a poor man with a wife, and they don’t have much to live on. He’s frustrated, he’s tired of being poor, and, just to make sure it’s human, he’s also a drunk. In a moment of sobriety, he decides to take to the seas once more in hopes of earning enough to give his wife what she deserves. He intends to buy a small farm so they can live happy and content. Well, you know that Ubisoft would never make it that simple, would they? No, no, no, there needs to be some action! Some drama! And, of course, there needs to be a tie in to the Assassin versus Templar war.
We all know that Ubisoft has had some issues with the franchise in the past, mostly to do with the combat system. AC4 does not expressly improve on the system, opting to basically keep it the exact same as the last three games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the same system that we all know and are less than enthused about. Attack, attack, attack, counter, get smacked by a bigger enemy, break their defense, killing spree, get smacked by a peon, repeat. It’s still the same, but it’s not broken, so it’s best not to fix it. That seems to be the mentality that is being followed.
Targeting still seems to be an issue as well, as on more than one occasion I found myself targeting something that I specifically did not want to target. Aim to air assassinate my target, get the guard nearby, get desynchronized because your target saw you, try again a few times, and eventually succeed. Targeting has been an issue in past games, likely the entire series. However, at least in this game, it happened far less, so there is something to be said for improvement on the system. It’s happening, whether it’s at a pace that we want is up to debate, but each game put out gets a little bit better, and a little more polished.
In this latest installment, we have one new addition, and what appears to be an overhaul on two additions from Assassin’s Creed 3. In AC3, we were presented with the addition of hunting and skinning on land, and the unique new idea of naval combat. Unfortunately, in their forms at the time, they were poorly introduced. Ubisoft has taken these ideas and heavily refined them and presented a smooth, refined product.
Hunting is challenging and heavily integrated within the game. All upgrades for Edward Kenway are achieved through gathering skins and bones from hunting. Honestly, I think this was one of the things I was most excited about. The idea of being presented with another generic upgrade system where you pay a lump sum of gold at markers in the storyline has worn out its welcome in games, and I’m glad to see at least someone starting to push upgrades in another direction.
Naval combat was presented in a total of three separate ways, with an additional side activity. In Assassin’s Creed 3 we were given a very rough version of naval combat. Sink the ship, get rewards, and move on. With this revision, we are presented with something more refined and overall well thought out. The ship you acquire is pretty basic, and you are given a lot of options for upgrades to the ship. From cannons and hull strength, to mortars and a ram, there’s a lot of room for customization of your vessel, unless you’re a completionist, then there’s a lot of work ahead of you. So you get your ship, head out to sea, and have (what was for me) a lot of fun. Piloting the ship was honestly my favorite part of this game entirely. The ship actually feels like a ship and responds like a ship.
One truly unique option that could be considered an upgrade category is the sea shanties. Throughout the Caribbean there are various shanties located. You can get these by chasing pages… just like the journals from AC3. Yes, that wonderfully frustrating side activity is back, but this time, it’s quite well worth it. Shanties can, and will be sung while you’re out on the high seas while not in combat or in harsh weather.
Next up in naval related wonders is the replacement to your assassin’s bureau in previous games. You’re a pirate, pirates take over ships. What do you do with the ships? Why, you amass an empire to sail the seven seas and amass a purely ludicrous amount of money in a short period of time, that’s what! As you gain ships to your fleet, you can send them out on various routes to trade off various goods for money, and the chance to get a vanity collectible for your future manor. Initially, it’s a slow gain of money, but as you progress in the game you can take in ships that can carry more cargo, which in turn can be sent out on bigger reward missions. It’s a bit shallow and simplistic, but it’s better than nothing.
Once you’re under way to conquering the Caribbean seas and have progressed appropriately in the main storyline, you’ll gain the chance to purchase the Diving Bell, which will allow you to explore the handful of wreck sites scattered throughout the map. When you decide to take on one of these wrecks, you will have a chance to participate in what I felt was a timed stealth run for treasure. You have a limited air supply, which can be replenished through a limited supply of air barrels, and there are more than a couple things to avoid. Sharks, Jellyfish, Sea Urchins, and Eels await you in the briney deep. If you manage to avoid the dangers, then congratulations! You will be slightly richer, and likely also have a new shiny top end upgrade available to you. It seems that the most essential upgrades (cannon damage, ship hull strength), are only available through diving event. They are all greatly challenging and only worth it if you want your ship to be the best of the best.
Last, but certainly not least is the “whaling”, or sea hunting, if you will. In this, you have a small boat and an inventory of harpoons against sharks and whales. The harpoon strength, inventory, and “boat strength” are all upgradeable in an effort to give a sense of challenge against the various sea creatures. Right off the bat you’ll be able to take on Bull Sharks and Hammerhead sharks, but going up against a Great White Shark or Humpback whale is near impossible unless you upgrade.
All in all, this Assassin’s Creed game is a very good game. The storyline is pretty well thought out, the personality of Edward Kenway is fantastic, and written as such. The Naval combat is brilliant and such a welcome change of pace to what has been the norm for five plus games. In all honesty, the assassin element could have been removed, and what we would be left with is a really solid pirate game that shows a lot of promise. I would love to see more games with a focus on naval combat, but chances are we won’t see much of it in the future.