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Assassin’s Creed IV: Sailing the High Seas

After examining Assassin’s Creed I, ACII, Brotherhood, Revelations, and ACIII, we’re finally ready to look at glorious IV.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is one of the most beloved games in the AS franchise. Praised for its ship-to-ship combat, and the newest protagonist in the franchise, Edward Kenway, people still play and talk about it. Though it maintains the story and many of the mechanics of the franchise, due to its heavy focus on piracy, the game is widely considered to not actually be an Assassin’s Creed game.

While it’s true that the game doesn’t have a central focus on assassinating targets, to me that has thus far not been a defining feature of the series anyway. Despite being the in the title, assassinating targets has always felt like a secondary mode of the games, with the only exception being the first one.

Maybe my idea of what an assassination game is supposed to be is colored by experience with series like Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon or Hitman, involving stealth kills. In Assassin’s Creed the only time stealth seems to be required is when eavesdropping on conversations.

What does all that mean for IV?

Well, it means that, from my experience, it’s still very much an Assassin’s Creed game but with more fluid controls and a ship fighting mini-game. Mini-game may not be the right term, but there were only a few times where I absolutely had to do something in the ocean. Most of the time, it was just used to travel from one objective to the next with minor diversions here and there, but it definitely breathes new life into going collectible hunting for character upgrades.

I think my favorite parts were the whale hunting and the deep sea treasure hunting. I never thought that living out a Captain Ahab fantasy was something I needed in my games but, then again, in my developing years, I never thought anything more complex than Fallout 2 would ever be a thing, so I’m pretty accustomed to being wrong.

The deep sea diving with the bells was probably more challenging for me than any other part of the game. Timing in ship battles is tricky, but compared to Edward, they are indestructible tanks.  Timing when to go for air, how to dodge sharks, and when to grab loot is like an elegant dance with death. That’s not to say it was difficult (difficulty isn’t really a term the series is familiar with), but it exercised a different set of skills that added to the complexity of the game.

Edward himself is a seemingly uncomplicated character. You get insight to how he became a pirate as the story unfolds, and if it hasn’t already become obvious, he’s the grandfather of Connor from Assassin’s Creed III, but it mostly just boils down to a man who wants to get rich on the open sea so he can provide for his wife and earn the respect of his father-in-law.

He becomes part of a pirate crew that gets into a battle with an Assassin’s ship and both ships sink. He and the Assassin are the only survivors, and for some reason, he has to kill the Assassin. This part of the story makes no sense but it allows Edward to take on the identity of the Assassin long enough to find out he was a deserter who was signing up with the Templars to, as usual, try to take over the world. Edward sees the war between the two and still doesn’t really care about it until pretty close to the end of the game, and then he retires anyway.

I guess that’s their way of explaining how his son becomes a Templar? It’s not clear. Ubisoft can’t tell a story with consistency.

Being outside the Animus is the worst it’s ever been.

You play through first-person view and you’re a guy who works in an office, sitting in a cubicle, playing through the memories on a computer. Glorious. I am already a nameless, faceless desk jockey for a big company in real-life. I don’t need to be one in a video game, too. Now I understand why people proclaim that what makes Origins and Odyssey better is that you don’t spend time much time outside the Animus.

The story is that you’re a character who has just been hired to go through the memories of Desmond’s ancestors to compile a video game for Abstergo, meanwhile giving them information as to the locations of more precursor artifacts. You see Shaun and Rebecca briefly, but who cares? Shaun is pretending to be a barista and Rebecca is just there so it’s a waste of time.

You also run around looking at other peoples’ computers and scanning QR codes so you can get more lore information. The lore is always cool to see, and at least the puzzle solving is fun, but the setting is just trash. The lesson here, kids, is spend as little time doing what is required outside the Animus so  you can get back into the game and live out your pirate fantasies.

How does this installment rate compared to other Assassin’s Creed titles?  Honestly, if there were no parts outside the Animus, I would rank it pretty high. Being set in the Colonies and running around as a pirate is great fun. The interactions between Kenway and his pirate buddies are pretty solid. The game feels good to play and it’s not instanced like III was. It took everything good from that title and got rid of what didn’t work (except for shanties), and gave us a much more likeable main character.

I don’t agree that it is not an Assassin’s Creed game. I think it very much is. It is one that has been polished very well, with new elements that were much needed to make it feel fresh. However, I know that I am in the minority when I say that it’s an Assassin’s Creed game so go crazy in the comments, and thanks as always for reading this and all the other articles that are posted daily here on EG!

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  1. This is my favorite Assassins Creed game by far, and I’ve played all of them but odyssey.
    Edward is just such a compelling character for me. He’s charismatic, funny, and interesting. Later I found out that he was voice acted by my favorite actor Matt Ryan. I guess he’s my favorite actor for a reason. He also played Constantine which I will recommend anybody watch.

    The gameplay in this game was amazing too. The ship battles are extremely fun and the combat makes you feel like a badass. Though it’s not very challenging.

    It’s also a beautiful game, especially for the hardware it was working on. Probably one of the most beautiful in the series.

    • James Vasquez on April 17, 2019 at 5:55 pm said

      Constantine was a show that was cancelled way too soon. I know the CW did a cartoon thing and folded him into the Arrowverse, but the show was just so good.

      • It’s an absolute shame that they cancelled it considering that he was perfect for the role. His CW appearances were lacklustre.

  2. Enthasius on April 17, 2019 at 5:39 pm said

    This really was a return to form post AC II. Sequels are a tricky thing where nobody seems to have a full, correct opinion on how much to change and how much to keep the same, so the fact this game largely plays like 3 and increases the quantity and polish of the ship combat there really was a rare perfect balance.

    I still have fond memories of the challenge ships as well. I even recorded my successful attempts against them for YouTube and they’re the only videos that really got any views since they’re pretty damn memorable. A certain charge happy ship that can literally lift itself from the water and turn on the spot is truly terrifying when most ships follow a slow drawn turn.

  3. I’ve heard that this was a pretty good game in terms of living out the pirate fantasy and I even have it as part of the PS+ collection, but I never got around to play it.

    • James Vasquez on April 18, 2019 at 6:09 pm said

      It’s great if you want to be a pirate in the AC universe. You still get the lore and story building, plus you get to pillage warehouses, take down other ships, and build a naval fleet.

  4. Agon the Conqueror on April 17, 2019 at 8:59 pm said

    Loved this game, but hated the sword combat. One of the things that drew me to AC in the first place was the more realistic combat, but in this game you have to slice an enemy 6 or 7 times before they die and if your combo is interrupted you have to slice them 6 or 7 times again!
    Minor gripe in an otherwise awesome game.

    Looooowlaaands! Loooowlaaands away!

    • James Vasquez on April 18, 2019 at 6:10 pm said

      The swordplay was a little weaker in this one. Adding some sort of fencing element I think would have been interesting.

  5. Jew Goldstein on April 18, 2019 at 6:47 pm said

    I’ve played and beat 4 so many times. Being a pirate is my favorite thing ever.

    Wish we could get a sequel.

  6. It’s kind of odd but Black Flag is somehow more unoptimized on PC than even Unity. I can max out Unity at 4k60 no problem with a 2080ti but Black Flag…not even close.

    The opening area of the game runs at about 30fps with dips into the 20s on a 2080ti! If you disable the Nvidia based effects it will run better but it also loses a significant amount of visual quality.

    It’s a shame they never bothered to really optimize it because it would still be great looking, especially at 4k but the frame rate issues are brutal. Gameworks… Destroyer of performance, even on Nvidia hardware. Sigh…

    • Enthasius on April 19, 2019 at 3:06 pm said

      Hm, might have been one of those odd foibles where certain architecture would respond better than others, because my toaster at the time seemed to run it just fine but I literally couldn’t play Unity on any settings and get a stable framerate. Only after I got a new pc some time later and been incrementally upgrading it since so I’ve generally been able to almost max each game at 1440p.

    • James Vasquez on April 19, 2019 at 3:24 pm said

      That’s a surprising shame. Never had the pleasure of playing on a 2080ti myself, but if a top-of-the-line card has trouble running a five year old game, that doesn’t really inspire confidence in getting a remaster for Black Flag.

  7. The game is fun but for me it’s not really an AC game because Edward is not an assasin for most of the game and doesn’t believe in the creed. I really miss Ezio and Altair they made me feel like an angel of vengeance, a force of nature delivering righteous wise judgement on self righteous tyrants leaving death and freedom in my wake. Apart from maybe the Frye twins none of the other protagonists have really felt like that

  8. Jonas Tingmose on May 7, 2019 at 9:39 pm said

    I was so sad when the game ended. Throughout the game I realized I actually just wanted to play Sid Meier’s Pirates, but in the AC IV world 😀 I wanted to just keep sailing and sending my fleets out, take over towns, get better loot, find and acquire more legendary ships. I could go on forever with that.

  9. Deathbetold on May 15, 2019 at 1:31 pm said

    The best pirate game I have ever played and one of the better ac games. Saddest thing about this is that they never capitalized on it and created a stand alone spin off.

  10. Tad McReeves on May 20, 2019 at 1:57 pm said

    An excellent addition to the series with a nice change up to the the formula. Voice acting, music and environment all top notch with some great emotional tugs like the Mary Read story line, Blackbeard and that ending with Ann Bonny singing “The Parting Glass”! Yikes!

    At the time I accepted the modern day element. Desmond was dead so happy to take a breather as such before it develops further with a new protagonist or setting. At least Shaun and Rebecca were still there (briefly) so the story was rumbling on somewhere. By the time we get to Unity though my disappointment had taken full control.

    Sailing the high seas was an excellent addition, building from the closed off sailing missions from AC3. I’m no PETA nut but the whaling did make me wince a bit. (no problem savagely ripping apart a human with swords though!) I’m sure there were calls to get it removed at the time which is obviously nonsense given the setting of the game.

    It was interesting to see different Isu tech other than the Apples. The Observatory was well conceived and fitted the Templar’s goals of control pretty well.

    Did anybody else bother with the Companion App? Are they still a thing? I don’t think it was much but I did enjoy sitting at work managing the ship missions so I had a nice bit of coin waiting for me when I got home.

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