Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag: Review Far Cry Creed Ubisoft Montreal | Playstation 3 | October 29, 2013 When a franchise is annualized, developers need to update the formula to incentivize players return. This is a difficult balancing act and can cause problems during first impressions. Change too much and they will be criticized for altering what people love, but rehash familiar ground and fans will cry out that this was a $60 DLC pack. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is able to enhance upon the gameplay elements and empowerment players feel during combat and exploration, but falters during story elements. Players control Edward Kenway, grandfather of the protagonist from ACIII (but that doesn’t really matter). He is a down on his luck pirate, who through sheer confidence dons the robes of an assassin. He, and players, are thrown into the world of Templars, Assassins and magical devices with little warning. The game anticipates players to understand the basics of AC lore. Gameplay is taught through gradually introduction of mechanics. Newcomers will never feel overwhelmed when being presented with a fresh weapon or skill and veterans will slip right in with ease. Edward is a skilled fighter, able to attack, parry and dodge multiple assailants at once. He is a master of parkour able to impossibly scale buildings and leap through trees. And Edward is a feared pirate on the seas; this is where Black Flag separates itself from previous entries with ship-to-ship combat. What is a Critical Hit! The Caribbean world of Black Flag is vibrant and contains a plethora of tasks to complete. Borrowing heavily from Far Cry III, players can claim territory from enemies, hunt wildlife and explore a large open world. Each task is different from the last and rewards players with gold, resources or new equipment. Hunting will yield vital resources to craft additional gun holsters or armor pieces. Diving through caverns will provide hidden treasure. Decoding maps and uncovering loot is necessary to discover the ship’s most impressive upgrades. No action goes unrewarded. Ship battles were introduced in ACIII, but are fully fleshed out in Black Flag. The Jackdraw starts off with a few broadside cannons and a small crew. Through exploration and successful conquests, the ship will becomes an unstoppable war machine with mortars, fire barrels and more artillery than a fortress (which is good because you will be fighting fortresses). The ship can be grounded by random islands or maneuver like a bus at times, but when the battles and traveling work perfectly it is a welcomed diversion from the land segments. The sections on foot are still enjoyable and the bread and butter of an AC game. Players can utilize long distance tactics, stealth elements or turn the entire foray into an action-adventure game. Each is a viable option, in most circumstances. Edward is never presented with a challenge which he, and the player, can’t overcome but it is possible to get in over your head during combat. Failure is the player’s fault for not executing a plan properly and not the game’s. Black Flag is at its best during the open ended exploration side quests but story missions force a specific series of tasks to be completed. What is Not Very Effective… If you dislike stealth missions, which require the player to follow rivals without being spotted, then you will hate ship-stealth missions. The ship is not the most maneuverable, and finding the ideal distance to travel away from enemies is trial and error. If you fail one of these sections, which sometimes require plotting an ideal course through a fleet of enemies, the checkpoints aren’t forgiving. Edward Kenway is not a likeable character. He is either insulting his friends, picking fights with strangers or talking about how much he loves gold. There is no character arc or redeeming qualities to Edward. He is merely a conduit to go through the motions of the more enjoyable gameplay. The modern day segments suffer from a strong focal character. Players control an Abstergo employee through first person sequences who is working on a game about Edward Kenway’s life. There are references to previous AC games and parallels to Ubisoft Montreal. It is supposed to be tongue and cheek or a meta-narrative but comes across as empty. Status Summary Black Flag improves the gameplay of reliving the life of an assassin through a robust open world, myriad of sidequests, equipment customization and open approach to completing tasks. The sidequests and exploration are where the game truly shines. The modern day segments and character progression suffer from a lack of substance, but this is forgivable because you will enjoy Black Flag for its gameplay. If you prefer games to be gruelingly difficult or contain a likeable cast then this is one ship you won’t need to board. If you enjoy experiences where the protagonist is capable and has access to a series of optional quests than this oath is worth listening to. Score: 8.0 /10 + Options During Missions + Vast Open World + Upgrade System – Throwaway Characters – Present Day Setting Trophy Analysis There is a metric ton of activities to complete in Black Flag; fortunately the trophy list doesn’t ask you to do all of them. There are various fetch quests, collectables and assassinations that you need to complete, but you’ll want to do most of these. There is a trophy for 100% sync, which means finishing each section with the optional objectives. This is manageable, but you will be replaying some missions. To earn the platinum, you will have to play multiplayer…and lots of it. The game doesn’t ask for you to try it, but commits the trophy sin of forcing players to conduct hours of multiplayer sessions. Ironically, the fastest way to level up in MP is by playing a session alone… Level Up, Friends!