I’ll be the first one to admit that I rolled my eyes when I first heard about the sixth proper Assassin’s Creed game last spring. Let’s face it, Ubisoft has been cranking out new AC games year after year since 2007, and like the COD juggernaut it was starting to feel a bit stale. Not to mention the fact that AC 3 featured one of the most unlikable main characters to date in Connor Kenway, which also led to my blind dismissal of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.
When I saw that Edward, Connor’s Grandfather and Haytham’s Father, was going to be the main character, and a pirate to boot, I just couldn’t buy into the concept. This feeling was obviously heightened by the fact that AC 3’s protagonist was a zero, and lacked any compelling qualities, so it was doubtful that his Grandpa could be anymore engaging. The announcement of AC 4 felt like a cash grab by Ubisoft trying to squeeze every last penny out of its Assassin’s Creed fan base, so it dropped to the bottom of my 2013 “Games to Play List.”
Thanks to my initial dismissal of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, it didn’t make its way into my Xbox One until late December 2013. Upon first booting it up and meeting Edward I began to realize that my uninformed ignorance may have prevented me from playing one of the best games of 2013, and quite possibly the best Assassin’s Creed game to date. Everything from the cast to the open world focused on old school sailing enthralled me unlike any of the previous AC entries outside of the original, and that’s only because it was a brand new series and concept back in 2007.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is a gem of a game, and one that is hard to finish because you just don’t want it to end. Below you will find six reasons as to why AC 4 is the best Assassin’s Creed game to date, so hopefully if you were like me and dismissed this excellent video game in 2013, the cases made below will persuade you to give it a spin in 2014. You will not be disappointed AAARRRGGGHH!
1. Music and Sound
The Shanties that can be picked up all over the game world are also little musical gems that your pirate crew will sing during long voyages on the open sea. They may get annoying to some, but having a ship full of sailors break into a rendition of “Drunken Sailor” really helps to add to the illusion that you’re a pirate captain sailing the West Indie seas in search of loot and infamy. There were more than a few occasions where I found myself joining Kenway’s crew in song, and sometimes my arms would get pulled into the fray with fist pumps to really hammer home the fact that I was controlling one of the most infamous sailors of the 18th century.
2. Focus on Ship Gameplay
Ubisoft teased the concept of ocean based ship play in AC 3, but the developer nailed it in AC 4. Edward’s ship the Jackdaw is just as crucial to driving the plot of the game forward as Edward himself. Players can spend upwards of 40 hours or more trying to level up the Jackdaw through ship-to-ship battles and collectible missions, all while avoiding the main missions.
The process of weakening an enemy ship using mortars, cannons, and fire barrels brings a new level of authenticity to the game, and really did impart the feeling of being a pirate to the player. Controlling the Jackdaw is much improved over the ship play from AC 3, which also helped to make it so enjoyable. When you factor in your crew singing shanties and calling out battle cries during a skirmish with the tight and realistic ship control physics, the ship play of AC 4 is by far the best naval vehicle game out there, and another solid reason why AC 4 is the best Assassin’s Creed game to date.
3. Massive Open World
Each new Assassin’s Creed game’s world gets bigger and bigger, so it’s no surprise that AC 4 has the largest explorable map to date. The West Indies setting allowed Ubisoft to create a water world of sorts with multiple small and big islands to explore and find missions on. The large world really helps to sell the idea of ship travel and the dangers sailors faced on the open sea during the 1700’s. Players could sail the seas of AC 4 for days, and most who have played it probably spent more time sailing than assassinating templars on dry land.
4. Wide Variety of Meaningful Side Quests
Having side quests in an Assassin’s Creed game is nothing new, but the wide variety of them featured in AC 4 helped to make them more enjoyable. Most of the side missions also yielded worthy pick ups, or new items, so they weren’t just pointless fetch quests. Edward can hunt on land for crafting items to improve his gear, as well as at sea for the same purposes. The sea hunts provide the most fun thanks to the small boat and harpoon mini-game, which always helped to pass a bit of time in between main missions. Besides, who doesn’t want to feel like Captain Ahab while hunting the illusive white whales?
In addition to killing animals and fish Edward can also take on assassination contracts throughout each location in the game. These missions felt more like what the AC franchise used to be about, so if you just want to get your human killing on there’s plenty of chances to do so throughout the world of AC 4.
Finally, Edward could enhance both his ship and his own gear through the Templar and Mayan Stelae missions and treasure chest hunts. Completing each Templar hunt unlocks bonus granting armor that can help protect Ed in battle. He can also sport the special Mayan body armor for collecting the various stones hidden throughout the world. If you want to beef up the Jackdaw you can search for treasure on land, and at the bottom of the sea. Each one of these tasks may sound mundane, but the promise of a game changing reward helps to add a bit of excitement to the process.
5. Engaging Self Contained Story that Drives the Overall AC Narrative
For the most part Black Flag has a nice clean narrative that gets fully wrapped up by the end of the game. At least in the historical sense. Players are introduced to a young Edward and over time they get to see how he went from being a privateer to a pirate, and ultimately a champion of the Assassin’s order. More than a few interesting real life characters cross Ed’s path throughout the lengthy campaign, and characters like Black Beard will definitely leave a mark on your experience. By the end the Kenway family tale is firmly fleshed out, and put to bed without any major lingering questions needing answers, which is always appreciated in any storytelling medium.
Like the other AC games Black Flag also continues the overarching tale of Abstergo in the modern day, and its plan to learn more about the first race that Juno was a part of. The nameless character you control in these sections is forgettable, but these moments do drive the mysterious sci-fi heavy plot forward, so the bland modern time missions do offer some value in the end.
6. Edward Kenway Himself
Before Edward Kenway, Ezio was probably the favorite assassin for fans of the franchise, but that title belongs to Ed after spending time with him in AC 4. Unlike the other assassins featured in the previous five proper console games Edward doesn’t get officially trained to be in the order.
At first he’s only hellbent on improving his lot in life, and will do anything in his power to do so, even if that means killing, stealing, and making deals with shady political figures. Without knowing he single handily threatens the order of assassins to push forward his agenda to become rich and powerful. Throughout the early part of the game Edward will stop at nothing to make it to the Observatory, and his drive to do so costs him everything he holds dear in life. Over time Edward becomes wise to his follies through some hard life lessons and ultimately accepts his fate to be an assassin and to honor their creed.
Edward just didn’t feel like a canned assassin. You could experience his emotional growth throughout the campaign by watching him make one bad decision after another en route to his own personal enlightenment. He at first embodied the pirate spirit, but through his interactions with the assassins and templars he finally realized that he could offer more to the world if he sacrificed his greed for a cause that meant something. He was an anti-hero that eventually becomes a hero, which is unlike the path that Altair, Ezio, and Connor took in the previous Assassin’s Creed titles. This character arc helped to reinforce Edward’s unique story in the overall AC lore, why also making him one of the more interesting main video game characters of 2013.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is truly a special video game, and one of the best AC titles to date thanks to the six reasons provided above. If you’re like me and casually dismissed this game as “just another AC,” then I hope the cases above can persuade you to give it a spin. Not many games can keep players entertained for 50 hours or more, so AC 4 deserves special recognition for its reinvention of the Assassin’s Creed formula.
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