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This is one of the shanties that your pirate crew sing while scouring the seas of the West Indies in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. This Golden Age of Piracy sequel to the not-so-popular American Revolution setting of Assassin’s Creed 3 (AC3) is actually a prequel, story-wise. You play as Edward Kenway, grandfather of Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor Kenway), the main protagonist of the past in the last game. When they announced this game earlier this year, they compared it to Connor’s adventures, that, while his story was about a triumphant revolution, Edward’s story is about a revolution that failed. Numerous previews and trailers showed Edward chumming it up with the likes of Blackbeard, Charles Vane and Benjamin Hornigold, among a few famous pirates from the 18th century. With that cast lineup and the setting, I knew going in this would be a sad and somber affair, but it was great seeing how everything unfolded. On with the review.

Blackbeard with Edward Kenway

Blackbeard with Edward Kenway

Edward Kenway is less righteous compared to Connor or his ancestors (Ezio and Altair). Born to a farming family, he wanted more out of life. He left home and made a name for himself as a pirate as well as meeting up with the Assassin Order bureau in the West Indies. He was more concerned about getting rich than help out the assassins. If this weren’t an Assassin’s Creed game, this would be the best pirate game out there.

A Pirate’s Life

The Caribbean world is huge. Outside of the main story missions, you can travel with your crew to many islands and cities littered with various collectibles: Treasure maps, money, Animus fragments, bottled messages and shanties. The ship’s crew don’t go with you on your on-foot adventures, but you can recruit people imprisoned or clashing with the British, Spanish, French or Portuguese soldiers. On the sea, your crew man the cannons and fire barrels for enemy ships. You can sink or board enemy ships. This is a seamless transition compared to the one in AC3. Your crew will help thin out the crowd on the enemy ship, in which they surrender and give out all their loot and some crew members. You have the option to salvage materials from the ship to fix yours, lower your wanted level or have them join Kenway’s Fleet.

Swinging from a rope, boarding enemy ship.

Swinging from a rope, boarding enemy ship.

Kenway’s Fleet is a mini-game similar to The Brotherhood mini-game in past games. Edward acts more for himself than with the assassins, so it’s only fitting that he send out ships on various missions instead of assassins. You get to secure trade routes and battle enemy ships in a 2D turn-based representation of real-time sea battles. This allows you to gain money in the form of Spanish Reales, art collections and ship design upgrades.

Other than Kenway’s fleet missions, design upgrades can be found from buried treasure pointed by treasure maps left from cadavers, secret information obtained from various tavern barkeeps and underwater missions that require a diving bell for Kenway to return to for air and hide from sharks. Edward is vulnerable underwater from shark, manta rays and eel attacks. Man ‘o War jellyfish are a plenty near sunken ship openings and cave tunnels. You can only avoid and fight them off. You’d have to be above the water to actually hunt them.

Underwater  barrels your crew drops for air while searching for treasure.

Underwater barrels your crew drops for air while searching for treasure.

Harpooning is one of the controversial features in the game that critics have frowned upon. Whaling was big in this era. You get to hunt for sharks and whales. Each type requires different strategies. Great white sharks are more likely to attack your harpooning boat unprovoked. The main purpose of harpooning in the game is to upgrade Edward’s armor and ammunition pouches. These are called hero items. Hero items can also be upgraded by skinning animals found everywhere.

Plundering enemy ships net you rum, sugar, cloth, metal and wood. Rum and sugar is your primary source of income from enemy ships and floating loot, other than reales. You can sell the cloth, metal and wood, but they are used for ship upgrades and buying sails, figureheads and ship steering wheel designs. With all that money, Edward can upgrade his hideout to include various buildings for shops, drinking, and others. His hideout mansion also holds all his weapons, armors and art collections.

assflag

The game world is divided into sections of the Caribbean. Each section contains a naval fort that you can takeover. This unlocks that whole section of the sea, showing all other places you can travel to, island crags to navigate and avoid and various uncharted collectibles. All these features are enough to make you forget you’re playing an Assassin’s Creed game.

The Plot Thickens

[Thar gunna be spoilers in ’tis section.]

So how does the Assassin’s Creed plot come into the picture? It turns out that the Templars are looking for this place called ‘The Observatory.’ It’s a remnant of the First Civilization. Edward halfheartedly helps out the Assassin bureau to stop them. His terms for helping them is if there is something in it for him. The Templars have obtained various blood vials that would be used in the Observatory. Another man of interest they are looking for is someone known as “the Sage.”

Besides Edward’s story, there is the present day story unfolding. This time, you’re not Desmond. You’re literally playing as you: A new Abstergo Entertainment employee tasked with going through Edward Kenway’s life through the Animus to get material for their new pirate-themed virtual experience. In between sequences of reliving Edward Kenway’s memories, you slowly get embroiled into the whole plot of the Templars vs Assassins. A contact from the Assassin’s is instructing you to hack other people’s computers in the Abstergo Entertainment building through your mobile tablet device (I’m assuming is a beefed-up iPad-like device), given to all employees. These hacks net you access to tidbits about the past games’ plot, extra material and reading to flesh out the current plot and potential new plot lines for future games.

Present day: Abstergo Entertainment Building - Lobby

Present day: Abstergo Entertainment Building – Lobby

After AC3, I wasn’t sure how they would continue the series. As plot devices go, the writers did a great job. For those who have been following the Assassin’s Creed universe, they know about the Animus. The Animus is a machine in the game that sequences a person’s DNA and access their genetic memory. Basically, that person could relive any of their ancestor’s memories through the Animus. Abstergo Industries (The big bad company fronting for the Templars) developed the Animus to help themselves in the present by subjecting people they know are direct bloodline relatives to specific people in the past that they need information from. Well, it turns out that a sub-branch of the team responsible for the Animus project were doing their own research on allow any person to access another person’s genetic memories even when they aren’t directly blood-related.

A Great Game

The first Assassin’s Creed game introduced us to 15th century skirmishes between the Templars and the Assassins. It also opened up this huge can of worms of a plot. Assassin’s Creed II solidified the series on it’s direction and literally made me say “WTF” in-game and real life. After AC3, Ubisoft has outdone themselves with Blag Flag. This is, by far, the largest open-world for any Assassin’s Creed game. The game captured the essence of 18th-century pirates and environments in the West Indies.

There’s a lot you can do in single-player mode. Multiplayer is a whole section devoted to cat and mouse games with other players, killing your or you killing them.

The controls in AC3 are in full use and much more fluid this time around, making Edward really fight like the devil in human form. It’s not the perfect control scheme, but it’s management once you know what causes them to break in the game. Shipping took center stage this time around, more so than fighting enemies on land. I feel that Edward’s story is an in-between game, just like how the continuation of Ezio’s stories in Brotherhood and Revelation were in-between games. It wasn’t the best story, but it did it’s part. I’m not sure if this will be the last game for the Kenway Family saga. With the introduction of new plot lines and characters (past, present and future), we’ll be seeing more Assassin’s Creed in the foreseeable future.

http://youtu.be/hgEckOCOt_cI’m done.

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