Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Preview

Written from Ubisoft’s London event, written for Exeposé Online

Don your tri-point and practice your best shanty, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will explore the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean.

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Set for release in summer 2013, the Ubisoft game will be released on all current-gen platforms in addition to the Wii-U and PS4. A massive naval open world, seamless gameplay, and an all new progression system promise an Assassin’s Creed game rich with prizes, plunder and adventure.

Edward Kenway, grandfather of AC3’s protagonist Conor Kenway, will fill the lead role inside the world of the animus while you – that’s right, you -become the star of present day gameplay set in ‘Abstergo Entertainment’. Read on as Exeposé gives you the full breakdown of Ubisoft’s historical stealthy slasher.

The People

A pirate trained by assassins, new protagonist Edward is brash, reckless, cunning and – most importantly – British. Motivated by fame and wealth, Conor’s granddad will brush shoulders with some of the most infamous pirates in history. Benjamin Horngold (the ‘gentleman pirate’ who never attacked British ships) will join Calico Jack and Anne Bonne as real life antagonists and companions.

Ubisoft have paid keen attention to historical accuracy, and let us know some of the events portrayed in the game, including the wreck of the Spanish armada, the single-handed defeat of 42 Portugese ships and the marooning of Charles Vane – a brutal, almost psychotic, pirate.

“We want to look the past Hollywood portrayal of ghost ships and treasure troves,” says lead gameplay designer, “and tell the true of story of the golden age of piracy.”

Blackbeard, the infamous 6ft5 mega-pirate, appears heavily in the game’s trailer and promotional shots. Rumoured to cause crews to surrender just by flying his flag, we’re sure you’ll cross swords with the towering terror at some point in Black Flag.

The Places

Assassin’s Creed IV will be set in the biggest open world in franchise history. While creative director Jean Guesdon admits it’s not the biggest open world in modern games, he does reveal that there will be 50 unique locations and cities in Black Flag, including the two main cities Havana and Kingston (we also spotted a Florida marked on the map on locations).

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Plantations of sugar cane and tobacco will cover the locations in Jamaica, supposedly allowing for unique infiltration possibilities. Dense tropical jungles and Mayan ruins (Guesdon coyly admits “there may be some mysteries here probably, but who knows I can’t say anything”) offer a bigger scope for exploration than ever before, Ubisoft tells us. In between exploring and naval battles, you can settle in coves to upgrade your ship (the Jackdaw – more on that later) or visit fishing villages to pick up side missions.

While there aren’t any snowy forests, the variation of destinations you’ll be taking Edward looks far greater than other Assassin’s Creed game.

The Ships

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 Naval battles which debuted in Assassin’s Creed 3 will be expanded in refined in Black Flag, as your ship, The Jackdaw, will be central to navigating the world and engaging pirate, merchant and military ships.

If you want to get to where you need to be, you’ll have to crush any ships that stand in your way or attempt to loot your booty. But you won’t be able to send your enemies to the briny deep unless you use your wits and upgrade your ship in the aforementioned hidden coves. Ubisoft wasn’t specific about upgrades, but without the necessary upgrades, taking on military ships (featuring up  to 50 cannons per boat) will leave you soggy and most likely bloodstained .

The Gameplay

Little was said about the core movement and fighting mechanics, but it’s fair to assume that sneaking, climbing and stabbing will remain unchanged. Edward sports the staple concealed blade and two pistols mounted on his chest, and we’re sure there will be a plethora of pirate cutlasses and swords for inventive ways to kill your grog-guzzling foes.

In a trailer we saw Edward run his adversary through with a sword, then skewer another shish-kabob style in the same motion.

The ability to jump off ships and swim in the water marks the major and fundamental change in Assassin’s Creed gameplay; seamlessness and fluidity in the open world, both on land and at sea. Whereas in AC3 a cutscene (to disguise loading) would separate locations and events, in Black Flags, the experience is continuous.

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At any time you’ll be able to weigh anchor and swim to the shore if you want to explore a nearby beach. If you see a ship on the horizon, you’re faced with a choice. “It’s a much less linear experience than before,” explains Guesdon. “It’s up to you to decide who you want to attack.”

Ordering you crew to throw grappling hooks overboard and pull two ships together will let you board the enemy boat and begin your onslaught. It creates a 3D combat playground in the middle of the ocean, which you and your crew will exploit in these chance encounters.

The Present

The Desmond story arc was closed at the end of AC3, which leaves Black Flag’s modern day gameplay open to what looks like the most intriguing and exciting part of the game.

Released in 2007, the original Assassin’s Creed was set in the ‘near future’: 2012. Now 2012 has been and gone, Ubisoft has announced that as the Assassin’s Creed franchise strives the be historically accurate, present day gameplay will feature you as the protagonist, living in and exploring the supposedly (but definitely not) non-fictional ‘Abstergo Entertainment’.

“We’ve worked very closely with the team at Abstergo,” says Guesdon, as subdued mumbles come from a crowd intrigued by the fiction Ubisoft are setting up.

Assassin’s Creed IV doesn’t look be a radical new direction for the franchise. It mixes up the setting for the fourth time and promises to iterate on existing mechanics, taking the best parts of each installment (most notably the open-ended assassinations from AC1). Freedom and seamlessness are at the top of Ubisoft Montreal’s agenda and we how they can deliver massive, varied open-world Assassin’s Creed. Until then, we’ll be swigging grog and roaring with anticipation.

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