Sailing And Assassin’s Creed IV: A Pirate’s Life For Me

Written by Vaughn Highfield.

“This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs,” are the opening words to every Assassin’s Creed title. It makes sense too, seeing as the vast majority of titles in the series have been cobbled together by multiple studios, Ubisoft may well want to cover its back from controversy in the narrative it weaves.

A knock-on effect of this development process is the disjointed nature that the more ambitious titles in the series seemed to have: the weak Brotherhood’s Assassin recruitment side-missions; Revelations’ – frankly awful – tower-defence sections; and the entirely tacked-on naval battles of Assassin’s Creed III. Not a single one of those felt like they merged cohesively into the overall feel of the game, switching the pace up to a point where it didn’t really feel like the Assassin’s Creed the public fell in love with when Ezio took the helm back in 2009.

Naturally you’d expect Assassin’s Creed IV to follow the same trajectory of disappointment. It was rumoured to have been developed by nearly 1000 Ubisoft employees across eight studios, so anything other than a bloated mess would be a blessing. And yet, sailing the seas as Edward Kenway has made Black Flag by far the most enjoyable entry into the series so far.

I’d even go so far to say that overall it’s my favourite yet. And by far the most well-formed and complete of the lot.

It’s safe to say that I’ve had an up and down relationship with Ubisoft’s liberal take on world history since the delights of Assassin’s Creed II, but hitting those open waters with my shanty-singing crew never fails to delight. Just how Assassin’s Creed II was an overhaul of Altaïr’s outing, Edward Kenway’s seafaring quest filters down the pure fun of the series and presses it into a mould of refined joy. It plays out just like you’d expect a pirate-themed quest would, offering you ultimate freedom.

And this is what I love the most. See that ship on the horizon? It can be yours. You can take it however you want, before taking it wherever you want across the seas. Wade in head-first with a ram, followed up by a blast from the broadside cannons, mortars, and fire barrels, all before boarding it and taking it as your own. Alternatively, and the method I quite like, you can jump in the sea and take a ship totally unaware, boarding it, killing the sailors aboard quietly, and then sailing over and quietly taking it for your own.

There’s purpose behind it all too, as doing so gives you the resources to improve your ship, the Jackdaw, and – if you decide to take it into the folds of Kenway’s fleet – you can gain money by easing trade routes and shipping goods around the Western world in an enjoyable mini-game. And it all just fits together perfectly. Even that trade-route fleet game that harks back to Brotherhood and Revelations’ silly Templar eradication strategy mini-game, feels perfectly woven into Kenway’s pirate empire.

But despite all that fun on the periphery, it’s the sailing across the Caribbean Sea around the West Indies that’s my Kryptonite; it’s far too enjoyable to be good for my health. Not only does the sea shimmer gloriously in the sun, become riddled with ripples when it rains, and engulf unskilled sailors in deadly storms, it provides more than enough distraction from the main storyline to be a game in its own right.
Just like in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, sailing is both rewarding and relaxing.

Going out in search of the four – or in fact five if you’re counting – Legendary Ships is a test of true naval skill bundled in with exhilarating fun. It’s made all the more enjoyable going up against one of these majestic beasts when the randomly generated storms start rolling in. Rogue waves threaten to capsize you if taken any other way than head on. Water bathes the deck, soaks your crew, and obscures your vision. And, while I’m certain the weather has little to no effect on combat effectiveness, smoke clouds seem to linger for longer, obscuring your view of the action in tense situations.

It’s genuinely more enjoyable than any of the melee combat the series has used since the outset, and there are few other experiences that can be compared to owning the sea.

You really do feel like you own the sea, especially when you’ve got the joy of a fully upgraded Jackdaw to enjoy, knowing you can take on almost anyone without breaking a sweat. At the start you’ll cower at the sight of anything more than a Schooner, occasionally feeling brave enough to face a Brig. But with time you feel the power you’ve gained – mirrored slightly by Edward’s composure through the story – and it’s really felt when you can take on a Man O’ War without batting an eyelid.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I’m in love with Black Flag, especially when it does so many things so well. But it really doesn’t matter, it’s been so long since an Assassin’s Creed title has enveloped me as much as this.

Be it sat in front of my television, or lying in bed playing on my PlayStation Vita via remote play, I’m always itching to get more of Black Flag’s salty sea pumped straight into my veins and the glorious sunsets right onto my retinas.

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30 Comments

  1. I have it on the PC and am gutted. I have around 10% of the game to finish and have tried everything to get it passed the place it crashes at. :-( Why so gutted? Simply because you speak the truth. It’s a tremendous title, but wait, there’s more! I’m not interested in the franchise one bit. I feel like I should be but it’s always been a “no, from me” title. However, the fourth outing is absolute bliss. Sure, you have to endure the first handful of hours on dry land but after that, just try and stop me from having fun.

    The harpooning, the sea shanties, the battles, the upgrades, the fleet, the beautiful water physics (a true “ah, we’ve arrived at a gaming moment” right there). No longer do we have to suffer bad physics and/or crap looking water to sail on.

    It. Is. Stunning. Sure, we need to see water breaking and one day we will, but until then… it’s really quite something. There is little justice in a capture of the ocean but it still looks tremendous. This little beauty shows how it looks up close when harpooning some scary beastie. 1900 x 1200 and everything pretty much on High/Ultra settings. One of many grabs I’ve taken.

    Look at the size on that bugger!

    • Keep in mind my home town is Swansea so I just smile at Edward Kenway’s accent. It’s awesome (and beautifully familiar). Let alone all of the other British accents we hear. Kidd’s Northern twang, etc.

      • I can’t help but laugh at a lot of the Northern Irish accents that many of the guards have, running past a group of them while they yell at you to “Stawp noy!”

      • It’s the random folk in towns that has me smiling. One English toff replied (on seeing me killing two guards)… “oh my… oh, I’m sure it’s some sort of training exercise”.

        Another Scottish lady said “oh heavens! Just don’t look… walk away” to herself as she scurried off. That was superb. Lovely to see humour in a game like this as it’s not mandatory but very welcome nonetheless. :-)

    • When I first got out to see I was amazed by the graphics and had a few moments where I simply stopped to enjoy the view. Then I took it all for granted. Take a moment to step back and enjoy the sunset over the sea and it is a beauty!

      • *Got out to sea.

      • personally I love the way the water cascades over the deck when you’re sailing at full speed in choppy waves

      • Same here. I’ve been playing it a while on PS4 now and still find myself amazed by the graphics when out to sea from time to time. It’s simply beautiful. Nearly every time you see water in games it looks unrealistic whereas this game genuinely impresses me every time I play it.

        Like you Bunimo I’ve never really been interested in the Assassins Creed games before but I’m very much into pirates and the stories and such like and am thoroughly engrossed in this game.

        Also, as a fellow Welshman (few miles down the road though Bunimo – lovely old Cwmbran!) I couldn’t help but grin to myself when I heard Edwards accent :-)

      • Ditto, I can’t believe how good this game looks. I had the 360 version and I thought that PS4 wouldn’t really impress me that much but its night and day different.

        I don’t know whether I just wasn’t in the mood for it on the 360 but I’m really enjoying it on the PS4 – possibly I was just rushing through on the 360 version as the PS4 came out /shrug.

      • Lovely part of the world, Lyts. I’m in Cardiff Bay at present so hearing my “home accent” in a game makes me all tingly proud which is daft as the bugger was a pirate! :-)

        It’s one hell of a game when every bloody time you board your ship and take to the seas you think “wow”.

    • Assuming you have the Steam version, have you tried deleting the local copy and re-downloading it? It tends to fix a 99% of issues for me. Of course, you need to make sure your save is cloud-synced (or whatever Valve call it)

      • Aye, fella. As mentioned. Uninstalled and reinstalled. Even reinstalled it on the C Drive just in case it didn’t want to play ball on the D drive. Thing is, 90% of it has been flawless so whatever’s playing up now is very specific. Meh. :-(

        I have backed up the save just in case. ;-)

  2. Totally agree. Sailing about is endless fun and, when I have to do my stupid real life I can still manage Kenway’s Fleet on the excellent companion app on my phone or tablet!
    They’ve really nailed it this time. Best AC game since 2.

    • Did not know about that app! Thanks for that.

      As others have said it’s an absolute joy to see and play.

  3. This is the first AC game I’ve played so cannot compare it to the previous games but I’m in total agreement about sailing the Caribbean looking for ships to plunder.

  4. This just seem to have so much right in this game. The last two I sat out and watched while my girlfriend played them, they just seemed to miss the mark in so many ways. Everything is a joy about this game, when I finished the story and got all collectables it was a sad day. Mind you the MP portion is good fun too so all is not lost.

    if only they can fix the issue with social chests and convoys and I can get my platinum on this.

  5. Has anyone actually managed to destroy one of the legendary ships? I’ve traded the game in now but still had a few goes at destroying them after I’d completed the main story but still failed miserably.

    • It takes different tactics for each one, and you need to have the Jackdaw more or less fully upgraded. I have managed to take them all down, but each battle was very tight and I always ended up limping back to the nearest harbour on very little health.

    • My ship was maxed out and I wanted to take one of them on. Sadly, this crashing problem (for the game itself) has thwarted my efforts to “give them a steely kiss”. Meh. Will somehow sort it out.

      I see YouTube videos about strategies for taking the buggers down. They’re obviously serious enough to go into battle against. God knows, the one attempt I made had me limping with a torn “new one” away from trouble.

    • Glad to hear they require different tactics. I took on the one in the bottom right of the map on a whim and it was a piece of piss. All I had maxed was mortars and the hull.

      I’d have been disappointed if they’d all been that simple.

    • I have finally got all four of them. The bottom two were the easiest for me, with one (can’t remember which, being very easy. The one that Rams you was a pain to complete and took a lot of attempts, as did the two together, once you can work out the tactics on each it gets easier.

      Although I spent a lot of time and a lot of swearing on these it was a great feeling to finally complete them all.

    • Legendary ships you say? I prefer to call them the mutha f*#!king b#sterding pieces of s#it ships aaaaaghhhhhh!

  6. We’ll if I ever lose an eye, possibly a leg & befriend a parrot whilst deciding to plunder some poor tourists broad cruiser on the broads this summer I’ll give you a call :)

    • That’s aimed at you lot above… Stupid old iphone!

  7. Hated AC1, Platinum-ed 2 (my only one), hated 3, too much samey gameplay and I got bad “Assassins Creed Thumb”

    As for Black Flag? Wow, I’ve spent about 10nights over the Christmas/New Year period staying up till 1am playing it and I’m only about 40% into the story.
    I find myself sailing off to see what I can findand a few hours later I’m still at it.

    Attempted the legendary Ghost ship about 5 times, died quickly in all but 1 attempt where I actually beat it but it had shot a mortar up before it was destroyed and that then came raining down on me *game over*

    I’ve been using the app to get money, now the Jackdaw is upgraded (only got legendary hull though) I have most/all of the outfits/swords/pistols/art so the app isn’t really needed any more, took me a while to get 4* wanted so I could steal a level 39 Hunter MOW.

    Great game, bloody great!

  8. I’m a real fanboy when it comes to the AC titles, I agree that some of the add on’s were annoying, the already mentioned tower defence side missions, the repetiveness of AC1’s mission. Connor’s need to take some valium. On the whole though I have played all the installments for hours and hours and have enjoyed them immensely. Just need to do the DLC on ACIV

  9. Yeah, I’m very much enjoying it too. Probs my favourite, but have enjoyed all previous instalments, bar AC3. I think it’s good they’ve tried new things in previous games. Even if they haven’t worked, they have never been significant enough to ruin the game. I don’t think Kenway’s Fleet is any different, or any more enjoyable than previous mini games. You also talk about stealing ships, which isn’t entirely true. You can only ever sail in the Jackdaw. This said, I do agree with a lot of your review though. So pleased after spending £50. If it wasn’t for AC4, I’d solely be playing FIFA for the foreseeable future.

  10. No wonder a constant 1/3 of my ~30 online friends are always playing this game.

    Personally, I was never interested in the AC series until this one. The pirate theme is such a good idea, very well executed too. What sets this game apart for me, however is how casual and fun it can be when you want it to be. It’s just about having an open world where you can do anything you’ve unlocked in the missions, but the missions themselves are quite fun and not really frustrating (well, so far).

    Sense of exploration is wonderful, I love to set out to an undiscovered location, sometimes with a treasure map in my hand (well I could have it in my hand using the app), other times just to explore and find all the items the location offers. Such a captivating gameplay – often times I found myself playing the game for hours more than I intended to (Wasn’t there a poll about it somewhere, the most played game at one sitting on the ps4?).

    Although I had some initial problems with the Uplay passcode with my disc being US and my PS4 being EU, which Ubisoft should really look into, I managed to work around it and access Kenway’s Fleet. Besides boosting my income big time, what a fun little addition it has been to keep me tied to the game in real life. Acinitiates is another source for the game which you should check out for missions and stuff if you haven’t. As if there wasn’t enough content in the game…

    Wonderful game with a great amount of content, I really like what Ubisoft has been doing for the last year or so. I hope they keep up this vision.

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