I am absolutely loving Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. After my so-so experience with Assassin’s Creed III, I was hopeful that this installment would be improved with its focus on naval combat and a streamline of the story. It turns out my hopes were well-placed. A short time into the game you are dropped right into the 1715 Caribbean sea, and the world is yours to plunder as you see fit.
The on-land portions of the game are familiar to those who have played any other game in the series. You run about, fight and hide, use various weapons and tools, collect and craft, and generally conquer the world in the way you see fit. The controls and gameplay are solid. Combat flows very well, allowing proactive and reactive styles, and rewarding stealthy approaches when available. It’s all very satisfying to take on groups of guards and dispatch them in your personal style.
The newest and best parts of the game are the naval combat. Much expanded from ACIII, the ocean is an open, free-going world where the ships and islands you spot are yours to combat and explore. It is a sheer joy to travel among the see, picking off smaller prey and (for now) running from the ships too big or too well armed to take on with your as-yet meager ship. Upgrades and progression for your pirate vessel abound, with many upgrades and improvements possible, allowing you to take on more and bigger targets. I’ve had so much fun chasing down gunboats and schooners, picking fights with military brigs, and fleeing from the frigates that are still too tough a nut to crack.
The little details also make the game world a great deal of fun to traverse. The songs your sailors sing as you hunt or run on the waves, the changing weather from sun to squall and night to day, the bright environments and brighter birds and butterflies, the palatial plantation estates and squalor of tent cities on beaches all bring the game world to life.
The story so far has been competent. Several missions have been very good actually. One in particular sets you in an escape from a ship’s brig, releasing other prisoners, and eventually commandeering a ship as your own. The wide set piece of the environment allows you to pursue stealth or straightforward combat as you’d see fit, climbing the ships’ rigging to do daring acrobatic takedowns, hiding behind corners to ambush patrolling guards, or simply picking a few sailors off with your pistols. Other story missions are much more boring, and the few chase scenes, although seemingly obligatory in this series, feel like a waste of time. In the very least, the story is a huge improvement from the last game, and has been fun for the most part.
Overwhelming, I have enjoyed my time with the game. If you enjoy the series, or just enjoy the idea of playing at pirate, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.