Friends. Gamers. Followers. Lend me your eyes. For today, I shall be discussing the new Assassin’s Creed.
I pre-ordered Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the Limited Edition (for PS3), quite a while ago, because I am a fangirl. I received three emails telling me “Your order will be sent when it is released!” before I received the email telling me, finally, that it was coming.
My game arrived a day early. I was very excited.
Let’s start with the Limited Edition bits. If you care not for this part and just want to get into the game, scroll down to “The Game”.
The Limited Edition set came in a nifty box which mimicked the case of the regular edition game.
Inside the box was a pirate flag with the Assassin’s symbol. It’s synthetic material, but the stitching is nice, it’s double-sided, and there are metal rings at the side to hang it like you would a real flag. Very cool. There was also a snazzy metal case which held not only the game, but also the soundtrack (which I’ll talk about later), and a UPassport code, which is necessary to play certain parts of the game. There is also a nicely bound book of artwork from all facets of the game, which, as someone who enjoys art, I thoroughly enjoy. The last thing in the box, though.
There’s a statue.
See, when I was looking at the L.E. box online before I ordered, wondering if it was worth the money, I was thinking it was going to be a tiny model. I mean, something that they could ship in one piece in a box half the size of the one that arrived at my door. Something roughly the size of a Christmas ornament or a small action figure.
That bad boy up there is about a foot tall.
This statue came in five pieces, with a piece of rope that you thread through his hand so he can swing. The colours are vibrant, and the detail is fantastic. It’s not hand-painted or anything, but the aesthetic and design are very nice.
It was also nifty because I could put the thing together in the time it took for the game to install. So, bonus points.
Right, so this is the important question. Who give a care if the L.E. box is cool if the game sucks.
Which is doesn’t, by the way.
There are few issues I’ve run into thus far (sadly, I’ve not been able to devote the time needed to finish the game yet, because it’s a big freakin’ game.) but nevertheless, these are my impressions based on around 25% of game completion.
The Story Begins [spoilers]
One thing about the AC franchise I’ve always liked – which is why I’m such a fangirl – is that they know, usually, how to tell a good story. Whether they know how to finish a story is another question, but the journey is fun. You begin as just an average, work-a-day pirate whose ship has just been destroyed in a battle. Upon washing up on a sandy tropical beach, you meet a guy with some serious arrogance problems who tells you he will pay you to sail him to Havana. You ask if he has the gold on him, he threatens to kill you, you chase him, you kill him, and you steal his gear – an Assassin’s uniform (not that you know it). One note I’d like to add here is that the characterization of Edward Kenway, the playable character, is very nicely done. While talking to the assassin, Kenway picks a bottle up from the beach and attempts to drink from it. Later, we learn that he was a notorious drinker. As pirates were often wont to do. I like that they added this. This, to me, marks good storytelling. Show, don’t tell.
One thing that can get annoying at times in the main storyline: they’re spread out. Yes, every other game ever has this same problem. Skyrim’s fix was to have men you could hire to bring you across the world, for a price. The AC franchise hasn’t quite got that one figured out. One of the recent storyline missions I was sent to was legitimately on the other side of the map. If I were running or riding a horse, this would not necessarily be a problem, because I could just run non-stop and fight whatever people/animals/etc. came my way. In this game, however, if you want to follow the main storyline, you have to sail across the sea to get from place to place, which means full-blown navel battles, ship repair, stopping in ports, hiring people, etcetera. This is a great mechanism for encouraging (read: forcing) the player to explore the world. It is also a pain in the ass if you’re like me and want to do the main storyline before you do a bunch of side missions.
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t super excited for the sailing part of this game. I vehemently disliked it in the last game, and when I learned that they were expanding it for this game, and that it would be an integral part, I was… wary. However, Ubisoft put my mind to rest in the first few minutes of play. The controls for sailing are significantly better than they were last time. It’s pleasantly realistic in that you can’t make a hairpin turn going full speed in a ship, and you can customize your ship as the game goes on to improve offense and defense, capacity for men, and a host of other things. While sailing, you can pick up loot that has been thrown overboard by other ships, as well as shipwrecked men, which is handy if your crew has diminished after a battle. Through the use of a telescope, you can search ships to see what they contain, and whether it’s worth your while to get into battle with them. Once you are, your cannons take reload time, you need to brace for attack, and once you’ve destroyed the enemy ship, you can either utterly trash them and loot them, or you can keep them intact, board them, fight them, and take them for all they’re worth, ship and all. From there, you’re given the option to use the ship for repairs, free the ship and crew to lower your wanted status, or you can name one of your men captain of the ship and send him on his way to loot and plunder in your name, not unlike the assassin guild quests you could send men on in the last game. You can also get them to trade for you, building relationships and making clear passage in regions you may not have yet sailed.
One thing that has thus far annoyed me about the mechanism is that if you can’t find a ship carrying the cargo you need, you can’t just buy it. Right now, I am having serious issues finding ships with metal on them – a material necessary for upgrading my ship. However, have I met with many ships that have metal on them? No. This is a probability thing, and I realize the more I play, the more I’ll run into them; however, there are certain points in the main storyline where they suggest you have your ship upgraded to a certain point. If you can’t find the ships carrying metal, you’ll be looting for days before you are recommended to proceed with the story. I, being a lover of following the main storyline the first time around, ignored the suggestion. I managed to play through the whole thing easily enough, though I saw why the recommended the upgrades. If I encountered a similar event at a higher level with my ship the way it is now, I would be up the sea without a sail.
Rant moment: I absolutely hate the way they’ve designed the running/climbing/jumping mechanism in this game. Hate it. This is not an uncommon complaint about this series, and I’m confused as to how Ubisoft managed to make it worse this time around, as I was unaware that it was possible. Although you’re not chasing after people nearly as often as before, you will still encounter the problem of running after/away from someone beside a building and – woops! – you’re suddenly climbing a tree/building/barrel/vegetables/etc. and you have lost your target/been caught. If the people deciding on the controls had just added something for climbing – running with R1 but for climbing you have to also press X, for example – this problem would not exist. The number of options available to you here – jumping, climbing, perching, hanging, etcetera – is really detrimental here. It’s not annoying to the point that it’ll make me stop playing, but it makes me hate every single aspect where you’re running/chasing/etcetera.
As for the actual fighting mechanism… it’s ok. They’ve moved away from potentially disorganized button mashing of the early years to a much more combo-oriented, hit-this-button-now type fight, and… it’s not bad. It’s also not great. If you’re in a melee with a half-dozen guys and about to strike a critical hit on one, but the person behind you requires a O hit to counter, you loose that hit. You can spend an entire melee hitting O at people but never making a hit if you’re used to the old method [aside: the first time I was in a large fight – that is, boarding a ship with +20 sailors on it, 8 of whom seemed to want to kill me, I failed miserably because of this, so I’m a little biased.]. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a less button mashing, more combo-focused fight. I just wish they’d worked out some of those little kinks to make it a bit smoother. The fighting style is great for one or three enemies. Ten? Not so much.
So I talked a bit about the main story; I’d like to add a note on side missions. I very much enjoy the way this world is laid out. The hidden treasures, the treasure maps, the building – over all, they’ve done quite a good job at creating a well-rounded world filled with something for everyone. Like fighting people? Go save those pirates! Like sailing? Go find that naval caravan! Like finding stuff? Go find some treasure? and stuff in between. It’s all intertwined, so you can’t just finish everything of one which, as I mentioned before, is both good and bad. And on every island, there are assassin quests, along with actual assassinations, and other quests around the world. You’re rarely bored, is what I’m saying. You also have the Animus quests, which is like every other AC game where you have to find pieces of information in the game put there purely for the players’ enjoyment. You can also hunt, though I would note that they throw you into the hunting without explaining it much. With every other side quest, a popup has appeared in a pause screen to explain what you’re supposed to be doing; not so much with the harpooning. It’s straightforward enough, but they might have added a brief explanation. It’s not equivalent to anything seen in the last games, so a heads up would have been appreciated.
Abstergo Entertainment Quests
Like every AC, there is a modern conterpart to your ancient one. In this case, you are a first-person player with no voice (a tool used to put the player in the game on a more significant level). Your gameplay is limited to sneaking around, hacking things, puzzles, and interacting with NPCs. Thus far, it seems to be a step up from the previous game, if only because it’s a mystery without being wild and unwieldy. Though I’ll reserve a full judgement for when I finish the game (naturally) I appreciate the return to simplicity. It breaks up the wild pirate adventure nicely, and gives you a chance to explore a more subdued mystery before returning to the swashbuckling fun of Kenway’s story. As a player of the previous games, I very much appreciate the little clues they drop relating to the last games; watching my husband play, it seems to be straightforward enough to not confuse a person who has not played the prior games, which was one downfall of the Desmond storyline.
Overall, I’m enjoying the game. Because it’s so vast, there’s a lot to explore; if I get bored of pirating the high seas, I can go to port and assassinate people. If I get bored of that, I can raid a plantation. The variety this game provides is one of its greatest strengths, alongside its storyline. It seems to have minimal replayability because, unlike open world games such as Skyrim and Fallout, you can’t customize your experience a lot. You customize this game insofar as you can customize an Apple product; the order you play certain things, and how you upgrade your ship, or how you make it look, but eventually, you’re following already laid out in somebody’s DNA. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, but after playing it more than once or twice it may become a little repetitive. The soundtrack is great, though at times I can’t help but hear snippets of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. It plays nicely with events without being overwhelming and repetitive, mostly because it is undemanding. It’s there, but it’s background noise. It is reminiscent of music used in film making – as a backdrop rather than a feature – and it pairs with the cinematic simple, clear cinematic pieces nicely. These moments where you are a viewer rather than a actor are well done; they give information without spoon-feeding information. Like the other in this series, they included historical figures. Unlike the rest of the series (for the most part), these characters have a much better place in the plot. They don’t just randomly introduce you to Blackbeard, who gives you a random quest; he’s part of your storyline, without seeming to intrude upon it. This helps to make your part in history that much more believable.
I’m enjoying this game, and I anticipate enjoying it until the end, but we’ll see. As of now, I’m enjoying it more than I did the last one, which was my main hope going into this game; if they’d not improved from where they were last time, I would have wished that rather than buying the game, I would have wished to pirate it.
Yeah. I went there.