The lights are on
Unsurprisingly, the latest Assassin’s Creed title is a prominent piece of Ubisoft’s presence at E3. The latest demo showcases the opportunities for assassination and exploration in this nautical-themed adventure.
The action begins in 1717 as Edward Kenway (grandfather to AC III’s Connor) takes an assassination contract that tasks him with killing a pair of twin British officers. Like previous games, these missions are obtained through pigeon coops and act as side content that players can explore to earn extra resources. For this contract, Edward finds the twins hanging out at a dockside bar. Amid the festive dancing and local music (Ubisoft says there are nearly 70 folk songs in the game), Edward uses Eagle Vision to locate the two targets and sidles up to one of them at the bar, then makes short work of him through a sequence of smashing and stabbing.
Startled by the ruckus and the murder of his brother, the other target flees across the docks. A short chase ensues, during which the new free-aiming mechanic is on display. As British soldiers block his way, Edward can target specific areas (instead of the general lock-on from previous entries), and do more damage depending on his aim. Headshots, for instance, do more damage than a bullet to the shoulder.
It is possible for Edward to catch up to the officer and complete the assignment on the docks, but in this case, the target escapes and makes his way onto a ship and hits the seas. As a pirate, Edward has his own ship – the Jackdaw – to give chase. A naval battle ensues, in which the Jackdaw and its crew heavily damage the vessel, then pull up alongside and board it. Edward crosses to the enemy ship, climbs a mast, and leaps down with his blades out to finish off his target. With the captain dead and the ship in dire shape, the pirates claim the cargo and add the new vessel to the fleet.
With the mission accomplished, the open seas call out with numerous other possibilities. While sailing, Edward finds a sandbar with a wrecked ship, and on it is the body of sailor with a treasure map nearby. This map leads players to the island of Mysteriosa (which you can mark on your map either in-game or through a companion app), occupied by Spanish soldiers. A stealthy ascent up a mountain is made challenging by the fact that the traditional Brotherhood mechanic isn’t present in Black Flag. In previous games, the ability to call in other assassins was a kind of nuclear option that made it possible to circumvent difficult situations. This trivialized some of the tension associated with stealth, so in Black Flag, Edward’s missions are largely solo efforts.
After reaching the location indicated on the treasure map, Edward digs up a chest that contains resources that can be used to upgrade the Jackdaw. The team at Ubisoft wants to treat the Jackdaw as a sort of second main character; it can be upgraded in numerous ways and the crew levels up and they complete tasks, making it a major way that players get a sense of their progression and increasing might. Of course, the pirates also have a hideout that can be upgraded in ways similar to the bases in previous titles.
Increasing the number of cannons on the Jackdaw is going to be a big deal, because you need a bunch of firepower to take control of the seas. Enemy fortresses are scattered around the islands, which you can retake using naval combat that looks like a natural evolution from what we saw in Assassin's Creed III.
All in all, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag looks great in action, and appears to have all of the addictive gameplay loops that fans have come to expect from the series. After our extended look, we're even more excited to see what the future holds for this franchise with its roots in the past.
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