Article by Craig Owens
Ubisoft might have spent this weekend leaking like a particularly unseaworthy tub , but there's more to Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag than a CGI trailer of Blackbeard nursing a pint of grog. I've seen the game, spoken with the lead designers, and written an in-depth feature for the next issue of PC Gamer. In the meantime, however, here are some of the most important things we know about Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - plus some of the saltiest screenshots to sail Photoshop's choppy seas.
There's no more Connor
Connor Kenway seemed like a really nice guy. A reliable chap. I mean, I'd definitely want him on my side in a revolutionary war. But then, of course, the fighting would stop and Connor would look at me with those soulful eyes, waiting for an invitation to the tavern that was never going to arrive. Because he's achingly earnest, overly whiny, and rather boring.
But Edward Kenway, Black Flag's lead, seems designed to inject some Ezio-ish swagger back into the series. He's cocksure, brash and rebellious, and more concerned with plundering treasure than becoming an errand boy in other people's conflicts. He's the centre of a game appears to be more about his and the player's ambitions rather than demands from the supporting cast.
It's a proper pirate game
Black Flag is piratical adventure with the kind of budget and push behind it you simply wouldn't see if it didn't have Assassin's Creed licence attached. And while I'd love to see Ubisoft Montreal work on a nautical swashbuckler that doesn't have a wrist-mounted blade hidden up its sleeve, Black Flag is taking its theme very seriously.
"We think AC is the perfect franchise to tackle piracy," creative director Jean Guesden explained. The game is set towards the end of the Caribbean piracy era, kicking off in 1713 when treaties between the British, Spanish and French navies have led to relatively stability in the region but left thousands of British sailors out of work. Ubisoft is promising a story "without the glossy sheen of pirate clichés: No hooks, no parrots and no walking the plank." But some Assassins, admittedly.
There's a whole ocean to explore
"Our teams are ready to deliver a game that merges land and sea like never before," Jean claims. And the emphasis really is on the sea: Black Flag's world map is a splintered archipelago rather than a few cities surrounded by countryside, with over fifty unique locations you can sail to aboard Edward's ship: the Jackdaw. Structurally, it's the biggest change to the series since Assassin's Creed began, and moves the focus away from flowing parkour towards a different, grander kind of freedom.
"We've really put a lot of attention to make this world unified and unique and real," lead game designer Ashraf Ismail explains, "so the ability to go from ship to land, from ship to ship and from land to ship will be one fluid loop. We really want to make one, naval open world game."
Naval battles will be improved
Ship versus ship combat was one of the best things about Assassin's Creed III, but Ashraf dismisses its presence in Connor's adventure as a "tease". To be honest, it's a bit worrying that a headline feature in one year's release can be subsequently a presented as nothing more than an interactive trailer a few months later. But I'll forgive Ubisoft this once since Black Flag's combat sounds promising, based as it is around switching your strategy to counter various kinds of ship, and leaping seamlessly from your vessel to theirs in order to finish off the crew.
Desmond is gone
It's a shame to see Nolan North miss out on work, but there'll be no Desmond Miles in ACIV. If you're one of many who would prefer to see Assassin's Creed drop the present day frame narrative altogether, however, you're going to be disappointed, especially since you're about to personally star in it.
ACIV's framing device is "a continuation [of the previous present day story]," Jean explains, "but our fictitious world has now merged with the real world, and we want you to part of the AC universe." The set up was hinted at during ACIII's post-credits gameplay: evil Templar front Abstergo has opened up an entertainment division, and you're an employee for the company testing one of their Animus-inspired devices.