Anyone unfortunate enough to follow this blog for any length of time has probably run into one or more of my frothing rants about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I’d been a big fan of the series since the first entry, and ACIV felt like a game designed by people who didn’t particularly LIKE the earlier games. It certainly seemed designed FOR people who didn’t like the earlier ones, as well – there is an awful lot of, oh, let’s call it Internet-gamer-hipsterism from people who will cheerfully talk about how ACIV is the only one that was any good.
So anyway, when I originally played it I got about 4 or 5 hours in, hated the experience, and stopped. I kept the disc because, well, it was a gift and I would have felt bad about selling it on.
I mentioned a few days ago that I’d gone back to AC2 to finish off the platinum trophy, and apart from taking a few minutes to get my head back into the control scheme, I am happy to report that it’s still a really fun game to run around in.
But, it got me thinking about the Assassin’s Creed series in general, and I had a bit of an epiphany: if people who DON’T like the AC series love ACIV, then maybe I would enjoy it if I went into it pretending that it was just another open-world action-adventure game.
It turns out that willfully ignoring the previous games I’d played in the AC series (seven, including portable spin-offs) was the key to actually enjoying ACIV. If you play it as a game about a random guy who really just wants to sail around, build a cool pirate ship, and kill a lot of Englishmen, it’s a lot of fun. As much as “Ubisoft towers” have become a much-maligned design feature, they make for a very satisfying gameplay loop for someone with a checklist mindset, and I do love me some checklists.
Also, since the various structures you have to climb around on are all fairly low-to-the-ground affairs, it serves as something of training wheels compared to the more grandiose architecture found in actual cities. I understand that the next game is set in Paris, which does have some actual BUILDINGS, so that should make for some more interesting parkour.
In addition, playing this game just after spending most of April drowning myself in Halo lore means that I now have a little more perspective on what a franchise looks like if it’s allowed to grow uncontrolled. If ACIV had demanded that people finish all five mainline games to understand what was going on, it would have meant asking people to play multiple 30-40 hour games just to get the two or three hours of metastory included in each one, and that borders on crazy talk. Having a main character who isn’t familiar with the game’s two warring factions or with the weird First Civilizations stuff means that all of this can be explained to the player again, getting them ready for future sequels.
So, I had a much more positive view this time around. It doesn’t mean that I love everything about ACIV, because I still found plenty to gripe about. The story segments tended to rely very heavily on “tail this guy without being seen until the story finally tells you you can kill him”, and the controls weren’t always up to the task of guiding Edward in and out of stealth and up and over buildings at the right times. The stealth missions where you were forced to tail someone on water didn’t suffer from the same control issues, thankfully, but were still somewhat marred by very slim margins of error at avoiding detection.
Also, fully upgrading your ship took a lot of grinding for materials and hunting down upgrade plans, and I couldn’t help but notice that both materials and upgrade plans were available for purchase in “Time-Saver Packs” for real-life money. That’s more than a little tacky for a $60 game.
Finally, the best way to earn money in ACIV is by playing a minigame where you build up a fleet of ships and then send them back and forth on trading missions. It’s fine in its own way, but it was a little pace-breaking to need to occasionally stop running around and stabbing the English so I could play with little toy boats for a few minutes. Ubisoft published an iOS and Android app so you could play this minigame while not at your console, and the app still works if you have it, but it’s been pulled from the Android app store completely and wasn’t ever updated to a 64-bit app on iOS – I was only able to use it because I have an old iPad that’s stuck on iOS 9.3.5. This isn’t unique to Black Flag, and isn’t NECESSARY to enjoy the game, but you are getting a slightly lessened experience because of this particular bit of software rot.
So, short version: While I still have plenty of things to complain about with ACIV, framing the game as a reboot / introductory game means that I’m able to see the positive aspects of it, and I am taking back some of the rather nasty thoughts I’ve had about this game. I’m sure that Ubisoft, being a multinational corporation that sells millions of games every year, will be happy to know that a random blogger has forgiven them.
There’s a lot to be said for the series being a little stale by this point. I really enjoyed AC, AC2, and Brotherhood. Then by Revelations and AC3 the formula had become a little dull for me. The ship battles were the only fresh thing in it (and I suspect a lot of people felt the same way), hence Black Flag. It had similar mechanics but presented in a much fresher way.
Then Unity took a few steps back and that’s where I left the series.
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AC3 added a bunch of new systems beyond the naval combat stuff, though – the homestead was quite different from the older base building, the hunting and gear crafting were different, and of course they added the tail-and-eavesdrop missions. Unfortunately, I don’t think they ever considered whether any of these new systems were any fun. 🙂
It probably didn’t help that it was set in a terribly boring period in history. I’m just glad they didn’t double down and go with something set during the American Civil War as a sequel.
I do have Unity in the backlog so I will probably get to it at some point. I understand that there is absolutely NO modern-day content in it, which is a baffling design choice. I don’t have high hopes.
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Absolutely. All the crafting and such in AC3 was a chore rather than a positive addition. Mind you, crafting was all the rage at that time and every game had to use it in some way…
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