Ubisoft had a truly commanding presence at the Penny Arcade Expo this year and one of their most popular attractions was the large theater in the center of the show floor screening exclusive footage of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
No, in the new Assassin’s Creed game Henry Rollins will not be a playable character nor will you find yourself stalking members of the band Black Flag – although I would totally buy that game as well. Rather, as creative director Jean Guesdon outlined during their presentation, Black Flag is set in the year 1715, about forty years prior to Assassin’s Creed III, and takes place in and around the Caribbean Sea during the “golden age of piracy.” This time around, players will step into the shoes (or cavalier boots as it were) of Edward Kenway, a dashing pirate who was trained by assassins. Edward, the man you fathered Haytham Kenway, is the grandfather of Connor, the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III. Unlike the last game however, it looks like there is a deliberate focus being made on expansiveness and seamless exploration, particularly early in the adventure. In the last entry, some gamers were put off that the first third of the game followed a strictly linear narrative that took too long to open up. In Black Flag, the ocean is your playground and any ship in your spyglass is a potential threat.
Behind the helm of your ship, you will have a full crew at your command – but you’ll have to find and recruit them first from coastal towns. Your assembled team will fight and die by your side and can be ordered to carry out actions; one of which being the ability to grapple other ships. At your command, your men will hook into a ship you have maneuvered alongside of and pull it in so both vessels are forced together, allowing either ship’s crewman to board the other. This was some of the most exciting footage we were able to see as Kenway raced along the rigging and up the sails looking to get the drop on his unsuspecting foes. But the battle doesn’t just rage on the sea, but also under it. For the first time in the series, you will be able to move about underwater which opens up entirely new possibilities for both stealth and exploration. From being able to search shipwrecks and underwater caves to fighting off dangerous sharks and other ocean life, Black Flag is another fresh step in the right direction for a series that, at one point was really starting to show its age.
Just as previous games have used real history and historical figures as a backdrop for their stories, this chapter will heavily feature real-life ruthless pirates such as the legendary Blackbeard. And what would any Assassin’s Creed game be without tones of optional objectives and collectibles? This supplementary content and the campaign will be set across, not only the sea, but all new areas, such as smuggler dens and fisherman’s villages. Even small islands and secluded plantations visible in your travels and be sailed to and traversed, making this the most expansive and open addition to the franchise to date. Due to the amount of upgradable material and customization options available to players, hijacking and plundering enemy ships will be one of the many activities you’ll want to actively engage in to bring in funds. The bigger the ship, the better the loot – and then you can, in turn, eventually upgrade your ship to wield massive offensive power. Per the time period, you may even encounter whales that can be harpooned and fished from the water to be sold at the nearest town for a hefty sum. One of the most memorable sequences from the bit of gameplay we were show was a beautiful shot of Edward stoically standing aboard his ship as the tail of an enormous whale breaches the water and disappears beneath the waves.
We also got a chance to see a bit of combat and, while the iconic wrist blade returns, I’m most excited to use some of the new gear, such as dual-wielded cutlasses. Pirates of the time period also were known to carry several flintlock pistols on them so they would be able to fire in rapid succession and, in this game, it’s no different. Kenway can strap himself with several handguns to brace for a firefight. There was no mention of Desmond or any “present day” portions that has always exists and, in my opinion, slightly weighed down each Assassins release. After the way that the last game ended I’m curious how much time will really be dedicated to modern day sequences versus a strictly streamlined narrative of Edward Kenway. We’ll see soon enough when this blockbuster title sees its release this October.