As with many video game series, the Assassin’s Creed franchise plays pretty fast and loose with its numberings, and whilst it may be billed as the fourth game in the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is actually the sixth game released, and also a prequel to Assassin’s Creed III, which was the fifth game. It’s perhaps at this point in the series, with game numbering dropping off (this would be the last numbered entry), and timelines jumping all over the place, that Assassin’s Creed stopped being a series where you should care about overarching plot and instead just have a bit of fun.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag drops players into the role of Edward Kenway (Matt Ryan), a pirate during the early 1700s, and father and grandfather of the dual protagonists from Assassin’s Creed III. Over the course of the game Kenway would attempt to build an independent pirate nation in the West Indies, and would include appearances from well known historical figures such as Anne Bonny, Calico Jack, Mary Read, and Edward Thatch, also known as Blackbeard. The game’s story sees Kenway unravel a conspiracy between the Templars within both the British and Spanish empires who are trying to unlock ancient technology that would allow them to spy on anyone in the world.
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Some of the chief complaints about the previous game in the series were that it was too linear, and that players had to wait well into the first act of the game before they were able to explore as freely as they wanted to. In order to address this, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag took a more open-world approach to the game. It also brought across one of the most popular elements from the previous title, Naval Combat, and made it a central part of the gaming experience.
As Kenway is a pirate, a large part of the game involves travelling by ship to various locations in the Caribbean. Using Kenway’s ship, the player can explore the open environment, encountering locations such as towns, sea forts, atolls, Mayan ruins, and sugar plantations. The game also allows you to explore shipwrecks, diving down in order to scavenge lost treasure. Players can also engage other ships in combat, and if you so wish you are able to board enemy ships in order to try to take them over. If successful, you can add the newly captured ship to your ever expanding armada.
Whilst the previous entry in the series had received complaints for its early game linearity and players’ inability to explore where they want until a number of hours into the experience, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag offered a great deal of freedom. Players were able to focus on the story, or they could go off and explore the environment, seeking out resources and locations using an array of equipment. The game kept the hunting elements from Assassin’s Creed III, and players were able spend time travelling from location to location, searching for prey to hunt down and collect resources from in order to upgrade equipment.
These changes were well received with both audiences and critics, and the game garnered positive reviews upon release. Many praised its improvements over Assassin’s Creed III and felt that the changes made here were what the series needed in order to gain more attention and move into a new era. The large scale of the open world was singled out often, and this would go on to be a feature that would become a huge staple of the series in future releases, with the franchise gradually becoming more of an open world role playing game. The improved graphics over the previous entry were also of note, and the game was featured on a number of lists for best looking games of 2013.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag sold well, and became the biggest selling game in its first week of release, beating off the hugely popular Battlefield 4. Whilst sales did take a slight dip following this, it still ended up as the third highest selling game in its release month, behind Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Battlefield 4, two games which are hard to top. Despite this, the game would go on to sell more than 11 million copies, and would win a number of awards including Xbox One & PS4 Game of the Year from GameSpot, Best Adventure Game from Hardcore Gamer, and several awards from IGN.
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With Assassin’s Creed III causing some fans to begin to grow bored with the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag would be the sudden shot of adrenaline it needed to keep it in people’s minds. Thanks to the changes and additions made here, the series would continue to be beloved by many, and you can see how it became one of the more influential entries in the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was released in the UK on 29th October 2013.