Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My thoughts on Assassin's Creed 4

Ubisoft held a press conference in which it announced, to no one's real surprise, Assassin's Creed 4. What comes as a surprise is the setting: "Black Flag" will feature pirates in the Carribean. So far, we have two main sources of information: the press conference Ubisoft held and the trailer they published. Both leave me doubtful, to say the least. But let's take this bit by bit, examining first storytelling opportunities and then the game mechanics, just as we did in the spectacularily failed Assassin's Creed 3. 
Wading on the shore, totally blending in with the natives.
Now, for starters, they took the hint and shelved Connor. Instead, they continue with the one interesting character of Assassin's Creed 3, Haytham. In Assassin's Creed 4, you're going to play his grandfather who, unfortunately, is an Assassin (of course). It seems strange that they declare Desmond's arc finished, introducing you (the player) as the new modern-day-link by letting you play a full-time Abstergo-employee and then pull yet another ancestor of Desmond's as a player character, but I will overlook this if the character in question is interesting.

Let's stab some whale.
And here we have some problems coming up. Judging from the trailer, they're unfortunately going to continue the "Assassin in name only" approach that already made Assassin's Creed 3 such a mess and at times seemed to threaten Assassin's Creed 2 (though the second series dodged the issue very well). Edward, our new player character, is presented as the cool guy: he kills as he likes and gets the women. Well, that's exactly not what the Assassins are about. Let's hope his arc is similar to Ezio, who also brawled and whored in the beginning and then grew up to find true love only in Revelations. Somehow, though, I doubt that Edward will go this path.

I mean, just look at thim.
This leads right to next issue. What exactly are the Assassin's doing in the Carribean, flying a goddamn Assassin-flag on their pirate ship? Altair's lessons are entirely lost, apparently (although, if I remember right, the conquered towers in the second series also sprouted the vigil). Well, that's something to overlook, too, if they come up with a decent arc. Judging from a rather negative article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, they thought the setting is cool because the pirates were some kind of democrats, ludicrously citing the ability to kill the captain if you dissent with him as a democratic experience. And that's really where my worries begin in earnest. 

You have the floor, senator!
They talk about letting us know the "real" pirates, but from what we see and hear so far, they are more going for "Pirates of the Carribean". That's not a real problem in a PC game per se, but Assassin's Creed was about a littlebit more than just showing off cool badasses. In fact, they subverted this to a degree. Until Assassin's Creed 3, that is, and it seems they're plunging down that road headfirst. 

As evidenced by this image.
Now, let's talk mechanics. This department looks much brighter. The naval battles were great in Assassin's Creed 3, and giving them a real connection to the main story instead of just being "time off" is good. What I read about the functioning of the sea battles and how that all is supposed to be a more fluid gaming experience, that's good, too, and the crammed alleys of the pirate cities provide some real nice climbing experiences. 

A feast for the eyes.
The real thing that shows that at least mechanic-wise Ubisoft learned from their mistakes is that the world is considered to be a real open world, allowing for free exploration and adventure. That might just be what the series needs if it is really considering this adventure-angle, and to distance itself from the way-too episodic Assasssin's Creed 3. While losing the Assassin's Creed feel that I really mourn, Assassin's Creed 4 could really become a good game at least in the playing experience, and after the recent disaster, that's something at least. 

And they can use them trees some more.
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