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Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag impressions: this pirate's life is for me

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Yo ho, yo ho, this pirate's life is definitely for me. One thing I like about Assassin's Creed games is that, while gameplay fundamentals are the same (with tweaks here and there), each of its iterations always brings something new to the table. And it makes for a much more enjoyable experience with added depth. The original Assassin's Creed focused on Altair. The atmosphere was amazing, but the gameplay design felt a bit like a trudge after a while, making the sprawling city feel hollow.

Assassin's Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations became a trilogy, following the story of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze during the Renaissance. The sequel was a huge step up from the original, actually giving you interesting sidequests and collectible hunting. You could even upgrade your little town of Monteriggioni. Brotherhood brought it further, giving you the opportunity to purchase shops in Rome and run an assassin's guild, while Revelations tried some new things (a tower defense of sorts) to liven things up. I will say that Revelations was the most emotional of the trio.

Assassin's Creed 3, while gorgeous, I feel, is the weakest of the franchise. The American Revolution is an interesting setting (inspired even), but the game just doesn't drive these historic elements into an epic journey. For instance the Boston Massacre, Tea Party, and Paul Revere's ride felt more like a chore, than an actual epic event. Undoubtedly it was cool taking part, but there wasn't much impact.

So with the letdown that was Assassin's Creed 3, where does Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag fair? To put it bluntly, Assassin's Creed 2 is my favorite and so far Black Flag might just topple my personal favorite in the franchise.

Initially, as soon as you're in the boots of Edward Kenway, the game already feels a lot better than 3. The tropical environment is absolutely stunning with sparkling waterfalls in the distance, lush greenery that sway in the wind, and a sense of exploration that I didn't feel in 3. Once you gain your assassin robes, you're off to the port town of Havana where you'll start getting your footing once again.

Now, one thing that I didn't like about Assassin's Creed was the relative lack of stealth. Assassin's Creed 3 remedied this by giving Connor the ability to hide in foliage. It added more depth to the proceedings, but in terms of design, wasn't used that much during the missions. In Black Flag I found that every sidequest and main mission I took a part in, gave me a lot of places to hide, making sneaking around more of a viable option. That alone made it feel rewarding, for me at least, to knock everyone out without anyone else noticing, then continuing on to the next cut-scene.

Once you gain your ship, the Jackdaw, the game opens up to a greater degree than any other Creeds before it. You'll be sailing to uncharted islands, discovering new ports, and fighting off enemy fleets and forts. But the main foe you'll be facing, head on, is the sea itself. And boy, is the sea angry when it gets riled up, throwing water spouts at you, as well as gigantic waves, that can quickly cripple your ship into the depths of the deep blue sea. It's exciting as it sounds and when a storm hits while you're fending off a fleet of warships, it's a juggling act that can get palm-sweatingly intense. In addition, you can upgrade the Jackdaw to your heart's content (better cannons, mortars, etc.), to become the most feared pirate ship on the high seas.

Speaking of upgrades, Ubisoft takes a page from it's other franchise, Far Cry 3, and lets the player gain the skins of various animals to upgrade certain parts of your gear. For instance one animal will be able to give you a higher ammo capacity for your pistols, while another animal, will give you more plates to your armor. And it's all visible too as you procure each upgrade, showcasing a visual progression of, dare I say, pirate badassery.

The story so far, follows Edward Kenway, pretty much living the life of a pirate, then getting enveloped into the timeless war between the Templars and the Assassins. At this point, about five sequences in, Edward just seems to be along for the ride, but looks to be quickly carving out his own destiny, making his own decisions. It'll be interesting to see where his story leads as well as the present time, first person faceless worker, at Abstergo Entertainment.

As far as initial impressions, Black Flag wows and 18 hours in, it has a lot of depth as you sail the seas, collect artifacts and explore the unexplored. There's just something magical about steering your own ship, riding the waves as you practically feel the wind on your face and taste the salt in your mouth. Black Flag is a spectacle and must be at least tried if you love to explore. Ubisoft has definitely bounced back from Assassin's Creed 3 delivering a game that has me giddy with excitement since the days of Assassin's Creed 2.

Oh and Happy New Year everyone!

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