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'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag' sees the franchise put back on track

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'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag'

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Assassin's Creed ​saw an incredible boom during the span of the Ezio trilogy so expectations were high when Ubisoft moved forward with another numbered installment. Assassin's Creed III received mixed reviews with many continuing to compliment the studio on it's excellent mechanics but the game suffered from a combination of drawbacks that ultimately ended up leaving many with a bad taste in their mouth. Needless to say, many fans were uncertain as to whether or not Black Flag would traverse down that same road or attempt to return to it's successful roots. The answer is clear with the latest installment once again hitting multiple points right on the head.

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The Native American Connor was relatively uninteresting and predictable. As pirate Edward Kenway could also potentially fall into that category for some, but there is a palpable difference in all areas where the previous installment fell short, leaving us with a much greater likelihood of forgiving issues here and there. Motivated by his commoner upbringing and fiance of royalty, Edward feels the need to provide for his soon to be family. However, all he seems to accomplish is drunken stupor before finally getting things on track and leaves Wales to make his fortune as a pirate. When his ship is wrecked and he washed ashore alongside an assassin of questionable origins, Edward swoops in and steals his outfit in the hopes of making some quick change. What he doesn't know is that he'll soon find himself on the radar of both the Templars and their sworn enemies a position many repeatedly remind him he doesn't want to be in.

Replacing Desmond Miles as your real world counterpart is an unnamed no-faced employee of Abstergo Entertainment, your local franchise game development corporation. And while it seems that you are a new arrival with no vested interested some interactions with others quickly put you on track to discovering exactly why this company of yours seems so involved in specific events during Edward's life. Some familiar faces return early on and it's certainly welcome as new players and longtime fans alike can enjoy the cheekiness of their personalities.

Surprisingly, it's the boating that stands out as Black Flag's most outstanding feature. Something that was tacked on and either loved or hated by fans in the last game coerces even the most hesitant fans into loving it from head to toe. Plundering wrecks, fighting the navy, and boarding ships are easily as fun as stalking prey on land. At first glance the entire sailing aspect is a little daunting with the entirety of Cuba and parts of Haiti seemingly accessible. However, Ubisoft does a good job of limiting play space without placing arbitrary boundaries.

While many now consider collectibles to be an outdated mechanic, which they are, the game somehow manages to once again get you addicted to 100 percent-ing every single town in the game. Each has their own unique and distinct atmosphere. From the town on a port pirate coves to the highly colonized Kingston, all are gorgeously rendered in 1080p (upscaled from 900p).

Known for it's excellent outfit design, Black Flag is no exception to the series. Combined with next generation graphics, it looks better than ever. Foliage flows and sways in the breeze; the ocean waves build, crest, and fall. It's one of the more gorgeous launch titles for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and serves as an excellent benchmark for what will surely only improve as time goes on.

Multiplayer makes it's return and the usual armament of Warzone, Artifact Assault, Manhunt, etc make their appearance. No new gametypes are included but Ubisoft is rather proud of it's new Game Lab which allows anyone and everyone to tailor-make their own experiences. Want to reward stuns more heavily? Or put a solid nerf on poison? The choice is yours. In the future, it hopes to promote the most popular gametypes and release them into public playlists for all to experience.

Outside of the usual Prestige overkill (99 times from levels 1-50 is a little much) the progression is rather smooth with abilities, perks, streak rewards, and customization options scattered throughout the leveling system. The first weekend event was a little rocky with many unable to gain access to the playlist but surely the studio will iron out those issues quickly. If anything, our only worry is that the community will quickly die out. Just a couple days after launch the amount of lobbies in existence for free for all modes was in the single digits. That seems to have slightly remedied itself with the number varying between 15 and 30, but it's certainly something to keep in the back of your mind.

With a franchise like Assassin's Creed a lot of the excitement and immersion is heavily based on the locales that each character explores. We have to recommend the next generation version with the PlayStation 4 slightly ahead with native 1080p as compared to their previous gen counterparts. Trust us, it's downright gorgeous and something you won't regret.

If pirating and plundering with some stealth on the side sounds mouthwatering to you, chances are you want to get into this, no matter what you thought of Assassin's Creed III. We're more than glad to see the franchise continuing in the right direction. Consider us surprised that pirates didn't turn out to be the most cliche experience in the universe.

Positives

  • Gorgeous environments.
  • Naval combat is spectacular.
  • (Some) Very interesting characters.

Negatives

  • Can be frustrating at times.
  • Pathfinding can still be wonky.
  • Online a bit sparse.

A copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

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