Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag bears the first official subtitle of the series, breaking in ways large and small from what has been established. Nothing about Black Flag feels forced, with a large open world in which players are invited to craft their own path, whereas Assassin's Creed III would often get bogged down in bland trivialities. Overall the tone is more anarchic, with the player given great leeway in terms of how to navigate the world. It is less of a simulation of historical events, and more an open world set in a historical period,
Black Flag is impossibly beautiful, taking full advantage of the 360's end of generation capabilities. The studio that worked on the exceptional Far Cry 3 also helped on this entry and it shows, as locations are far more diverse than they've ever been. Although this entry runs on a modified engine from AC3, diverse islands allow for tremendous outdoor jungle vistas, tropical islands, and cities built throughout the Carribbean. After the events of the previous game, the modern day scenario largely takes a backseat, as the player occasionally will have to navigate a very meta Abstergo Industries run game development studio, to collect notes, hack computers, and interact with characters from the previous games. As an anonymous playtester, the protagonist will enter into the preserved data stream of Desmond Miles in a game set roughly two generations before Assassin's Creed 3's American Revolution.
Edward starts off the title as a classic Rogue, and is able to go through growth in order to truly take on the mantle of an Assassin. Early missions driven by the Templars prove that Kenway starts off without loyalty to any but himself, only later gaining growing understanding of what is at stake. He also gains a family of crewmembers, tireless souls that populate and turn the boat into a home of its own, a portable island to issue forth sea shanties in the chill of night. As Edward Kenway, players will enter a morally ambiguous perspective, as the game begins with Edward chasing down and killing a former Assassin planning to defect to the Templars.
Assuming the guise, Edward quickly sets about securing his very own pirate ship, and a crew to man it. Missions are excellent, and nicely varied, thanks to the nearly equal focus on ship missions as well as on foot stealth or assassination ones. ACIV works hard to build on the strengths of ACIII, utilizing the fine ability to recreate natural environments, refining tree travel and free running, and putting a new focus on multiple firearms. Edward can also upgrade his other equipment and buy or earn custom outfits. In this time before the Revolution, players can encounter a more wild period of exploration, and even eventually discover a central plot with such intricacies as a enigmatic sage, a mysterious temple known as the Observatory, and even Mayan Assassins, further fleshing out the backstory.
Black Flag's ship is by far the most successful aspect of the game, with players constantly unlocking new upgrades and abilities that allow for yet greater ship on ship combat encounters. The ship can also be personalized with improved ramming force, shielding, and custom mastheads or sails. New tools include upgraded heavy shots, fire barrels, and mortar shots. Edward has no loyalty and will face every type of navy, from British frigates, the Spanish, French, and legendary vessels. By attacking ships, Edward can take down a ship's health and decide whether to sink or reclaim it, boarding in the most swashbuckling pirate way, and add ships to his fleet or repair his own vessel.
In between missions, Edward can access his fleet and send them to take on other ships for resources and loot, similar to how the Brotherhood aspect worked in previous entries. The overhauls to the engine allow for Edward to seamlessly move from ship to island, where he can often find loot or treasure off of treasure maps. Other side tasks include hunting for gear upgrades (accessed at any time from the menu), whaling, finding shanties, using a diving bell to explore undersea environments and avoid sharks, fort takedowns, and many other things to seek out and collect.
This chapter examines concepts of true freedom, something that is further explored in the DLC, Freedom Cry, featuring Edward's first mate Adéwalé taking on his own ship in order to liberate captive slaves. Although the pirates are shown to put up a tough front, cinematic interludes imply that they are truly just trying to break from under the thumb of any ruler, to make a kingdom as they would on the colony of Nassau. Truly interesting characters enliven the tale, such as James Kidd, Blackbeard, Charles Vane, Anne Bonny, and others create a personal tale. Ubisoft truly succeeded in a position where they once again seemed like they might have been rushing a quick cash-in sequel. Instead they have released what seems like the most fulfilling entry yet, effortlessly bridging the feel of entries such as ACII or Brotherhood, with the modern upgrades found in ACIII.