DM's Peek of the Week: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

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There's a special sort of creativity when it comes to the Assassins Creed franchise. Instead of focusing on ground-breaking elements such as a revolutionized gameplay system year after year, or pushing the boundaries of graphical prowess, the titans behind Ubisoft instead choose to highlight the beautiful re-imaginations of historical rich settings. These worlds that Ubisoft manages to capture and breathe life into are downright incredible. There's an inescapable aura to it, one that cannot be so quickly absorbed and ignored. It becomes apparently clear how much detail and how much care is addressed and considering the short developmental times, it very well leaves you in awe.

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Despite the mixed reception of the previous installment, Assassins Creed 3, Ubisoft decided to press forward and stronger than ever before. This time though, the setting was quite a surprise and takes a jab at the franchise's strict chronological order. Now, I'll gladly admit that I am not finished with Assassin's Creed IV, nor am I even close. Roughly 28 hours in and I'm about halfway through the main story. Although before I continue any further, let me point out that Black Flag didn't draw me in within the opening sequences as I would've liked it to. With regards to my adoration of the franchise, this felt like the most alienated piece of the puzzle. There was a certain abruptness to the pacing of the story, a relatively disjointed lack of initial motivation to care for protagonist Edward Kenway. But as with all brilliant pieces of art, a single short-handed forray does it very little justice.

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Black Flag decides to strip itself from the norm, disregarding the importance of the Assassin/Templar feud, both from the view of Kenway and the gamer. Instead, you're taken on a journey of self-importance, one that abolishes that which was previously seen as the pinnacle of direction. Edward Kenway is a pirate and yet, an oddly honourable and charismatic man among the devious figures he allies himself with. There's a certain attribute to his character that makes him feel so familiar but refreshingly capable as a leading man. His motives are not one of selflessness yet you cannot help but care for his mission and while bordering that line, you're given a remarkable second glance at an unseen nature of pirates. Some ring terrifyingly true with the stereotypes given but it may come as a surprise as to how the true nature of these "famed" pirates pales in comparison to what can be seen as "atrocities" produced by the British and Spanish armies.

Now, we've seen how Assassins Creed 3 took the time to dabble a little in the world of naval combat but sadly, to a limited extent. Black Flag takes this to an entirely different level, emphasizing greatly on "true" open world exploration and freedom, which it does so tremendously. Your ship is not just another means of travel, but an extension of yourself and the crew considered your family. Shanties ring true as you ride the waves of the ocean, plundering various naval ships, scouring uncharted lands for loot and diving to the depths of the sea to discover long forgotten wrecks of old. There's an outstanding level of care, detail and passion that is seen with representing the true nature of the open seas and it's represented to such a level that you find yourself lost among the wonders of its world.

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As such, Black is not without faults although in this case, it could be purely subjective. There's an unrelenting amount of atrocious escort and eavesdrop missions that left me groaning audibly under my breath. It serves little purpose to the story and pacing, only managing to worsen the overall experience due to the occasional sticky free-running controls. Retrospectively, the Assassin's franchise has been well known for recreating some of the most gorgeous locations in all of gaming. This time around, despite having the most choice at hand, Black Flag lacks any sort of true draw or recognizable landmarks that will leave you in awe as did the wonders of Rome and the multitude of cities from the adventures of Ezio in Renaissance Italy.

On top of that, there's a modern setting to the game which plays a largely miniscule part in the entire story of things (at least from what I've experienced so far). Thankfully for those who care little for the modern events that the franchise has attempted to push towards, there isn't much time spent with the nameless protagonist of that era and the objectives given to perform are actually some of the most entertaining and creative puzzles the series has come to offer. Pushing to the realm of combat, Black Flag remains relatively consistent as it has since it's earliest entries, if not more simple this time around. What really caught my attention though was the sheer depth of possibilities with how to approach combat. While the other games technically boasted about "stealth", you were never given much aside from hiding within crowds for the right moment. Now, with the fantastic addition of a crafting system and an enormous collection of tools, I was left stunned at the countless possibilities I was given considering how dull a straight up approach to combat has become.

From what I've experienced so far, I only really became engrossed with the latest entry into the series after two dozen hours or so but it'd be a crime in saying that it so wasn't worth the wait. Edward is a powerfully addictive lead despite his mediocre supporting cast. The open seas, naval battles and exploration will drain your life away and the combat has taken a newly ingenious direction. Black Flag represents a stepping stone for the franchise, a shining symbol that the series if far from dried out and you'd be crazy to let this one pass out of your grasp. There has never been a better time to stretch your sea legs.

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