Assassin's Creed IV: Sailing the Living Ocean of Black Flag

There will be plenty of activities to do in the open seas of Black Flag, but just how integral will they be to your playing experience?

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More so than eye patches or frilly shirts or a healthy dose of scurvy, the ocean is the main ingredient of any pirate lifestyle. Little wonder then that the sea plays such an integral part in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the pirate-focused entry into Ubisoft's popular franchise. During a recent trip to Ubisoft's Singapore studios (who with lead studio Ubisoft Montreal are creating Black Flag), I was shown a few of the nautical activities that will be available in this next Assassin's Creed adventure. By now you've already seen ship-to-ship battles, and been given hints about harpooning and diving. As I was given more details on the action that will take place in and around the waters of the Caribbean, it became clear that Ubisoft desperately wants players to see its open world as alive with possibilities. But an overstuffed open world is nothing new for Assassin's Creed, and as some of the previous games in the franchise have shown, quantity has not always translated directly into quality. Will any of the new side activities in Black Flag be fun, or even integral enough to your experience to actually be worthwhile playing?

With no hands-on allowed during this studio tour, the "fun" question will have to be answered at a later time. As to how worthwhile these activities will be to pursue, the development team say they have tied side quests into the world's economy in an improved way in Black Flag (lead designer Sebastien Berton cites Far Cry 3's economy model as a key influence), as well as giving players important reasons to complete side quests, such as rewards that can be used for upgrading pirate main character Edward Kenway or his ship, the Jackdaw.

Take fort battles. Forts in Black Flag are akin to Borgia Towers in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood--"liberate" a fort, and it becomes yours to keep. It will be manned by your pirate hoard and become hostile to other ships that sail close enough for its armaments. Taking over any of the game's 11 forts--which are scattered throughout the Caribbean--will be a two-staged exercise that begins with you piloting the Jackdaw and ends with a direct land assault. You'll need to weaken the fort with your ship's cannons first, sailing back and forth to destroy walls, towers, and mortar placements, before jumping off your ship and finishing the job in the semi-ruined fort itself. The demo I was shown was an impressive sight, showcasing a good level of detail in the destructibility of the fort as the Jackdaw rained damage upon its walls.

One of the noisiest, most destructive activities in Black Flag--ship-versus-ship battles--will also play into the larger economic pursuit in Black Flag. Any ships you successfully manage to defeat (and not sink) will be added to your fleet. Similar to how you were able to send assassins on missions in the Mediterranean Defense side-game in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, you'll be able to send captured ships around the Caribbean to attack other vessels and take their cargo. Roaming the seas of the Caribbean will be 30 different types of ships, broken up into five different classes from the speedy gunboat to the massive, cannon laden Spanish Man-O-War. The Jackdaw--Kenway's Millennium Falcon for the game--is a razee, a modified brig class that you'll be able to customize as the game progresses.

Sea battles and fort attacks are Black Flag at its loudest and brashest, showcasing Kenway's control over the sea as he uses it as a platform to bring fire, explosions, and death to his enemies. But not all ocean activities will have Kenway as master and commander. Two new activities to the franchise--diving and harpooning--will strip the assassin of much of his power, while still giving him material rewards within the game.

Using a period-appropriate diving bell, you'll be able to reach dive sites to search for treasure in certain locations around the Caribbean. Each location will have several chests to loot, but you'll have to avoid dangerous urchins and jellyfish. Worse yet are sharks, who serve as the patrolling guards of underwater environments. And unlike guards on the land, sharks underwater cannot be killed. They must be avoided by hiding in stalking zones (like thick patches of kelp), in submerged barrels (which also act as a method of replenishing your oxygen supply), or within the wrecks themselves. But if a shark does spot you, it’s not necessarily the end. In the demo I saw, Kenway managed to punch off one of the toothy beasts, sustaining some injuries and leaving a cloud of blood in the water. And while that one shark swam away, Ubisoft reps told me that the blood would eventually attract more of the predators.

Kenway, however, is not completely without his Assassin talents under the sea. He retains some of his mobility, with his parkour abilities transformed into a type of free-swimming action where he uses the underwater environment to navigate through the depths. But despite this greater freedom of movement, Kenway is at a distinct disadvantage against the creatures of the sea when he’s underwater.

With harpooning, Kenway shifts back to the role of predator as he hunts some of the larger denizens of the sea. Harpooning will net players materials that can be used to upgrade Kenway, and there will be six different types of animals to hunt, including whales. These battles will be intimate--in the demo I was shown, it was Kenway, alone, shirtless on a small boat, against a great white shark. Kenway started the activity by throwing a harpoon with an attached rope to a shark. When it connected, the shark bolted, dragging the boat and Kenway along in its wake. The assassin/pirate continued to throw harpoons (you’ll only have a limited number in your arsenal) at the shark as it weaved in front, with the creature occasionally turning back and jumping out of the water in an attempt to take a chunk out of Kenway.

These activities –plus a few more such as finding hidden caves around the Caribbean--are all part of Ubisoft’s desire to make you feel the ocean is alive in Black Flag, that sailing won’t be a sedate activity. There certainly doesn't seem to be a shortage of things to do while in the open water, and I'm looking forward to roaming the Caribbean and seeing what adventures I can get Kenway into. And while the idea of taking on a shark solo or managing a fleet of pirate vessels sounds exciting initially, the test will be how often I'll want to take on a great white, or find dive sites, or capture new ships, once I'm immersed in the game’s main quest. How much will we want to play in Black Flag's living ocean? And will we even really need to?

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Written By

Randolph is the managing editor of GameSpot, and needs more time to play games.

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Discussion

58 comments
Phantomchaser23
Phantomchaser23

Why all the haters? Black flag looks sick stop being such downers people.

diogofonseca
diogofonseca

I wonder if your ship can get attacked while you're not there.

MigzBR
MigzBR

Truly brilliant, the magnitude of this world is really something. I'm looking forward to checking it out. The game looks amazing and the ability to be able to just park your ship and go do something looks really impressive. One of my favorite quests of the last game was the ship battles and just sailing the ship. On this new AC they are taking that to the next level. This is a complete open world game, being able to sail from one island to the next is really something, they really want to immerse you in this world and from the looks of it I think they will do the job. I cant wait for the experience of sailing and exploring the Caribbeans, it looks beautiful. This is going to look amazing on my PC. 

prince__vlad
prince__vlad

so what ? I as many other clever people I will play FIRST the game and IF I like it I will buy it. As simple as that;) got it?

SavoyPrime
SavoyPrime

It's good to have side activities in a game, but I wonder how much I'll actually invest in the ones Black Flag has. I guess it really depends on the rewards and/or benefits they bring.

renosmalc
renosmalc

i hate commercials, 28 seconds, you must bkidding me


Crabjock
Crabjock

If by exploring for things, you mean finding all 100 statues or whatever, I'll pass. I've always seen that type of thing as the easy way out. AC, just like Far Cry and the GTA games, feel huge in some aspects, but really lacking in others. There just isn't enough variety in things to buy or collect. Finding feathers for instance, regardless of how many there are to find, are still all just feathers. It's not really exploring if you pretty much know the things you're going to end up finding. It would be cool if you could dive and find treasure, like random weapons and things. But you're in denial if you think it'll be that way. You'll just end up needing to find 50 pirate coins throughout the sea floor.  Loot will be hallow. And money will be pointless. Just like all the other AC and Far Cry games.

pidow
pidow

The more I see, the more I want to play AC, I am very eager to play. 

foxrock66
foxrock66

All I can say is nice try, come back next year. Maybe AC4 will prove me wrong upon release, but right now I see a bargain bin product

skunkpants
skunkpants

WOW! Truly impressive!

My only concern is if all the features are so close together like in this demo. He went from stranded island, to whale, to storm very quickly. Still amazing though.

hadlee73
hadlee73

Has there been any firm details on how the Jackdaw customization will work yet? That's the bit I'm most interested in so far. The Jackdaw might end up being the star of the game for me, instead of Kenway.

nadada20
nadada20

ashraf said that there will be a loding screens when you go to havana and the cities

At3fD
At3fD

This is a completely new level for the Assassin's Creed franchise, i mean shark hunting,whale hunting !! and to actually have your own ship, and go anywhere you want without the loading screen, well done Ubisoft ! ! !

LonelyHippie27
LonelyHippie27

Meh, I'm more afraid of the sharks in GTA V. That's the game I'm waiting for, not this re-hashed POS

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

Looks rediculessly brilliant, like, on par with an elder scrolls game, but in a diffrent way and as it's the last game I'm getting this gen, I really hope it lives up to all it promises.

u1tradt
u1tradt

Far Cry 3's influence will be evident in this game I'd imagine. Ubisoft struck up a sweet balance between exploration and reward in Far Cry 3 and they'd be silly not to implement implement that same formula into AC.

Timmy_Gwar
Timmy_Gwar

I skipped all of Desmond's shenanigans until it was forced to do them in assassins creed 3. Looking forward to this Pirate game.

brainiac1988
brainiac1988

the number of comments here show how many people still care about Assassins Creed.

RCBreaker
RCBreaker

Wish they would fokus more on side missions that were distinctly connected to the assassin concept. I want more assassination contracts that actually have stories and require cunning and stealth, and something akin to the codex pages in ac2, where the collectibles expand on the lore. I can't say I really like the way they are trying to turn this into 1700's gta, with useless minigames and such.

I would also like to get back that feeling of being a lone man in a corrupt society where my enemies ultimately have the upper hand and where I have to blend in and actually use assassin tactics to overcome them. In ac2 you did have allies, but you were ultimately on your own and didn't have an army of ever present assassins and friends who told you what to do. A part of this would also be the feeling of being tangled up in a conspiracy and a world which you don't fully understand, and where your enemies and the conspiracy are revealed as you progress and journey to new cities and locations. I liked finding letters on bodies referring to a "mysterious man in Venice".

nirzor07
nirzor07

Where are the Templars? Don't see em too much in this game

The extra activities look fun though,

baszzer
baszzer

I wonder if the diving sections are integrated into the regular gameplay. It would be somewhat off putting if they are separately accessed or something like that.

korvus
korvus

Sounds good, I always end up favoring the side quests on AC instead of the main quest even if they're not mandatory or necessary; it's nice to start getting "control of the world"...then after I have everything, I finish the main quest =)

johnnybravo29
johnnybravo29

News Everyday For Assassins Creed, 


they are now milking their news aswell, jesus fkn christ O_O

Gravelord_Nito
Gravelord_Nito

"No, the game's still the same love...there's just...less in it" :D

Dandyslayer13
Dandyslayer13

Wheres the assassin action? 

Why not just call this Pirates Creed instead and they can make Creed games instead of Assassins Creed games?

Rat_King
Rat_King

I hear in this one Ezio turns out to be Henry Rollins...

19James89
19James89

Is this Far Cry 3 or Assassin's Creed IV?

Detriiment
Detriiment

Can't wait for this game.  Instabuy.  

GOGOGOGURT
GOGOGOGURT

It's a pirates life for me. Though assassin I truly be.

ebilsan
ebilsan

"They have tied side quests into the world's economy in an improved way in Black Flag (lead designer Sebastien Berton cites Far Cry 3's economy model as a key influence)" 

In other words, the economy might actually matter a little for the first third of the game or so, after which you'll probably have more money/supplies than you'll know what to do with. The economy has always been a half-assed add-on in AC. Same as it ever was...

Ghosthunter54
Ghosthunter54

The ship battles, fort assaults, and ships themselves look a lot like an upgraded version of Bethesda's Pirates of the Caribbean on the original xbox. Hope the ship stuff is fun. Looks way too easy in the videos. 

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

@SavoyPrime Agreed.  I enjoyed the side missions of ACIII to a point, but eventually, I didn't see why I would hunt anymore.  Are there some cool things I could make?  Sure, but they didn't really have value, so I stopped hunting.

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

@foxrock66 A few months ago I would have disagreed with you.  After playing the sea battles in ACIII (not horrible, but not great either) I was disheartened to hear they would be making one about pirates.  "One big game of pointless, boring side missions" I thought.  But after seeing how the game is set up, with movement between land and sea being seamless, I see a lot of potential fun.  I do agree that we'll have to wait for release, but I'm hopeful.

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

@At3fD Just to make sure you aren't hoping for too much:  The whale and shark hunting does look pretty cool, but if hunting has no real in-game benefit, I see most of us avoiding sharks and whales all together.  It'll be up to Ubisoft to make it work.

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

@brainiac1988 Which is odd to me, because I still love them, but I have a feeling I was their perfect demographic.  History + story + stealth = awesome, to me.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@baszzer The transition between regular play and sailing are seemless now, so I would be surprised if the diving wasn't either.

deathwish026
deathwish026

why complain... the more the better i say. i enjoy reading and hearing about games ime interested in

deathwish026
deathwish026

jaack. our sands be all but run... the game used to be a bigger place!

eddieham13
eddieham13

@ebilsan Not as bad as GTA IV.

You complete the game, nothing to spend money on and no real way of getting money.

Joutja
Joutja

@Ghosthunter54 When I saw this game that was my first thought that it looked like PotC with AC themes. Looking forward to it. It's a shame PotC doesn't work on PC's very easily any more. They had some ship battles in AC3 but they were a lot more limited. In this version it looks to give you complete freedom over the seaways. 

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@deathwish026 I sincerly hope there is an achievement/trophy for evasion and it is called 'Remember, today is the day you almost caught Captain Edward Kenway!'