Anyone who's been keeping up with the series will be familiar with the Desmond saga that had been the staple of the series so far. However, with that story line having ended, the next installment had a challenge as well as an opportunity to step in and move the series forward with a change in direction. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag attempts to do much of that but with the intention to keep in line with what the series has been so well know for. The result is a game that is unarguably fun and well meant but not without its shortcomings, although it is definitely a worthy addition and one of the better games to be released in the franchise. There are definitive shifts in the game play style, that range from combat to exploration to story. The most striking feature is the world that you're set into, unlike any other game in the series. In order to fit into the pirate based theme, the player's exploration is also set along the same lines. Which of course means plunder, assault, and discovering numerous locations that house various artifacts and treasures, it is a welcome diverse approach taken.
As far as the story goes, for once you don't have to carry the burden of the assassin code riding on your conscience for Edward Kenway is man without a moral code. The only thing that drives him is the acquisition of riches. The privateer turned pirate is the father of Haytham Kenway and the grandfather of Connor Kenway, both of whom were main characters in Assassin's Creed III. If you're looking for subtle references to what we know is to come, then you'll most likely be disappointed as the game never touches on the familial relationship of the future save for the briefest of glimpses at the end. But the game is still part of the Kenway saga and the story of Edward is unfolded. Edward's backstory is hardly elaborated upon over the course of the game, however, numerous flashbacks are shown from the start to make his background clear. A young man who dreams of riches, he leaves behind his wife to explore the world to meet his own ends, a privateer being seemingly the best way to do so. But when those plans fall through, opportunity presents for Edward to transition into a pirate and when he comes a cross a traveler with a purpose and with an agenda that implies easy money, Edward conjures a ruse, not knowing his involvement in a much grander scheme, the fight between the Assassins and Templars.
From there on the story goes into tipsy turvy mode, never making you sure as to who can be called a friend or an enemy- being pirates- mutiny and double crossing comes naturally which is exactly what is in store. Historical figures such as Blackbeard, Charles Vane among other are present and the story line does a great job to flesh these characters, and their involvement with Edward, out. It mostly comes down to circumstances and the consequences of the many rash decisions that pirates are known to make. It is due to these very consequences that we see the maturity as well as the morality makes its appearance in Edward as he realizes that life is not about only money and the need for companionship is much more necessary. All that change comes late in the game though an for much of it you'll be seeing various pirate shenanigans which involves looting, attacking enemy ships and trading activities.
The other side of the story, the modern day events, unfortunately are even worse than the previous games. Before, the Desmond sequences felt like a chore, this time round, they are absolutely terrible. There are no cutscenes, instead you are put into the footsteps of an unseen non-speaking character that interacts with Abstergo entertainment employees, most of a ll with a person called John. He starts out being friendly but his intentions take a more sinister turn and the player character must obey his bidding to hack into the Abstergo mainframe. Conversations between these characters are frustratingly long and dull while all you want to do is go back to the historical timeline to uncover that story. It all ties up in the end, the location of a first civilisation base known as the Observatory is the main plot point and is connected to a person known as the Sage who is hunted for in the historical story but has an impact in present day events as well.
Now any pirate that doesn't venture into the open sea isn't a pirate at all, therefore, if you're averse to the idea of taking a dip into the ocean or setting sail then you have no business playing this game. Just a little under half of the game takes place at sea. Naval activities have been refined greatly from Assassin's Creed III. In Black Flag you'll find it much easier to steer your ship, the Jackdaw. It is seamless in movement and the sea has been developed as a place to explore. Hunting options are available which involves harpooning whales while you could also dive in and swim through the findings under the sea. Although these are handy options, they don't captivate much meaning you probably will leave these out until after you're done with completing the story. Combat is engaging, particularly at first, as it sets you up nicely for a clash that requires you to be on your most alert. Simply firing away cannons will not matter much, uses of spyglass, mortars and individual combat to take over the ship is necessary. Near the end of the game, these might seem redundant as they spring up at the most inconvenient of times. Getting outnumbered and cornered is also an issue requiring you to upgrade the Jackdaw.
The upgrades are where the game falls short, as was the case with the previous installment, there is no real use for it. Save for the Jackdaw - where you might sneak through occasionally without an upgrade as well- it is nearly useless to upgrade anything. Combat is effortlessly simple now that Edward is somewhat of a god. No matter how many enemies are thrown at you, there will b no issue to dispatch them, that's not to say it's a completely bad thing as combat is still smooth enough to entertain. But that means acquiring new weapons or innovative techniques such as the smoke bombs or rope darts are of no use and you might not even be aware of their uses.
Exploration has been given a new life in Black Flag. It is what the player will be indulging himself in most of the time. The game has a various islands scattered all around for you to venture into. These are all diverse locations, while you won't be finding any organized cities like before, what you will be discovering are jungles, pirate coves, isolated islands and much more. This means that once you're done familiarizing yourself with one type of location, simply jump onto the Jackdaw and sail over to the next one where you'r sure to busy yourself with diverse environments that offer opportunities to branch out with your options. Climbing is as smooth as ever and you'll never find yourself complaining of clumsiness, it is particularly rewarding to scale mountains and admire the scenery with Edward's eagle vision. A good portion of time can be given just to explore the world.
Characters in the game aren't as easy to accustom to as they were back in Ezio's days but that's just because of the pirate lifestyle. Edward never sticks around long enough with a particular companion for you to fall in love with them. The them of piracy is well laid out and all the characters follow that code, so being too friendly isn't in their character traits. But there are many moments of merriment to enjoy and is nicely executed story wise. Graphics haven't take any leaps and are along the same lines of the previous game. Sound is better this time round with the battles taking place in the midst of typhoons offering great moments to enjoy the swooshing sea and the booming of cannon fire. Voice acting is a plus, Edward is imminently likable largely due to line delivery and his development is effectively handled by the voice actor.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a very enjoyable game, if the inevitable comparisons to other games in the series are not made, it is a superb game overall. The game introduces several features and keeps thing s fresh for players heading into the next installments to come and carry forward pleasant memories from this one.