Edward Kenway is a ferocious pirate and seeker of fortune. He and his loyal crew sail the shimmering blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, plundering what they will, and winning the renown of pirates throughout the West Indies. But more than a “man of quality,” Edward Kenway is a perfect vassal for newcomers to the Assassin’s Creed series. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag embraces the roaring thrill of pirating, while all at once throwing the doors open to invite those formally intimidated by its long-running story.
In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you filled the shoes of a modern-day character named Desmond, and that character, in turn, would live out the memories of his ancestors. In Black Flag, this narrative layer is largely absent. You are now diving into those memories alone, to live out the life and adventures of Edward Kenway personally. And he, also, is a newcomer of sorts. New to the life of a pirate, and newer still to the Assassin Order.
I sit down to play Assassin’s Creed IV for the first time with DualShock 4 in hand, noting that the in-game map features more than 50 locations to explore, from wide cities to dense jungles. But in Black Flag, your primary playground is the Caribbean Sea, offering secrets to uncover, bounty to claim, danger to face, and contracts to fulfill. Even in its incomplete state, this PS4 code grapples the Caribbean spectacle with ease, displaying incredible waves, detailed foliage, and smooth animation. The sights seem to go on forever, and the scope of the world is palpable in an instant.
I head out to sea, where I command Edward’s infamous ship — the Jackdaw. It sways and lunges in the waves, spray drenching the decks as Edward’s crew scurry up the rigging. Another ship mast pokes above the horizon in the distance, so I spin the wheel towards it and the Jackdaw lurches towards its prey.
The ship’s weapons vary depending on the angle of attack. As we pull up alongside the enemy vessel, the Jackdaw’s cannons bark into life, perforating the wood with superheated iron. After just a few volleys from my cannons, the enemy ship slips beneath the waves. My co-captain, a member of Ubisoft Montreal’s development team, laughs. Being too aggressive means that I have one less ship to board and plunder, though there’s a chance that some bounty could bubble up to the surface. Luckily, a crate bobs above the waters and I end up a hair richer for my troubles.
I head towards another ship. But just as we adjust our course, the skies darken and the seas surge as a ferocious storm swallows the Jackdaw. As I wrestle with the helm, I notice that a rogue wave is fast approaching the ship.
With a button press, I command the crew to brace for impact, and the wave hammers the Jackdaw with numbing force. Bracing saves me from catastrophic damage, and I’m relieved to see the skies clear as the storm passes overhead. Seizing the opening, I head back to land to experience the bustling streets of a nearby city.
As we sail, the game’s lead writer, Darby McDevitt, discusses his passion for the time period. He explains his effort to infuse Black Flag with rich language — “Shakespeare lite,” he says, smiling. His wish is to give the player something beautiful to hear, but still keep the dialogue accessible for an international audience. Black Flag’s all-English cast brings that language to life with an authenticity that McDevitt is proud of.
The Jackdaw finds its way to the city, and soon Edward is walking among the locals in search of an assassination contract. Once he finds it, my map lights up with an extra icon, beckoning Edward from afar. But first, McDevitt asks me to duck into a nearby tavern in order to hear some samples of the game’s period-authentic music. McDevitt explains that 70 shanties and pub songs are included in Assassin’s Creed IV, and you can teach those shanties to Edward’s crew who will sing them later while at sea. It lends just a little more realism to the world of Black Flag, and gives Edward’s crew a burst of personality.
Next, I quickly guide Edward towards his target. It’s a fellow pirate, and I nudge Edward through some brush that encircles the pirate camp where my mark is located. Edward’s hood is drawn, and his blades ready. I lurk in the gloom, waiting for the pirate to make his way past us. As he strolls over to our hiding place, our hero leaps into action…
…and is stabbed to death by goons, thanks to my sudden realization that I didn’t know what button to press for the execution. McDevitt shrugs with a grin, mentioning that the team made combat much more challenging this time around. Edward didn’t last long in the crowd of enemies, but a player with a real mastery of his counters and dodges will endure much more intense assaults — and look cool in the process.
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is an enormous adventure. It’s especially impressive when you consider just how quickly Ubisoft Montreal leapt from Assassin’s Creed III to Black Flag. For those unfamiliar with the series, Black Flag might just be the perfect opportunity to get on board. At the very least, the team at Ubisoft Montreal aims to satisfy your pirating itch, and our near-universal love for adventure.