Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Reviews

67,251 (50,085)
TT Score for this game: 1,802
Posted on 25 August 14 at 20:25
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I'm going to start this review off with a fact. I am an Assassin's Creed fan. An avid one. I adore the series to death. But to do the series justice, you can count on this review to be as completely equal-grounded and unbiased as possible. Much of a fan as I am, I don't have a single problem admitting the faults. As I do with my other reviews, I'm going to split this up into particular sections, and spoilers will be minimal, if present at all. (Don't worry, if I end up typing any, I'll put a warning next to the section).

To start us off, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was probably a game none of us expected, in terms of content. We all knew another Assassin's Creed game was coming the year after Assassin's Creed III, but I don't think any of us expected it to be a numbered entry instead of a spin off, a la Brotherhood or Revelations. Nor do I think most of us expected it would turn into a pirate game, either! Needless to say, I'm sure most of you stand with me in the fact that we were very wary on this game after the buggy mess that was Assassin's Creed III. Most of that game's faults lied in the fact that they were using an entirely new engine for it. And let me tell you, Assassin's Creed IV does not disappoint. And here's why.

STORY: (Mild potential spoilers in first section, major spoilers in the second)

The Past - The game takes place between 1715 and 1722, during the Golden Age of Piracy. You play as Edward Kenway, father and grandfather to Assassin's Creed III's Haytham Kenway and Connor, respectively, and ancestor of Desmond Miles, who for those of you new to the series, is the central protagonist of the original Assassin's Creed trilogy's present day timeline. Edward is a pirate through and through, and much as Ezio's desire was revenge and Connor's was freedom, Edward instead opts to accomplish goals solely for his own personal gain. To him, what's right doesn't matter if it doesn't fill his pockets. Already the game takes a different turn and seeks to separate itself as a bold new entry into the series instead of a spin-off, as the protagonists of the past games have for the most part been shining lights in voids of darkness. Edward ends up attracting the attention of the Knights Templar, a secret organization that rivals the Assassins, and primary antagonists of the series, and through it, Edward gets drawn into the never ending fight between the two factions. Again, Edward's personality sends the game in a different direction from its predecessors, as though he dresses like an Assassin, he'll side with either faction, depending on what improves his lot in life more to his liking. Edward is out to find The Observatory, a location that he feels if he finds it, can sell the information to the highest bidder and be set for life. And that is where the main plot of the game begins to unfold, as he's not the only one looking.

The Present - It is now almost a year after the end of Assassin's Creed III's present-day timeline, and to further make this game its own entry, you are not playing as Desmond Miles. Instead, you are a new employee working for Abstergo Entertainment, a subsidiary of Abstergo Industries, where you are tasked with reliving the memories of Edward Kenway, so they can put together the clips to make a movie showcasing the brutal reality of life as a pirate. But, for those of you who have played the past games, reliving the memories specifically of a pirate who was also involved with Assassins and is an ancestor of Desmond Miles? That can't be a coincidence. For those of you wondering if you will see anything relating to the old gang, you will see plenty, I assure you, and even some things involving Juno. As you play more, this story takes a complete 180, and that's when things heat up.


In the game you'll meet a colorful cast of characters from the Golden Age of Piracy. As heavily advertised, one of Edward's main companions throughout the game is Edward Thatch, commonly known as Blackbeard. Others include pirates Charles Vane, Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack, Anne Bonney, Bartholomew Roberts and Mary Read. You'll also meet famed pirate hunter and Governor of Cuba, Woodes Rogers. Edward also has his faithful first mate, Adewale. Adewale is essentially the kind of character that is the likes of Ezio and Connor. Concerned less with pirating, plundering and riches, Adewale is more concerned with what's right and what can be done to unify the crew and keep as much harm from everyone as possible, and is often butting heads with Edward over his constant searching for his own gain.

GAMEPLAY: (Many things to talk about, is split up in sections)

Combat & Tools - The game plays much the same as Assassin's Creed III, albeit with almost zero bugs and issues. Edward, like Connor, is a dual wielder but instead of a weapon and a small blade, Edward causes maximum harm like a true pirate with two swords, and an all-new unique fighting style. Enemies are a bit more difficult to kill, due to the AI's improvement, as they now target you when it's very inconvenient. The combat is also a tad bit more realistic, as now if you're in the middle of a combo kill, you need to time it perfectly or you will not be able to counter an enemy trying to attack you. Edward can also gain up to 4 pistol holsters, which can pull off a 4 man multi-kill and in a pinch, save your life. The Rope Darts make a return from Assassin's Creed III, but not until incredibly late into the game. Smoke Bombs also return and function just the same as the past games. A new tool Edward gains the use of is the blowpipe, which can fire Sleep Darts or Berserk Darts. Sleep Darts do as you would expect and knock a guy out, Berserk Darts make enemies go crazy and attack the nearest enemy in sight. Whether that is you or a fellow soldier all depends on your placement. Both darts and their capacities can be upgraded, as can all the tools mentioned above.

In regards to the pistols, the game also introduces a free aiming system. Whereas now if you tap a button and fire, it does less damage (and for instance will not kill larger enemies in one shot) free aiming allows you to aim your pistol at particular spots, like a set of explosive barrels behind a group of enemies, or to get a headshot and instantly kill a particularly strong enemy. Lastly, using the hidden blades and fighting with your fists both in and out of combat remain largely unchanged. Yes, even if you combo kill with your fists and snap someone's neck, they will not die but lie on the ground groaning in pain.

Hunting & Crafting - Unlike Assassin's Creed III, the armor system makes a return, but instead Edward acquires a crafting ability, where he uses skins from animals he has hunted to craft himself bigger pouches, or better pieces of his armor to acquire more health or, as mentioned in the previous section, improve the capacity or effectiveness of your darts and guns. Animals that you can hunt are things like Jaguars, Howler Monkeys, Iguanas, Wild Pigs, Crocodiles, and more. You can also find certain spots in the ocean and grab some of your crew, hop in a rowboat and try and hunt down and harpoon certain types of whales in order to get their skins and craft even better equipment.

Naval Exploration & Loot - Those who have played Assassin's Creed III no doubt remember the naval missions and privateer contracts that took place on the Aquila. Now, you are Edward in command of the Jackdaw. From the exploration point of view, it handles a bit more like a real ship would. No longer being able to turn on a dime, the wind affects the sails even more. The sea is much more realistic as well, and much more dangerous. Storms can happen at any time, which is cause for rogue waves and in even worse cases, waterspouts. Both of those can do some serious damage to your ship if you're not careful, and in a ship battle, can be the difference between victory and defeat. And that goes for both sides. There are plenty of loot that you can acquire from enemy ships. They are: Sugar, Rum, Cloth, Wood and Metal. Sugar and Rum's sole purpose is to be your moneymakers. Cloth you can use to upgrade your sails or improve the Crew's Quarters to have more men on your ship. Wood and Metal are the big ones. You'll need wood to improve your ships defensive (and in some case offensive) capabilities, and you're going to need a lot of metal if you want to improve your cannons and swivel guns. Sailing on the ship is a seamless experience. Unless you are looking to enter one of the game's three main cities, going from your ship to a small town or village is as easy as letting go of the wheel and hopping off your ship. No load screens, nothing. Edward also has a spyglass that he can use to see into the distance and find out what kinds of loot are on a particular ship, to see if it's worth plundering or not. You can also have your crew sing Sea Shanties to pass the time.

Naval Combat - Everything about the naval combat has been changed in some way since Assassin's Creed III. For instance, the swivel guns play a much more prominent role, as enemy ships can get holes in them in multiple spots that require rapid-fire responses. You are also now able to adjust the trajectory of your broadsides to aim over waves or down to the hull of the ship or sails, as you see fit. You can also give a ship a good old fashioned ram to do a bunch of damage. The ship also eventually acquires a mortar gun, so you can target enemies from far away and do some serious damage with a direct hit. Aiming from the front of the ship makes use of the Chain-Shot, which is useful for temporarily slowing a ship down when it's in front of you attempting to escape. Aiming behind you lets loose explosive fire barrels, so that any ship that's chasing you meets a nasty surprise. Boarding a ship is now no longer a scripted event, and you can board any ship you want provided you don't destroy it after you immobilize it. Boarding a ship is required if you want to maximize the loot gained from a particular ship. Destroying the ship only gives you a fraction of what was on it. Boarding a ship has certain objectives to do before you succeed, depending on what ship it is. No matter what, you'll have to kill a certain number of crewmen. And depending on the ship you'll either also have to deal with the enemy's snipers, kill their captain, destroy their powder stores or climb all the way up and destroy their flag. After that you have the option to either use the spare parts from the ship to repair the health of yours, lower your wanted level (which is gained via pirating and destroying ships) or send it to your fleet, which is the Assassin's Creed IV version of Assassin Recruit missions or Homestead Convoys. You also stand a chance of losing crewmen every chance you board a ship, as they join you in the boarding. Thankfully it's the West Indies and there are plenty of pirates to rescue and recruit.

Shipwrecks & Smuggler's Dens - Edward can also pass by shipwrecks, where if you have the Diving Bell on your ship, can explore the underwater sections of those shipwrecks and plunder all the treasure, which usually contain an upgrade plan for an elite upgrade for the Jackdaw. But be aware, as there are sea urchins, jelly fish, moray eels and even worse, sharks out to threaten you. Sometimes they also lead to caves where smugglers hide their treasure, which proves a challenging experience, for Edward has no armor or weapons when he goes underwater, and must steal the smugglers treasure stealthily or silently take out the enemies one by one, or risk a conflict where the odds are highly stacked against you.

Side Quests - Edward can perform side quests much like the past games. In Assassin's Creed IV, these are mainly Assassination Contracts, Naval Contracts and Templar Hunts. The first two are exactly what they sound like. You go kill a target and get paid, or you go hunt down a ship and get paid. Templar Hunts are a different matter, though. They involve meeting with your Assassin bureau leaders in the cities and eliminating targets of high priority.

Gaining money in this game is also considerably easier than Assassin's Creed III, as the game has returned to the formula of rewarding you with money after most missions, or at the very least rewarding you with MORE money when you earn it, and you won't have to depend entirely on the Fleet metagame or plundering ships. Along with the Jackdaw, Edward also acquires a Pirate Hideout on an island, and you can use your hard earned money to upgrade it. Improve your manor, build a tavern, and many other things reminiscent of the Villa or Homestead. Outfits also make a return, where you can dye your clothes or wear different types of uniforms. Optional objectives also mark a return, to gain "full sync" with a memory, and are usually pretty varied instead of the same ones in Assassin's Creed III. Collectibles also make a return, this time there are Sea Shanties (which fly away like Assassin's Creed III's almanac pages) Animus Data Fragments, Treasure Chests, Mayan Stones and Buried Treasure.

The Present - Gameplay in the present day timeline is played from a first person perspective. You can leave the Animus at anytime, and you usually go around the offices and lobby hacking unattended computers, which will be 1 of 3 minigames, giving you insight on Abstergo's true motives and more about what happened after the end of Assassin's Creed III.


The multiplayer component of the series returns with this title as well, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The multiplayer of Brotherhood was filled with glitches and problems, but it was Ubisoft's first attempt to include it with the series, and it wasn't all around a bad thing. Revelations improved on everything Brotherhood had started. However, the jump from Revelations to Assassin's Creed III was not a very big one, and even I couldn't stick around to get to Level 50 like I had the past two games. I'm very glad to say this is not the case in Assassin's Creed IV. The multiplayer in this title has many familiar game modes. Wanted, Deathmatch, Manhunt, Assassinate, Artifact Assault and Domination. They all mainly play the exact same as they always have, and the kill animations are much more fluid and completely redone, unlike the copied & pasted ones from prior entries. Black Flag has no new game modes to offer, but makes up for it with the inclusion of the Game Lab. Game Lab is essentially Assassin's Creed's entry into creating custom game modes. You can take all the game modes and edit all the parameters, ranging from score limit, how many points you get per kill, what abilities can't be used, if any at all, there are tons of options to choose from. And to keep things fresh, you can play Game Lab publicly, and join a match in user-made custom game modes. So essentially, it'll be like a new game mode every time you decide to play Game Lab, when really it's just twists put on the regular ones.

The cooperative experience Wolfpack also makes a return from Assassin's Creed III, and it has been IMMENSELY improved. Now instead of wave after wave of repetitive killing, every 3 or 4 sequences, you will be presented with, for lack of better words, game modes within a game mode. You and your team will have to run to certain areas and essentially play permanent defense against AI enemies in a round of Brotherhood's Chest Capture game mode, where enemies will come in and try and steal your chests, often using abilities like Glimmer (to turn invisible) to try and fool you. Once you reach the next set of sequences, you'll be playing defense in Revelations' Corruption game mode, where you must avoid infected AI players and find "health packs" which enable you to go kill the infected players. But coordinate with your team and do it fast, the health packs don't last forever and if you're near an infected when it runs out, you won't have time to go grab another.

Multiplayer unlocks and statistics remain largely the same. You gain experience (though it seems the level cap has been raised) and you can also prestige for more unlocks (though don't worry, you won't have to prestige to unlock any abilities. Those are all unlocked before the level cap). The selection of maps is very like the past entries, with most maps being completely unique and very well designed, pretty looking to boot. However, as with Assassin's Creed III, there are no returning maps from past entries. The set of characters are mostly all new, with The Night Stalker and The Huntsman returning from Assassin's Creed III. Some new abilities have also been added, like Time Warp, which slows down time for everyone to give you a small window of opportunity that can definitely make a difference. You also gain more about the present day storyline through multiplayer, as throughout level ups you'll gain access to secret Abstergo files.


The trophy list for this game is pretty solid, and much like the other games. You've got the trophies for each time you complete a DNA Sequence, you have the trophy you get for getting 100% sync on each main memory, you've got your trophies for completing certain combat objectives, completing all contracts, or even defeating the 4 legendary ships (and man, they are TOUGH). The only thing different about this list is there isn't a single trophy tied to collecting all of a certain collectible, unless you count the Mayan Stones, but that trophy involves getting the reward for unlocking the door the stones are part of, and not getting the stones themselves. The trophy from Assassin's Creed III which involved getting 100% on the entire game as a whole however does not make a return. There is bad news for that, however. There are a few multiplayer trophies, and one of them is to get to level 55, much like the Download Complete trophy from Brotherhood that everyone dreaded so much. The rest involve Game Lab, using a custom ability set, using every ability, and going through the Wolfpack tutorial. All in all a solid list, complete with challenging ones and that one grindy one everyone hates but eventually gets anyway.


Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag stands out as its own game in every way possible. Much like Assassin's Creed II was to the first title, this game is an improvement over Assassin's Creed III in almost every way, and not just with bug fixes. The game plays smoother, the story is much more engaging, the tutorial is rather short, the characters are more varied, the combat is refined, and the multiplayer is also by far the best in the series. It is a much more graphically superior game, vibrant with color and textures that aren't so muddy. The next-gen version will definitely properly do it justice. Which reminds me, for those of you on the fence thinking if you should wait for the next-gen version or not, that all depends on your stance on the series. The game will likely play no different, other than being at a higher framerate and being able to handle slightly better textures and much more complex shading. It won't look that much better than the current-gen game, only run a bit better. My advice would be spend the money now and take advantage of the discount you get when trading the current-gen version in for the next-gen version, because when you get right down to it, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is not a game you want to miss out on.

UPDATE: I own this game for Playstation 4, and can say that the next-gen version is indeed the definitive version of the game. The game is locked at 30fps so, no 60 frames, but the graphics are immensely better. The amount of detail in textures is astounding, ranging from nicks and scratches in Edward's leather armor, to realistic looking eyes and more foliage so Edward actually looks hidden in stalking zones. Get it.
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