Rule the Caribbean as Edward Kenway, the Pirate Assassin.
While reviews were mixed for the last Assassin’s Creed, there is near-universal praise for the game’s naval missions, which sent protagonist Connor Kenway all over the eastern seaboard during the American Revolution. The sequel actually rolls back time by several decades, as you take control of Edward Kenway (Connor’s grandfather, also an Assassin) and freely explore the Caribbean Sea. The emphasis and expansion upon naval gameplay is immediately evident in Assassin’s Creed 4, and the subtitle, “Black Flag”, says plenty about the pirate-inspired missions.
During the guided E3 demo (running on Playstation 4 hardware), a developer from Ubisoft Montreal told NWR that about 40% of the game takes place on your ship. It is now the primary mode of transportation, and unlike the preset routes of AC3, you can now sail anywhere in the Caribbean Sea, which includes several large islands and dozens of smaller ones. There’s no need to find developed ports, because Edward can set anchor anywhere and simply jump into the water, swimming to any nearby shore. Any bad memories of prolonged sailing in Wind Waker should be forestalled by the Animus Travel feature, which propels the ship to unnatural speeds at the touch of a button.
Naval battles are also getting a big upgrade. Main cannons now have an arc of elevation, so you have direct control over how far the shots will travel. Edward can walk up to a swivel cannon to aim it directly at a ship’s weak point, or even to take out an assassination target. There’s even an ability (probably optional) to have your crew automatically select the best ammunition for a given enemy ship. Some of the ship upgrades are unlocked by finding blueprints, locked up as buried treasure that you’ll only find by discovering a dead pirate’s treasure map and following it to the X.
You’ll find it much easier to track down that buried treasure with the off-TV features. On every platform, including Wii U, the game supports a separate smartphone/tablet/PC application that communicates with the game console over WiFi. As you run around and sail the ocean with your controller, the application displays a large map that updates in real-time to show your path, track your progress, and provide clues about nearby locations. It can also display treasure maps and other useful information while you play. All of this data is also available within the game itself (through menus), but having the app on a separate device is more convenient. A subset of this feature can be shown on the Wii U GamePad, but the developers told us it may be less detailed since that display has to be generated by the same hardware that’s also running the game itself.
This being an Assassin’s Creed game, there are still plenty of stealth-action missions taking place on various islands around the Caribbean. You can probably count on some off-Animus scenes as well, though we didn’t see any of it at E3. Still, for a series that has been annualized for the past several years, the improvements and fresh locale of Assassin’s Creed IV are quite welcome. The Wii U version may not land on exactly the same day as PS3 and Xbox 360, but it will very likely arrive before the PS4 and Xbox One versions later this fall.