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Assassin’s Creed 4: Cautious Optimism

by William Schwartz

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I don’t know how I feel about Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. On one hand, I’m really excited that there’s going to be a new Assassin’s Creed game. On the other hand, I’m kind of worried about the quick turnaround and that there’s already a new Assassin’s Creed game. Assassin’s Creed has become an annually released game and that’s a problem.

I’m sure by now, most of you reading this would be screaming in your heads “duh! Where have you been Danny? This has been the Status Quo for the last 3 years! Get with the times!” Oh, dear reader, you misunderstand me! I mean it’s more of a problem for Assassin’s Creed 4 then other annualized games or even previous Assassin’s Creed titles.

What do I mean? Well, why don’t we do a quick examination of some of the most popular and common annual titles like Madden and Call of Duty.

A One Developer Franchise

Let’s play a game I like to call, “Which Madden Is It?” The rules are simple, you just tell me which Madden you think the game is: 2012 or 2013.

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Which one is it? No cheating!

Unless you are a Madden Connoisseur who knows every single change made graphically or a football expert and can tell by the jerseys or the players on the rosters, you probably have no idea. For all you know, it’s the same game. But quite simply, the first one was Madden ’13 and the second was Madden ’12. The year on year changes were minimal at best. And with annual sports titles, all you are really paying for is, possibly, a slight improvement in graphical fidelity, some new gimmicky game type, more reactive controls and updated rosters.

From one year to the next, the changes needed to be made aren’t too drastic (unless they are trying to introduce a completely new engine into the mix, which they’ve probably been working on for the last few years anyway) and thus one developer, in this case Tiburon, can easily pump a new one out per year. You’ll find this to be the case for all the other sports titles like Tiger Woods PGA and NBA 2k.

As many of you are probably aware of, Assassin’s Creed 4 is made by one developer: Ubisoft Montreal. The problem is, our expectations for the game are vastly different than for a sports title. From an Assassin’s Creed game we expect slightly better graphics than before, far improved and new gameplay than the previous title, a whole brand new storyline and completely new maps and times to explore all the while improving the game engine itself. Do you remember when an Assassin wasn’t even able to swim?

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In fact, in order to keep up this annual release schedule, it’s crazy to think that Assassin’s Creed 3 was already in development the moment Assassin’s Creed 2 was released, a whole 3 years. And honestly, Brotherhood and Revelations weren’t too bad at all since they were basically just slight improvements over Assassin’s Creed 2, merely with a new story. So what’s the issue then right?

Assassin’s Creed 4 is not a mere slight improvement of Assassin’s Creed 3, like how Brotherhood and Revelations were, it’s a complete revamp of the whole series with completely brand new plot tying everything together as well as brand new mechanics never before seen in Assassin’s Creed nor anything else that Ubisoft has ever made and its only been in development since mid-2011, a mere 2 years at the writing of this. Don’t forget, although Assassin’s Creed 3 was generally liked, anyone who played it when it was first released will remember a horrendous amount of bugs and that’s with a whole extra year of development.

Perhaps they should switch it up, have multiple studios make one each year, sort of the like the Call of Duty franchise where Treyarch and Infinity Ward take turns each year releasing titles (which, to be honest, could easily be two separate franchises). The thing is, a single Assassin’s Creed game takes a whole army of studios to make. Take Assassin’s Creed 3. Ubisoft Montreal worked together with Ubisoft Quebec, Kiev, Romania, Annecy and Singapore. Throwing in more studios would be disastrous for keeping the plot even mildly understandable not to mention that it is far more complicated to make a fully immersive open world than a first person shooter (regardless of how fun either one may be).

So that’s the development cycle part that gets me worried.

What We Know Of The Game Itself

I don’t know about you guys, but for me, how I enjoyed playing Assassin’s Creed was as an Assassin. An individual who kills people as quietly, quickly and effectively as possible for one just reason or another. Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, Revelations and 3 all embodied that to a certain extent. Assassin’s Creed 4? Well, you’re a pirate, as well as a late converter to the Assassin order in Edward Kenway, and no matter how you spin it, a pirate is a criminal.

Sure, you could argue that an Assassin is a murderer, but in general, everyone you must kill in Assassin’s Creed is evil in some way or just plain unavoidable self-defense. Being a pirate is a whole different thing entirely. You are actively going out there looking for people to kill. Oh sure, you aren’t truly looking for people to kill as much as loot to plunder, but good luck trying to be Captain Jack Sparrow and not killing anyone whilst you plunder their ship. What did an ordinary sailor, just working to get by on a transport ship, ever do to you or anyone for that matter?

But that’s just a small niggling issue in my head. What I’m most worried about is gameplay. Sailing around has become an extremely important mechanic. In fact, it’s the mechanic that ties everything together and apparently it will take 30 minutes to sail from one side of the map to the other. That’s good right? A large map, a lot of things to explore! Yes, but most of it is ocean and oceans are generally quite boring and it’s difficult to draw a distinction between a certain part of the ocean from the next. Sailing isn’t even something that is overly fun in real life, let alone in a game.

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They brought this whole mechanic in because naval combat was quite popular in Assassin’s Creed 3, but to be honest, naval combat in Assassin’s Creed 3 was basically maneuvering a boat through some rocks and completing well disguised quick-time event after well disguised quick-time event. Not exactly the most entertaining gameplay in the world in long bursts. It will be interesting to see how Ubisoft Montreal will try to make sailing a more fluid and necessary thing that gamers will want to do.

Why couldn’t they make a brand new pirating franchise just called “Black Flag?”

But if sailing becomes so important, does that mean there will be no quick-travelling? Ubisoft Montreal has promised that there will be a lot to do as you sail from one place to another, but that doesn’t mean diddly-squat if you can just quick travel to a location and skip the sailing. How will that be balanced? Sailing adds so many factors that weren’t even issues in the past. How do you repair your ship whilst you are sailing from place to place, battle with ship after battle with ship? Sure, you could imagine something like repairing at port, but what if you are on a long and perilous journey and you encounter event after event, a ship can’t just “heal” and drink some medicine like a human Assassin (and if it could, it would totally break naval combat).

To me, it just seems like Ubisoft just really wanted to make a pirate game and for obvious beneficial (probably correct) financial reasons for sticking “Assassin’s Creed” on the box would help sales. Why couldn’t they make a brand new pirating franchise just called “Black Flag?” Besides, keeping the future of the franchise in mind, this whole sailing idea works for the Caribbean and the Pirating era, but there aren’t really many other periods and area in history where sailing around was really that important, except perhaps Vikings?

The Optimism

It’s Assassin’s Creed afterall and they haven’t really let us down, yet. I’m hoping they can prove me wrong and show me how well they can make a game with all my problems completely taken care of, but all I’m saying is don’t be overly surprised if Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag isn’t the overly amazing game that it seems to be trying to market itself to be. Be cautiously optimistic.

Do you think Danny is full of it? What are your thoughts on Assassin’s Creed 4?

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