My Assassin's Creed Past
Assassin's Creed has always been a supremely frustrating franchise for me. I love the idea behind it, but the series has always broken down for me gameplay wise. I played AC 1, 2, and Brotherhood, but never actually finished any of them due to games boring me to death. The problems with the fist AC game have been well documented in reviews and comments throughout the years, so I won't focus too much on that game. Most of them applied to my tastes. The only thing that I want to mention about it is that until Black Flag, I found AC 1 to have the most interesting historical setting.
I thought that AC 2 had an incredibly slow start, but I slogged through it in the hopes of the rest of the game being worth it. However, I soon discovered that none of the activities interested me and I was not particularly interested in the main story to boot. The same applies to Brotherhood, though in mind's eye, the slow start was much quicker than in AC 2. I played about half of Brotherhood, and a quarter of AC 1 and 2 (each). I'm generally interested in all sorts of histories, so I know a few things here and there. I enjoyed how these games presented themselves because they always felt more authentic than a popcorn movie, even when you consider the incredible liberties that the series takes. Settings and presentation were not enough for me though, and the aforementioned games left me with a simple conclusion: playing them was not worth what I was getting out of them.
I found the combat to be mind numbingly boring, and it occurred far too frequently for my liking. Waiting for a counter so that you can basically insta kill your opponent (I'm over simplifying here of course) and then chain other kills became very tedious for me. It was almost like the grinding that you have to do in a typical JRPG for me. I found that I didn't really have to think about what I was doing and every combat scenario was met with a big fat sigh. The freerunning element of AC was easily my favorite since I'm generally a big fan of exploring and traversing environments in games. However, there is only so much world to explore. Apart from hunting for secrets or cool spots, I also admired how impressive the AC worlds were from a game development perspective. As a small time developer myself, it really put in to perspective what these huge teams with a lot of resources can do. But as I already said, there is only so much world to explore. The freerunning mechanics don't help the longevity either, as the game kind of plays itself as much as it can. Obviously you're in control and everything, but the world and mechanics are designed to be so streamlined that you don't need to think that much about it. It's part of the reason AC is so popular with what we might call "casual" gamers.
What changed with Black Flag? Why I am I enjoying it so far?
To answer the first question- surprisingly, not a lot. I jumped into the combat with zero problems since playing Brotherhood upon release, and I still find it to be rather tame and boring. Maybe I'm misremembering the previous games or something, but the combat in Black Flag seems to go by much quicker which is a huge bonus for me. I don't mind it in small bursts, and I've found that the frequency of the battles is toned down. Yay! And to be totally fair, I have actually enjoyed a few battles so far. Boarding ships is awesome, and even though the mechanics of the fighting are totally the same, the atmosphere, cinematic quality, and mood of the whole ordeal go a long way. I've played about a quarter of the game thus far, and I want to play more as opposed to stop.
Apart from climbing synchronization points and traversing the environment, my favorite aspect of the gameplay is the whole ship element. Fighting other ships is pretty awesome as is sailing to all sorts of islands and looking for treasure/raiding warehouses/etc. The warehouse raids are pretty fun because you get to feel like a badass but have to be on alert at all times. You need be careful with your movement and as you know already, I like it when the game makes me think. As I just mentioned, the ship stuff does a lot for me. I love upgrading it and building up the crew, but the actual act of sailing and controlling the ship is fun itself. I gotta give a big fat salute to the 4000 Ubisoft studios that made sure controlling a ship on a controller would be a fun experience.
The biggest reason behind me enjoying Black Flag so far is the setting (it also helps the slow start felt quicker than before). I'm extremely familiar with the game's period/locations and have a general interest in both, so I get a much bigger kick out of the world than in previous titles. I'm not the type to get angry because of how many liberties get taken with the history, it's a freaking work of fiction for crying out loud. I get much more satisfaction out of this world than the other AC games, and I'm finding that there is a lot more to explore than ever before. Since I find the world so interesting, I'm automatically curious about the main story as well. It hasn't been exception so far, but its definitely been enjoyable.
So where does this leave me for the rest of Black Flag and the rest of the franchise?
I know that I will get tired of the combat, and I can imagine myself getting tired of the ship battles as well. We'll see how it goes as I play more of the game, but like I said, I actually want to play more this time around. I ultimately feel that every gameplay mechanic of Assassin's Creed is generally too shallow for my liking, though of course, I don't have too much experience with the ship stuff yet. So in order to make up for the gameplay, every other part of the game has to be really engaging for my tastes. So far, Black Flag is on point in that regard. Despite this, I worry that this game could be a one off. The chances of them nailing a historical period that I am especially interested is probably not that high, and I will continue to be disinterested in most of the franchise's mechanics if they continue to be as streamlined as they are.
Finally, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that these games need to be made with me in mind. I have my tastes and that's simply that. I know they have their audience and businesses need to make money. I can only hope that I will enjoy the rest of Black Flag and that future AC games may interest me.
Thanks for reading! What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the AC series? Cheers.