A Pirate's life is kind of repetitive
By the time I reached the end of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I felt exhausted and relieved. I was so happy to see the credits, to finally complete the story. Not because I expected some grand ending, or because I had enjoyed the journey and wished to see how it all ended.The reason I was so relieved at finally beating this game was simple: Its too long and filled with too much unnecessary content.
This is the 6th game in the main series, but if you start counting other games like Liberation, Bloodlines and that awful mobile game this is like the 324th Assassin's Creed game. I joke, but this series has grown very large and very fast. Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag tries to freshen up this annualized series- with mixed results.
One new change is you play as a pirate. A full fledged, rum drinking, ship boarding, swashbuckling pirate. This isn't just a gameplay change though, it also allows Ubisoft Montreal to change the way the story feels. No longer are you some depressed man who doesn't really like being an Assassin.....but he is sooo.. he just deals with it. No, now you're a fun loving, money hunting pirate. It allows the game to have more exciting moments, and lets you enjoy not only being a pirate but also a badass Assassin. Edward Kenway, the character you play as, is a fun character to watch. He does what he wants and seems more concerned over gold then some noble creed to live by. Its a nice change to the series' regular protagonists, like Altair or Connor.
Another change is focus on sea combat and travel. Assassin's Creed III introduced the concept of naval combat, but ACIV not only expands on naval gameplay, but makes it more important. You now have a huge ocean to explore. Inside this huge world, you will find islands, sand bars, coral reefs, sunken ships, whales, sharks, forts and more. Unlike ACIII, where the ship felt cut off from the game, in ACIV there are no loading screens to deal with. If you want to just jump on your boat and blow stuff up, then just climb aboard and go blow stuff up. Its smooth and works great. Cruising around Cuba, or the tip of Florida while your crew sings old sea shanties and you look off into the distance with a spyglass- looking for your next destination, you actually feel like a pirate. Its impressive and genuinely fun.
The improved and expanded naval component of ACIV just reminds you of how little the series has improved it's actual on foot gameplay. You will still run up walls randomly. Jumping to a certain location or air assassinating a target never feels consistent. The classic "Trying to climb the top of a building and then your character decides to jump off instead of up" moment returns. Worst still, parkour-ing around the city, while visually impressive, is still just holding the trigger and moving forward. After so many games these issues are still a part of the series, and its hard to ignore them.
Moreover, stealth has seen some improvements. You can lean around a corner and grab someone for instance. Mission design has improved, so stealth feels like a viable and fun option. But these improvements are small, and are overshadowed by repetitive gameplay. The amount of times I found someone, then trailed them, then stayed close enough to hear them then killed them is insane. It borders on laziness. After about 10 hours, I realized that there were basically 4-5 missions in the game. You repeat these missions over and over and over. Sure the location is different or the character you assassinate has changed, but the basic structure is copy and pasted so many times that it becomes tedious and boring. On the plus side Ubisoft has included a mission rating feature, so at the end of a mission you can rate it 1 to 5 stars. Hopefully this will help future games in making better missions.
Copy and pasted missions are a little more tolerable if the story is worth your time.Sadly that's not really the case here. With Black Flag, you sort of get 2 stories. One is good and the other is pretty bad. You start the game and luckily its filled with action and exploration right off the get go, unlike ACIII's 10 hours tutorial. You discover the Assassins, then the Templars, then the figthing between the two is explained a bit. Following that the game introduces a Macguffin that both the Templars and Assassin's want. Edward, your character, wants it to, but to sell it and become rich. But after 3 or so hours that story stops, and you begin another story line, this one being all about pirates.
The pirate storyline is really good, sometimes the writing or pacing feels weird, but overall meeting Blackbeard and Charles Vane is cool. You also get to explore Kingston, Nassau and other West Indies cities and ports. During this part of the story the game just kind stops caring about the whole Asssasin's Creed universe and as a result it feels fun and exciting.Being a pirate is something very few games let you do, and Assassins Creed IV does it really well.
Throughout the game you will occasionally pop out of the Animus and walk around an Abestero Game development studio. These modern day segments are few and far between, and really feel stale and lifeless. I never felt like spending any time in the office, especially considering that the only thing to do out there is hack computers via minigames. If your wondering how this game ties into the Assassin's Creed mythos and timeline, alot of that is done in the modern day. Some of it feels cool but most of it feels rushed, especially towards the end of the game. In the last 3 hours or so of the story the game wraps up all the pirate fun and goes back to the Assassins vs. Templars storyline. But it quickly become convoluted, and soon I was just wishing the game had ended sooner. By the time the game does wrap up, it feels rushed and the ending comes so abruptly that it left a really sour taste in my mouth. I felt like I had wasted my time and thats a really bad feeling for a game thats over 20 hours to invoke.
There is a LOT to do and collect in this game. But everything feels so repetitive. After you board a boat you get the same short cut-scene, every time. After you play the whaling missions a few times you realize that every sea creature you fight has the same patterns and AI. Going underwater, a neat idea, was for me a lot less fun due to poor controls. Attacking a fort, is again the same fort, just copied and pasted around the map. You attack from your ship, then go on foot and kill some commanders to take it over. The same cutscene plays and the end, and the forts contain the same layout. Its dull and tedious, and quickly I found my self ignoring everything this game was offering.
One other feature is a "Fleet" that you can build up and control. You send them out to do missions and make you gold. While its neat to have a fleet built up of ships you have stolen, it feels more like a Facebook game. You wait hours for missions to finish, use gems to fix ships and friends help your ships. Its all menu and text based, and never felt fun or worth my time.
Finally, there is multiplayer. Its fun, at least I thought so. I have always enjoyed the Assassins Creed multiplayer. It always felt so radically different from other online game experiences like Call of Duty or Halo. And with ACIV they've added more weapons and perks and upgrades, but if you were not a fan of multiplayer in previous AC games, then there is nothing new or interesting here that would convince you otherwise. In fact veterans of the series may find the online offerings so similar that it becomes less exciting to play. There are also some micro-transactions and pay to win elements, that while not a huge deal-breaker, feel gross and out of place.
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag is just too big. The story is excessively long and doesn't feel satisfying. The amount of copy and paste missions and side activities is disappointing and quickly creates a sense of tedium. Naval combat, while fun and improved, only highlights how foot combat, stealth and on foot controls have the same issues 6 games later. Assassin's Creed IV feels like playing a 2 hour game, 12 times in a row. You do the same thing over and over, and quickly wonder why your playing at all.