A Pirate's Life for Me!
First, I just want to say that I've played to completion all of the Assassin's Creed games, except Revelations, and by the end of each one I was completing it simply out of sheer will. They were mostly good games, except AC3 which was just terrible, that overstayed their welcome and ended up leaving a sour taste in my mouth. Luckily, AC4 is exactly the opposite.
The game starts you off immediately on the right track, killing dudes, and you never stop! It has the best combat of the series, refining the best elements of the earlier games and including firearms in a believable and not annoying way. The stealth elements are still not great, but there are so few 100% stealth missions, and the combat is so good that I didn't mind that I'd get caught, because then I could just murder some more.
The game is just beautiful on PS4. This is exactly what I wanted out of the next generation of consoles! I'm sure the framerate was locked at 30 fps, but I never noticed, because it never dropped and always felt super smooth.
I don't want to spoil the story, but you don't play as an actual assassin which has some great benefits to the game. Firstly, it gives a fresh perspective on the events portrayed. Secondly, and more importantly, I felt that as a player it didn't matter that I was completely terrible at being stealthy. I took out my swords more than my hidden blades, and I used my pistol to assassinate my targets just as often as not. It made sense that the story being told matched the character I was playing.
There are 100% synchronizing optional objectives for each mission, but unlike AC3, they are doable and fun to try, and subtle when you fail. You don't get a big red message telling you how much you suck, you just don't get the points at the end of the mission. It added depth, not frustration, and was a great addition to the game. As was the ability to rate each main mission from 1-5 stars. Anytime I had to eavesdrop, the mission was 1 star, hopefully everybody does this and Ubisoft gets the message.
The meta story, which has always been my least favorite aspect of the series (excluding, of course, the eavesdropping), somehow managed to become the part of the story I was most engaged with. It's a slightly veiled version of Ubisoft working on a game (movie? virtual experience? Something like that) that a large corporation is stifling. It's great! In addition, I was impressed when it manages to actually connect with the Assassin's Creed world in more tangible ways. The main story of Edward Kenway was great too. It was light on actual plot, but heavy on characters, and while I didn't remember a lot of names and faces during the story, the effect was still there. The ending was superb, not that I was expecting much after AC3.
There's so much else to talk about in this game. The side missions are quick and fun to digest. In my many, many hours of playing the game I collected every secret, every chest, every animus fragment, every shanty (which is the best collectable in recent memory, maybe ever), I did every assassination and every Templar Hunt (which had really good short stories in them) and discovered every location and captured every fort. I haven't touched the navel contracts, yet. My point being somehow AC4 was able to buck the trend of every one of its predecessors, I actually want to play the game more!
Play this game if you have any interest in pirates, open worlds, stabbing dudes over and over again and you won't regret it. Fear not the stink of Assassin's Creed III, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is the game you've been aching for, and more!