Thoughts after finishing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Original post here, spoilers throughout.

This is the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played since Brotherhood, and the first single player title I played on PS4. Here are some roughly collated thoughts on parts of the game.

  • Being a pirate in an open-world is a lot of fun. The developer has done a great job integrating sailing and traversal mechanics to make the process of ship-to-ship-combat and boarding enjoyable from end to end. The game has an aesthetically distinctive look and feel that sets it apart from other games in the series. This is even more apparent when you dress Kenway in either Ezio or Altaïr’s outfits.

  • Close quarters combat still feels stilted and disjointed. In previous titles this hasn’t been an issue, since often you’re only engaging in combat for a mission, or long enough to carve out an escape route. And as an assassin, direct combat is not your strong suit; you deal in subtlety and subterfuge. In camouflage and disguise. But it’s now required as a means of gathering resources and the system is really showing it’s age. Chaining executions together is flakey, it’s often difficult to correctly gauge who is fighting who, and you’re rewarded for tapping the counter button repeatedly until an enemy attacks. And there is rarely a strategic reason to do anything other than just execute enemies after a counter.

  • At the end of every mission, the story is more-or-less reset to the state it was in at the prior to the mission starting. This is despite that the events of the mission may radically change Kenway’s situation. Some examples of this include being marooned by your mutineering crew, being put in jail for several months and being blockaded at Nasau. In each of these cases, once the mission is concluded you are given back you ship and crew, often with an off-handed piece of dialog explaining why they haven’t all deserted you. I’d rather that they just didn’t acknowledge the dissonance at all, or build in gameplay systems where I have to reclaim my ship and crew.

  • A lot of mechanics from previous Assassin’s Creed game have been removed or reduced in scope. Tossing coins is still there, but it rarely seems necessary anymore. Firearms, although they have been in previous titles, are now getting powerful and flexible enough that they make most assassination missions trivial. Enemies tend to have firearms, but they rarely use them enough for it to be a serious threat.

  • There are almost no traversal solving sequences in the game. Where climbing was once a core tenant of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, it is now something Ubisoft has decided they are mostly done with. I think this is a shame. These have been some of my favourite parts of previous Assassin’s Creed games.

  • Kenway didn’t have a story arch. At the start of the game he is a privateer hanging out with the hall of fame from the golden age of piracy. He murders an Assassin only to masquerade as him in search of fortune. By the end of the game Edward hasn’t achieved anything. He kills a bunch of Templars and seems to side morally with the Assassin’s. But he never finds his riches, and he never sees his wife again. And instead of dealing with the ramifications that this would have for his character, instead all we are given is a couple of cutscenes with his daughter after the final gameplay sequence. Every other character in the game treats Edward like a naive infant, and he never seems to take much of anything said to him onboard.

Although I enjoyed my time with Assassin’s Creed IV, I came away feeling empty. Like Far Cry 3, it was a fun romp through a jungle with some story sequences sprinkled in to tick a box on a feature list.



This Year's Dead Island

I just finished Sleeping Dogs, and had a great time with it. It was my Dead Island of 2012.

Think about it, both games came out after the mid-year drought. Both were relatively under-the-radar in terms of press coverage. Both were fairly well received as fun yet flawed open world games. And both hit the same spot for me; giving my something pulpy and loose to enjoy before the bigger releases of the year start arriving.

I hear rhetoric that "B Games" are dead, but I think that this game fits perfectly into that middle-class tier. This game is really flawed, and lacks a lot of polish but when it works it's exhilarating. And that's what I want from my B games: you don't have to deeply immerse me in a world or it's fiction. Just entertain me for 10 hours and I'll gladly recommend you to my friends.


Darksiders Endgame

I love Darksiders, and I always have. Although I've owned a copy for almost 2 years now, I've only ever played through the first third before getting distracted by something else. It's like I was afraid to finish the game because I'd enjoyed it so much.

So when Darksiders 2 came around, I decided it was time to step up and finish the game.

By now we all know the games there Darksiders draws it's core gameplay from, but what surprised me as I got deeper into the game, is how much better and cohesive the experience is here. Vigil Games really went out of their way to design each part of the game, not only to be a great puzzle adventure the first time, but to constantly surprise you the second time as you retraverse areas previously encountered.

I always reach that point towards the end of a Zelda title, where the end goal is clear, and yet the world is still littered with secrets and items to uncover. Darksiders integrates these elements by forcing you to travel around the world one last time before your final encounter.

Unfortunately, the final boss is a bit of a pushover and doesn't require the use of any special items or abilities. But it was the journey I enjoyed, not the destination.

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