Everything We Know About Edward Kenway's Naval Sandbox
The cat wasn't out of the bag, rather, it had chartered a ship, sailed to the West Indies and set up a new life as a fuzzy buccaneer. As I sat in the auditorium deep within Threadneedle Street's Tailors Guildhall, surrounded by the great and good of the gaming industry, the room buzzed with talk of those myriad leaks and reports. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was out in the open, and it was basically up to Ubisoft to fill in the details.
Over the course of fifty enthralling minutes, they announced what is easily the most ambitious pitch we've ever seen from the stealthy, stabby series.
Assassin's Creed IV will be a "naval sandbox," allowing players to seamlessly move between the helm of their ship, the ocean, land and enemy vessels. Throughout an enormous world, we'll plunder and pillage, sail, climb and swim, explore hidden coves and assassinate our targets in freeform missions that hark back to the original game. Indeed, Ubisoft plans to plunder the best bits from every Assassin's Creed title to create a definitive high point for the series, while exploring the harsh reality of what it really meant to be a pirate in the 1700s.
And poor old Desmond is history... to be replaced by the most surprising character you could possibly imagine.
Here, me hearties, be everything ye need to know about Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
Setting & Characters
Numerous global powers bickered and struggled for control of the New World at the dawn of the 18th century, but by 1715, a fragile truce had taken hold. The enormous navies of Britain, France, Spain and others suddenly didn't have a war to fight, while many sailors found themselves out of work and desperate. Disgruntled and disillusioned, some of these salty dogs wondered whether the rich trade routes from the colonies to Europe might be rich pickings for a few brave men.
Edward Kenway is one of these brave men, and he's more fearsome than most. A gentleman of fortune. A pirate captain.
Once a Privateer in the service of His Majesty, Haytham Kenway's father is a very different kind of Assassin's Creed protagonist. Described as "motivated by wealth, reckless, brash, cocky, selfish and ingenious," he's hard and cruel enough to inspire fear and respect in his piratical peers, but charismatic enough to instil a deep sense of loyalty in his crew. The former pirate-for-hire is now in it for himself, but stumbles into the war between the Assassins and Templars, the former teaching him some ideals beyond wealth and infamy along with an epic dual-handed fighting style. The two influences - pirate and Assassin - will collide throughout the game... but considering Haytham's eventual allegiance, it's clear that something will end up going badly wrong.
Kenway may be fictional, but he'll be surrounded by a colourful cast of real pirates. We'll encounter the chivalrous and patriotic Ben Hornigold, described as the "gentleman pirate." We'll meet Blackbeard, who used the threat of violence and his fearsome reputation to more devastating effect than actual brutality. Ubisoft want to explore the "truth behind the Hollywood pirate fantasy," and believe that sticking to the 'truth' (by series standards) will be more interesting than sea monsters and Hollywood flam.
As such, we'll become the master and commander of the waters surrounding Cuba, bordered by Jamaica, Yucatan and Haiti, sailing the oceans in our trusty ship Jackdaw. Which is where Assassin's Creed IV will deliver its single biggest innovation...
New Gameplay: The "Naval Sandbox"
Naval battles were easily the highlight of Assassin's Creed III, and Ubisoft plan to blow the linear mission-based structure wide open into a single, open, unified world. Players will sail the Jackdaw wherever they please in real time, using the spyglass to scan the horizon for hidden coves, ships to plunder or coastal fortifications, and free to leave the wheel at any time. You'll spy a target of opportunity, drop the wheel, run to the side and jump off - on to land, ship, into the water or just to run around on the deck - all without loading screens or breaking flow. It's a "naval sandbox," and leads to some truly exciting new opportunities.
"We are making a game for players," explained gameplay designer Jean Guesdon. "it's their experience. It's their fun." As such, players can spy something interesting, stop, jump off, explore and then hop back on, all without any cutscenes or disguised loading sections.
The Jackdaw will start out as an underpowered and ill-equipped scow, meaning that players will have to upgrade its guns, hull and replenish its crew (who can and will die in battle) by looting, pillaging and plundering merchant vessels. However, in the early game, you'll need to pick your battles since enormous navy galleons will use their hundred guns to tear the Jackdaw to matchsticks. Guesdon explained that the most dangerous enemies aren't just burly men in armour, instead, they're hulking behemoths bristling with cannons, swivel guns and vicious boarders, which will lend the game a new sense of progression as you become capable of taking on the best the Royal Navy has to offer.
Once you've found a target and decided to engage (all of which is seamless remember - you'll just sail over and open fire), the combat has been significantly retooled. Enemy vessels will boast enhanced AI, capable of hanging back at range, charging into ramming distance or hiding their flanks from you until they're ready to deliver a broadside. Boarding is now totally systemic - literally, you'll press a button and your crew will throw grappling hooks over the side. If enough connect, the two boats will be pulled together, creating a "3D playground" in the middle of the ocean. Once Edward seamlessly drops the wheel, he can jump over the side, climb into the rigging for air assassinations, target the captain with ranged weaponry or swing across in proper pirate style, all while a protracted battle takes place between the two crews.
However, this is still an Assassin's Creed game, not a Hornblower tie-in (more's the pity, really). The core gameplay of ground-based murdering will also be present and correct, but Ubisoft also intends to beef up the core gameplay by looking to the past for inspiration.
Assassins Of The Caribbean
Ubisoft plans to bring the best bits from every Assassin's Creed game together into one definitive title. Behold:
- Assassin's Creed: Open-ended assassination setups are coming back. Players will be given a target and let loose, rather than shepherded into increasingly linear insta-fail scenarios.
- ACII: "Tease, teach, use, challenge" philosophy. Players will be gradually educated in their arsenal to empower them mid-game.
- Brotherhood: "Play with systems." As a system-driven game, we'll see our every decision affect a dynamic gameplay experience.
- Revelations: "Stunning beauty of environments." Well, at least they didn't say anything about tower defence.
- ACIII: "Being part of history." Black Flag will root players in a realistic world based on historical facts, populated by familiar figures like Calico Jack and Charles Vane.
This mix of gameplay styles will take place in a wide variety of locations. Remember, Ubisoft have hundreds of kilometres of ocean and four countries to work with. Three major towns (Havana, Kingston and Nassau) are all inspired by their colonial masters, harking back to the likes of Florence and Boston, giving us a range of . Nassau will be a pirate republic - the first of its kind - wherein all pirates were treated equally so long as they had the skills and reputation to survive. Mutiny and murder were definitely the key to advancement in this dangerous meritocracy, and the Royal Navy's siege will be one of the story's pivotal moments.
However, these three towns are a drop in the ocean, a trio in over fifty unique locations - all of which are part of a single cohesive world rather than gated behind load zones. You'll explore dense jungles and find ancient temples rife with gold, traps and dangerous wildlife. We'll set course for hidden coves and sandy coconut islands for treasure or marooned crewmen. Kenway will leap onto coastal forts, ransacking them and using verticality to devastating advantage, or sneak inland to steal valuable sugar cane or gunpowder from guarded warehouses.
There's more. We'll go harpooning for whales, which will doubtlessly get PETA hot under the collar. Hatches will need battening against fearsome systemic storms. Govenors need killing, and Templar spies abound. Kenway will even explore the depths of the ocean, thanks to a primitive diving bell that apparently existed back in the 1700s.
Ubisoft were keen to stress that this is "all one world" linked by a seamless ocean, not just a collection of missions. Colour us excited, me hearties.
Bye Bye Desmond, Hello... YOU?
Assassin's Creed lore and the real world collided in 2012 as the two calendars synchronised. Which means, of course, that real people can now be the star of the show. So instead of poor old Desmond, whose story came to an end year, we have a new modern-day protagonist.
YOU. The reader. The player.
The details are thin on the ground as to how this will work, save that you'll be researching the era with assistance from Absergo industries. We suspect that either you'll explore Abstergo archives from a first person perspective, or that the game itself will resemble a 'living room animus,' using a slick GUI (and perhaps even Kinect/PS Eye support?) to portray the illusion of being a functional consumer animus device. Your animus, exploring your genetic memories.
I guess this technically means that we'll all be related to Desmond, but since Ezio and Edward put it about, I daresay that pretty much everyone on Earth is. Perhaps the game will let us know which of Edward's wenches was our great great great great great great great grandmother... on second thoughts, no. NO. A little mystery is probably a good thing.
Development on Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag apparently started back in summer 2011, but it seems to be rather reactionary to us. Critics and players praised Assassin's Creed III's naval battles while lambasting the hopelessly dull Connor, and it seems very convenient that the next game seems custom-built around this feedback. It's already scant months from release, with Ubisoft targeting a "fall" (read November in Europe) launch on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U. It's also coming to the PS4, but this isn't smoking gun proof that the next generation starts in Autumn.
Without any live code or demonstration, everything I've just told you is a promise. A pitch. A plan. Questions still abound, not least whether AnvilNext can possibly provide such a seamless gaming experience after its embarrassingly glitchy debut in Assassin's Creed III.
Ubisoft now have a few months to trickle more details into our eager inboxes, and we'll doubtlessly get to grips with Black Flag in the summer. We hope, genuinely pray, that they can make their ambitious vision a reality.