First Impressions: Assassin’s Creed 4

Damn straight I’m taking over this vessel!

I’ve been able to spend (most of) the weekend with my shiny new Xbox One and my first launch title, Assassin’s Creed 4. In previous posts, I have expressed some concern over the direction that the series seem to be taking. Over the course of the series, it has steadily moved away from its stealth roots in favor of more open combat. Also, Assassins Creed 3 was felt incredibly siloed, to the point where it was one of the few games where I felt no need to go exploring further in to it’s deepest corners, but more on that later. In short, I’m enjoying AC4 much more than AC3. Yet at the same time, I’m still feeling a bit let down. Still, this is simply a “First Impressions” post, and since I’ve waited until I purchased an Xbox One, I’m more than sure that others have progressed farther than I have and already know the answers to some questions I’ll be posing further down!

Game Progress
As of writing this post, I have just completed the 3rd sequence. For the most part, it has been fairly linear with opportunities to explore the current island in the quest. This is fine for me, since I’ve just been dropped in to this new world with little more knowledge than I’m in the West Indies and I’m a pirate. However, it is upon the completion of the 3rd sequence where EVERYTHING opens up to the player! Play along, and you’ll see what I mean!

Edward Kenway’s Origin
This is the first place where I’m feeling let down, but I think I see where the plot line is going. Kenway is our new protagonist for this installment, and his backstory so far isn’t all that mystic. Basically, he’s an ambitious “privateer” who spends more energy on booze than personal development. Personally, I always feel a bit more connected to the anti-hero type, so this isn’t necessarily an issue for me. It’s the way he becomes an Assassin that’s kind of disappointing. In the opening sequences, he gets washed up on shore with a strange man (obviously in Assassin robes), they have a disagreement, and they’re off and running. The player is able to eventually to catch up with this man (Duncan Wapole was the Assassin’s name, btw) where he tackles him, kills him, and takes his clothes as a disguise. To further drive home that Edward is NOT of the Assassin Order, he takes one look at Duncan’s Wrist Blades and tosses them aside! At this point I’m thinking, “Are you shitting me? An Assassin’s Creed game without Hidden Blades?!?!” Thankfully, I get those back later and I proceed with my double-face-stab-assassinations to get by Guard posts. Still, I’m disappointed with how Kenway is brought in to the game. No higher purpose, no years of intense training, no oath to a sacred albeit antiquated doctrine. Simply an instance of opportunity, and faking it until I get to shore. Yet with all this crying, I feel something more is yet to come later….

Crafting
I NEED to comment on this aspect of the game, since Ubisoft was able to bring the crafting aspect in to the game in a meaningful way! As stated above, the crafting, along with other side aspects, in AC3 felt so incredibly siloed that I didn’t even bother with them. It seemed I was hunting in the wilderness for the sake of hunting. Sure, I could then take those skins and set up trades routes and craft items, but nothing felt like it had any impact on the game. It was like I was crafting trinkets for the sake of crafting. Likewise with the trade routes and homestead. All throughout my playthrough with AC3, all of these auxiliary missions seemed to only serve to progress themselves and had no other in game impact. HOWEVER, in this installment when I go hunting (or harpooning! I just got my first bullshark J ) and obtain the skins/bones from that animal, I can then use those materials to give myself upgrades, increase ammo capacity, or simply a new outfit. Ok, THIS works and makes me want to take the time to hunt that wild boar for a quick upgrade! Now I have a reason to spend some time taking a side route. This concept is also extended in to upgrading your ship, the “Jackdaw”. For ship upgrades, you need to scuttle other ships (Don’t sink them!), board them, kill the remaining crew, and steal their cargo for raw materials. Then, along with some good ol’fashioned cash, you can add more cannons or reinforce the hull.

Plotline
So far, it’s been more of a Pirate game than an Assassin. That doesn’t stop Kenway from partaking in Assassin Contracts, though. Which is another thing that’s been bothering me: Kenway already has all the necessary skills of an Assassin, like wall climbing, silent killing, Master Proficiency with the Hidden Blades, and the like with out ever having gone through the Assassin training. GRRR!!! Currently in my game, I have taken the identity of an Assassin to meet with some other pirates, who turn out to be Templars. Not only that, but the Assassin that I stole the identity of was apparently a defector, so now Kenway is of the Templar Order, not the Assassin. Kenway delivers some kind of cube artifact which is of Ancestor Alien design, and is supposed to help the Templars find the “Observatory”; some kind of apparatus that allows people to see and spy on others remotely (Insert Facebook/Google/NSA joke here). Kenway immediately sees not the absolute power of such an apparatus, but the possible monetary value if sold to the highest bidder. This, my dear readers, is what then becomes Kenway’s goal. Not exactly the high conspiracy fest as previous installments, is it? Still, I am only in Sequence 4 of the game so there’s plenty more guard-face-stabbing to do.

Real World
This is one part where Ubisoft has completely flipped the game! In modern time, you are not a descendent of the Assassin Order. You’re a new hire at Abstergo Industries, and you’re going to do some Animus Diving for a special project, “Sample 17”. The Abstergo Facility looks like what you would expect from a modern hyper organization, with its clean features, open design, and self-promoting art-work and décor on the walls. As it turns out, Abstergo is getting in to the entertainment industry, and is rolling out Animus Units for Consumer level consumption, branding them entertainment interfaces where players can relive exciting parts of history. I’m guessing that would be like playing AC by jacking in to the Matrix, but without the oversized RCA plugged getting jammed into the base of your skull. It would also appear that Abstergo has perfected the Animus tech to the point where users no longer need to take breaks from it, since I have not yet been interrupted by someone looking over me. Infact, there’s really NO ONE looking over me! You’re basically just in your own little workstation plugging away in the Golden Age of Piracy, generally undistrurbed.

Also, the bit that I’ve played in the realworld was in First Person view, not Third. Therefore, I really don’t know what I look like. I also don’t know what my name is! So far, my real world identity is completely unknown. Interesting, especially for a series so deep with secrets. Am I something or someone more? Or am I truly to be a faceless entity, serving only as a messenger? OR, AM I MINERVA IN DISGUISE!?!?!? Or, perhaps, given the nature of the courier and coffee stand attendant, am I someone who was very close to Desmond?

Uh uhh, sweaties!!

Challenges
Like with the crafting, Challenges now come with some added benefits other than the satisfaction of completion. There are PLENTY of challenges to work on, all in their appropriate categories and sub-catagorized based on their difficulty. In AC4, as you complete these challenges you are rewarded with various skins and cheats that you may use in replaying sequences. As with any good challenge and reward structure, a few have been quite easy to attain, some are impossible until I progress further, and some just seem to be near impossible unless you master whatever associated skill is required. Pro Tip: If you want to knock out the “Dive in to water from more than 45m” challenge, just climb the main mast on a large enough ship in Nassau and have a Leap Of Faith in to the blue!

For the remainder of the game, I’m sure that we’ll get in to more and more intrigue and conspiracy.I feel that the pursuit of the Observatory is Kenway’s entrance in to the lore of the franchise, much like Connor’s quest for revenge. Between this installment and 3, both protagonists entered the Assassin story not out of initial higher purpose, but more of a serendipitous progression. I see Kenway revealing a more honorable side later on, as well. In one instance, during a discussion he was teased for still thinking “About that strumpet back in London” when he could have any dame he wanted. Also, he is using his pirating as a means to gain wealth and retire from the life. So yes, he’s driven by greed, but there’s also a more civil ambition underneath.

Oh, and James Kidd seems to have an intimate understanding of Eagle Vision, I was just invited to a remote location to find out what she knows about the Observatory…

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