Assassin’s Creed III & IV: Black Flag

I like the Assassin’s Creed-Series. Some games, I like more than others, but I don’t hate any of them. I started playing Assassin’s Creed 2 when it was released. I never played the previous game, but the story was easy enough to follow. I then played “Brotherhood” and “Revelations”, and I liked them as well.

Then I played Assassin’s Creed III. And for some reason, I didn’t really like that… Maybe it was the weird controls, maybe it was the small coding problems, like how one of your guns would revert to the Pitcairn-Putnam pistol or that the colour of your outfit would revert back to the standard colours during cut-scenes.

Maybe it was that by the end of the story, I found myself agreeing with the Templars. Connor wanted to kill Charles Lee because of the attack on his village and the death of his mother. When he finds out that Charles was not the one responsible, and that it was George Washington that did it, does he fight Washington?

No, he continues to go after Lee because…. uhm…. he has greasy hair, I suppose.

But whatever the reason, Connor fights for Washington, so that his tribe will be free and safe. But in the end, his tribe is forced to move. Shockingly, the American Government was lying to the Native Americans.

One part of the game I find very interesting is when Connor and Haytham have to work together, and they discuss the purpose of their orders.

Connor: What is it the Templars truly seek?

Haytham: Order. Purpose. Direction. No more than that. It’s your lot that means to confound with this nonsense talk of freedom. Time was, the Assassin’s professed a far more sensible goal. that of peace.

Connor: Freedom IS peace.

Haytham: Oh, no. It’s an invitation to chaos. Only look at this little revolution your friends have started. I have stood before the continental congress and listened to them stamp and shout. All in the name of liberty. But it is just noise. […] The people chose nothing. It was done by a group of privileged cowards seeking only to enrich themselves. They convened in private and made a decision that would benefit THEM. Oh, they might have dressed it up with pretty words, but that does not make it true. The only difference, Connor – the ONLY difference between myself and those you aid – is that I do not feign affection.

Good or evil, right or wrong, Haytham manages to argue and justify his views far better than Connor does, which ends up making Connor seem less like a stoic, idealistic fighter for liberty, and more like a stubborn, naïve fool, with a ridiculous black and white morality, where the Templars are all evil, and anyone who’s not a Templar is therefore automatically on the side of good.

That being said, the game had plenty of good things about it. And the thing they did best, the greatest part of the game, was the naval missions. Equipping your ship and going head to head with other ships in sea battles. That was so much fun!

So the producers at Ubisoft looked at this and said “Hmm… these missions were really fun. The players really liked them….. Let’s make the next game have more of that!”

And so they made Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

This game pretty much cherry-picked everything that was good with Assassin’s Creed III and made it better. The characters are more interesting, the story is better and there is actual growth in the main character, from a cocky pirate to a full fledged captain and master assassin. It’s a brilliant game!

However…

This game has a few things that, while they do not annoy me, I feel like the game could have done a bit better.

Now, before I write anything, I should stress that I do not, in any way, dislike this game. I’ve played few games that were as fun, as interesting or exciting as this. I am well aware that my suggestions, while seemingly small, would probably add days, weeks, if not months of extra development and cost huge sums of money.

I freely admit that this is just nitpicking, much like the smoking issue in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. It’s still a good game. But even good games have room for improvement, since no game is perfect.

So without further ado, let’s begin.

One of the things It’d be nice to have is the option to use a helmsman to steer the ship. Imagine you open the map screen and set Nassau as your target. Then once you’ve gone to “Travel Speed“, you can hold A, and the helmsman takes the helm (duh) and steers the ship to Nassau. You’re then free to walk around the ship, maybe go below deck (another thing that’d be nice, by the way) or climb the mast. If you fall into the water, the ship just stops. Seems easy enough.

Of course, they try to hand-wave the lack of a helmsman with Edward saying he likes to be in control. But the thing is, he’s sailing a brig in the early 18th  century. He has nothing but wind and lofty dreams to carry him forward. That means he’d get speeds of about 20 km/h. That is, if the wind is in his favour. That means a trip to Havana, Cuba from Kingston, Jamaica would take at least 40 hours! And that’s not counting reefs, bad weather, poor equipment or SAILING AROUND THE WESTERN END OF CUBA! You’re trying to tell me that Edward Kenway would stand at the helm, steering his ship for two or three, maybe even four days, never resting? Are we supposed to believe that whenever Edward decided to take a nap, he’d order the sails to be rolled and the ship brought to a full stop?!

Of course not! He had a helmsman, as did everybody else! It’s something you need on a ship! Hell, most ships would probably have more than one, simply so you wouldn’t HAVE to stop for a rest! It’s not a sign of being lazy or disinterested! You want to steer it for yourself? Fine. Nothing says that once you’ve used “Helmsman” you can’t take over if you want to. It’s just one of those things that you should be able to do, because it makes perfect sense!

But like I said, such an addition costs time and money. You need to add an animation of the helmsman, programs for how he should move, an autopilot program. It’d mean you’d have to cut something else.

And if that is the case, I can suggest something they could have left out.

The swords.

I’ll explain

From the first Assassin’s Creed, all the way to Assassin’s Creed III, you fight with a sword. You carry a sword, a dagger and your hidden blade, along with game specific equipment like guns, crossbows, blow-darts and so on. But I want to focus on the sword.

In Black Flag, they seemingly decided to up the ante a bit and give Edward Kenway two swords. On paper, this sounds like a cool idea. Who doesn’t like the idea of fighting with two swords?

The problem is that it makes no sense! There was a reason previous master Assassins, like Altaír and Ezio used only one sword.

Using two swords looks cool, but it’s extremely impractical. You’d much rather use one sword and have one hand free. That way, you can pull a gun, throw a knife or grab things and people.

And even IF we assume that you wouldn’t have a problem fighting, then there’s the huge problems with how impractical they are OUTSIDE of fighting.

Again, Ezio and Altaír didn’t use two swords, and they were in cities. Edward is mostly on a ship!

Have you ever tried strapping a sword to your side? Try two swords. Now try climbing a rigging or walk through a door. They’re going to get in the way. And some of these swords aren’t the light rapier-like short swords he has in the beginning of the game. We’re talking full length sabres or scimitars. They’ve got some considerable weight to them. And he SWIMS with them?!

I’m sorry, but nobody would do that, unless they’re incredibly stupid! You know why? Because you’d fucking drown! If you spend your days climbing through riggings and swimming, you want to keep as light and nimble as possible. Carrying two full length swords at all times is NOT what I, or anyone on the planet would call “light and nimble“.

And this is a small thing, but I really liked the little animation Connor and Haytham had. If you pressed the “attack” button with the sword drawn and no enemies nearby, they would make a little twirling motion with the sword. With Edward, he just sort of wiggles them. That’s nowhere near as interesting.

He’s using two swords because he’s supposed to be ruthless in combat, but it’s not how many weapons you have that make you ruthless. It’s how you use them. Connor only had one sword, and his fighting style was violent and savage. Edward just comes across as stupid. There’s no good reason for why he’d use two swords, but plenty of good reasons why he shouldn’t.

And then there’s the Flintlocks.

There are several things that bug me about the flintlocks. It’s not that you can use them soon after you’ve fallen into water. I can rationalize that.

No, the first thing that bugs me is (and many will disagree with me, I know) that the guns reload too quickly.

In Assassin’s Creed III, the guns took a long time to reload. You had to reload each gun separately. You might say this was annoying, but consider this: the guns were GREAT in that game! They killed pretty much all enemies in one shot. They took a long time to reload, because that’s how you balance these things out. You wanted to save the guns, because you knew that once you fired them, you wouldn’t get the chance to reload any time soon.

In Black Flag, the guns are just as powerful, but now you reload all four guns in 5 seconds. And I’m sorry, but that’s too fast. It takes away a lot of how special the guns should be. Unleashing a barrage of bullets should be something that takes more than 5 seconds to prepare. When you load your pistols, it should feel special. You should have to see every gun reloaded separately. It should feel like you’re loading up for war!

Now, the next thing is just me being pedantic and nitpicky. (more than usual, that is)

With one of the DLC’s, you can acquire Francis Drakes swords. It’s bit annoying that, like all swords, there are TWO of them, since it robs them of some of their exclusivity. But the big thing that bugs me is that you can find Francis Drakes flintlock pistols.

I repeat.

You can acquire the flintlock pistols used by Francis Drake.

For those of you who might not know all that much about history, Francis Drake was a 16th century sea captain and privateer. He lived from 1540 to 1596.

The first flintlock pistol, however, was invented in 1610, 14 years after Drake died.

You might argue that it’s simply one of the earlier types of pistols, that were very similar to flintlocks, and I’d be willing to agree with you, if not for the fact that they’re not called “Captain Drakes Snaplocks/Snaphance/Wheel Lock/Miquelet”. They’re called “Captain Drakes Flintlocks“.

Saying that a snaplock pistol is the same thing as a flintlock pistol is like saying a Colt Dragoon is the same thing as a Colt Single Action Army revolver.

End of argument!

When the game was released, there were of course limited editions of the game and special merchandise you could buy, like posters and figures and novels.

One of the things that really stuck out for me with all of them was the flintlocks Edward is wearing. The pistol has a dragon head on the butt of the gun. It’s a very pretty gun. So pretty, in fact, that it features on almost every poster, on every cover for the game, on wallpapers, in most trailers, the cover for the novel and on every limited edition figure available.

Look it up if you don’t believe me.

So what is the problem, you may wonder?

That gun is not in the game. Not once in the entire game, does that gun or any gun even vaguely resembling it make an appearance. It doesn’t feature in any DLC or limited edition of the game and I just don’t understand why! They were clearly proud of the design! Otherwise they wouldn’t have put it on everything!

Same thing with the swords he carries. One is a very pretty brass basket hilt cutlass. Another looks very similar to the “Light Cavalry Sabre” from Assassin’s Creed III. Yet another is very similiar to the “Officer’s Short Sword” from Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Do any of these swords appear in game? No! And with them, it’s weird since they already HAD the designs for those swords!

I admit, it’s not a big thing. I don’t think the game would be monumentally different if they’d put the guns and the swords in it. But if you hold something out, show it that much and make it so prominent, and then don’t put it in the game…. then why is it there?

Sure, they might not be as good as the golden flintlock pistols or the officers rapiers. But if you’re going to show them and go “Edward Kenway used these weapons, THEN WHY NOT LET US USE THEM!?

And finally, my last little complaint.

This game, much like Brotherhood, Revelations and AC III, allows you to replay missions. That’s good. It allows you to relive your favourite missions, like the mission where you get to sail the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

My problem is the Legendary Ships.

One side activity has you sail to the four corners of the map. There, you have four battles against Legendary Ships. These are the toughest of the tough ships sailing the West Indies, each yielding a massive prize of 20.000 reales once you defeat them!

The battles are, without exception, epic and difficult. They’re really exciting, with distinct strategies, they’re ruthless and just downright awesome. In short, battles like these is why you HAVE the option to replay missions!

Can you replay their missions?

NO!

You had the perfect opportunity here to add an option to replay these battles. But instead it just becomes a blip in the database, taunting us!

Yeah, remember that battle… that was fun, wasn’t it? What’s that, you want to play it again? Well, I guess you just have to start a new game, don’t you?

Why?! There is no good reason for that! Unless you actually connect me to Xbox Live and charge me $20 for starting a new game, there is no reason why you should force me to replay the entire game just to play a specific mission again.

Remember, this is a game that revolves around RELIVING SOMEONES MEMORIES! One would think defeating the biggest badass ships in the Caribbean would be something you’d remember quite fondly!

There. I’m done. Nitpick rant over.

So like I said before, I love this game. It’s almost perfect. Almost, but not quite.

With a few additions, it could have been Excellent. As it is, though, I’m afraid it’ll have to settle for “fantastic”.

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