Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Living the Pirate Life in Assassin's Creed IV

Robert Rath | 2 Jan 2014 12:00
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This is basically how I behave as Edward. The minute I reach port I'm buying ship upgrades, weapon upgrades, maybe a new set of clothes and-wait a second, I had 20,000 Reales when I got here, what the hell happened? Then I'm hunting for treasure chests and Templars just so I can pay upkeep costs on ammunition just to afford going to back to sea, so I can get more money, and blow it again. The only difference is that I'm spending all my money on hull upgrades and swords rather than prostitutes, rum and exotic pets. The result is the same, though-enthusiasm makes me spend my money on fun big-ticket items rather than the more responsible things like refilling my mortar shells and pistol ammunition.

Fear the Sea and Sky

After the English defeated the Spanish Armada, they printed medals with the phrase, "Jehovah blew with His winds, and they were scattered." Whether or not you believe in divine intervention, it's a pretty fair assessment. Winds constantly worked against the Spanish during their aborted invasion, and about half the Armada wrecked in a storm off Ireland. The weather was such a factor that King Phillip II of Spain railed at the "Protestant winds" that beset his fleet. "I sent the armada against men," he lamented. "Not God's winds and waves."

This drives home a good point about the age of sail: That storms were more dangerous than enemy vessels.

Black Flag does a brilliant job representing this fact mechanically. Offhand, I'd say that I've lost the Jackdaw to storms about twice as much as enemy fire. Rogue waves and waterspouts do far more damage than a Man o' War, and even a stiff gale can drive you into the rocks, making you vulnerable to nearby enemies. In fact, the weather is so dangerous that I've developed as many strategies for surviving a storm as I have for attacking a convoy. If a ship I'm hunting sails into heavy weather, I abandon the chase and look for an easier prize. Should I see rain coming in off the horizon, I'll anchor near an island and go exploring until the storm passes. Probably the most dramatic moment I've ever had in AC4 wasn't a broadside-to-broadside battle, it was when I was trying to flee a British convoy and was forced to sail into a storm. I spent the next few minutes zigzagging in high winds, plowing through rogue waves and dodging mortar volleys as I tried to dock at a friendly fort without getting dashed against the rocks. After I made it-barely-I stood on the walls of the fort, watching my pursuers founder and burn.

These concerns, and the tactics I used, are fairly realistic. 18th century sailors would rather sail hundreds of miles around heavy weather than risk going straight through it, and it was not uncommon for navy captains to call off a pursuit due to a storm. Given the option, many captains would dock at a protected harbor or anchor in the lee of a large island to shield their vessel from high winds and rough seas. While some of my solutions would be dangerous to execute in reality-sitting a ship near a small island was the worst thing one could do, as was boarding another ship to ride it out-the game does train players to think like an 18th century sailor. Storms are to be avoided if possible, suffered if necessary and feared always.

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