Preview: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Open World Gameplay

AJ Glasser | 13 Jun 2013 20:00
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On the way, we saw both a storm and an NPC naval battle between Spanish and British naval forces. Both events provide the player with challenges and advantages. A storm might completely wreck the Jackdaw (and drown its crew) with rough winds and the odd waterspout. But, on the other hand, clever players can use storms to evade pursuing enemies. Naval battles between NPCs, meanwhile, can attract unwanted attention to the Jackdaw from the anti-pirate Spanish. Or it can create prime opportunities to board and capture naval ships for precious cargo and the chance to add to Edward's fleet. The producer declined to comment on whether bounties would be taken out on Edward or his ship. But he did confirm the Spanish will give chase to both under some conditions.

The Cayman Island/West Indies Sea area I saw on the map had more than half a dozen land-based spots all around the archipelago where Edward could dock and explore. These land segments are fleshed out like the neighborhoods in Florence and Rome from Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood - each its own microcosm of activity. The next land-based location the producer shared was the site depicted in the treasure map - some Mayan ruins on a nearby "restricted area" island where Spanish forces were apparently also digging for the treasure. Sailing up to the new island automatically created a fast-travel point for that island.

This is where the Black Flag demo had to prove the first point - about how much of an Assassin's Creed game it could be given that pirates are better known for swashbuckling than stealth. The developer has tried very hard to provide enough stealth opportunities for players to play through the entire game as more assassin than pirate (at least while on land). The Mayan treasure, for example, was accessible by many routes - those most direct of which would involve head-on brawls with lots of Spaniards. By climbing trees and hiding in bushes and dark corners of Mayan ruins, however, Edward can stealth-kill or completely avoid all of the Spaniards en route to the X on the map. (The producer took this opportunity to show off the new blowgun weapon - which is a lot like the mini-crossbow from Assassin's Creed 2, which could be loaded with different types of bolts. He shot a Spanish captain with a berserk dart that made the captain fight his own men.)

Back on the route to the treasure, Edward comes upon two pirates being threatened by Spaniards. Assassinating the Spaniards automatically adds the pirates to Edward's crew - but a botched attempt or all-out brawl may result in both potential crew members being killed. The producer handled it by scaling a nearby column, and waiting for both Spaniards to meander close enough for a double drop-down kill.

The demo ended when the producer found the treasure and free-ran his way up a tree to reach a synchronization point (another Assassin's Creed must-have). Syncing in these spots automatically creates fast-travel locations for that point on land.

All in all, I felt better about Black Flag than I had about Assassin's Creed III - the setting appeals to me more, the stealth and free-running elements are there (if not particularly fresh), and the exploration of the open sea is much broader than what I've been given so far. It may be that the pirate gameplay makes Black Flag feel less like an Assassin's Creed and more like "Edward's super awesome sea adventures." But if it plays well, fans are likely to be forgiving.

Assassin's Creed IV is also offering a companion app for tablets that allows players to keep track of their fleet, send the fleet out on missions, and monitor their progress through the game's missions. We saw the producer access and edit objective markers on the world map from the app, which immediately turned up in the main game. No word on whether or not this is a free or paid app, or if it will feature microtransactions.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is due out in North America on October 29.

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