Tag Archive: Edward Kenway

Team Edward

Change is never easy. But often, it’s for the best. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a prime example, since it brings plenty of changes for Ubisoft’s flagship franchise.

From a hardware perspective, Assassin’s Creed IV comes during a console shift, launching with next-gen while still catering to the old. Black Flag also marks the first game where Desmond Miles is no longer the present-day protagonist. Instead, players take on the first-person perspective of an Abstergo Entertainment employee who must “research” 18th-century buccaneer Edward Kenway for the sake of a Pirates of the Caribbean rip-off movie the company wants to make. At least, that’s what they say—but if you look carefully, you’ll see there’s a lot more lurking beneath the surface.

The biggest change, though, comes in the story of Black Flag and how it’s told. In Edward’s tale, the Assassin-Templar war gets pushed into the background and serves as little more than white noise compared to the battle Edward has within himself. It almost feels like the series is trying to ease you back into this overarching conflict that consumed the last couple of Assassin’s Creed titles, making Black Flag the best time in a while for newcomers to jump into the action. The lack of overall narrative progression might worry longtime fans, but the story also seems to be laying the foundation for future games by introducing a lot of new pieces.

The story pacing also sees a dramatic shift compared to previous titles—and it’s a far cry from the dragged-out exposition of Assassin’s Creed III. From the second you start the game, you’re thrown right into the thick of it, piloting a ragtag ship in the middle of a raging storm. From there, Edward quickly acquires his hidden blades, his ship (the Jackdaw), and a first mate. Soon, he’s pirating and plundering with the best of ’em. Quite literally, in fact. Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Ben Hornigold, and every other infamous Caribbean captain of the early 18th century knows Edward somehow—and when you see them, rum will be drunk and laughs will be had. In fact, I wish the game offered the opportunity to work with each one a bit more, but since the cast is so large, you only scratch the surface of all your pirate brethren, and it becomes more noticeable as you peel back all of Edward’s layers.

But through all these interactions, we see a blending of personalities we haven’t really seen before from a single hero in the series. Edward exudes charm and charisma that’s only dashed by his own brash stubbornness, similar to Altaïr from the original Assassin’s Creed. But Edward’s also an established man right from the get-go, with deep-rooted relationships and a reputation that’s well-known—similar to a much older Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy. He may not get his proper Assassin training until later in the game (which made me wonder how he became so quickly accustomed to the hidden blades), but he’s been sailing for several years when we meet him, and his backstory’s only fleshed out through short flashbacks.

Despite the advanced life experience Edward’s acquired by the time we first meet him, he also has enough room to still undergo a dramatic character shift over the course of the game. While Black Flag may take place within the short time period of only a few years, Edward grows as a character through each subsequent Animus sequence until he evolves into someone worthy of upholding the Creed, and he takes on a persona that will be quickly recognized by fans who read the Assassin’s Creed book, Forsaken. It’s simply the most dramatic character shift of a single character in one game in the series since Altaïr.

Speaking of things we haven’t seen since Altaïr, that brings me to the gameplay. Making a huge return in Black Flag is an emphasis on stealth. Infiltration missions are a frequent task for Edward to further his cause, and though getting spotted won’t always lead to a mission restart, it will lead to dozens of guards swarming you—and unless your swashbuckling skills are top-notch, it might as well be an instant fail.

Aside from the infiltration missions, Ubisoft’s made some tweaks to the infamous tailing sequences—mostly in the form of an overhauled Eagle Vision system. Now, besides seeing the group affiliation of everyone in a crowd, you can also tag your targets. This allows you to see them through walls and buildings so you can follow them from a much farther distance than in previous entries. I’m afraid this new vision is way too overpowered, though. X-ray vision and Eagle Vision should not be one and the same, and this is just overkill, making these missions easy to the point they feel like a waste of time. And if you want to go old-school and not use it at all, the layouts of the island paths aren’t really set up for that design, so you’ll fail a lot more than the developers intended—and it can become frustrating.

One change that most fans will be thankful for, however? The new gun mechanics. They’re akin to what you might find in a more traditional third-person shooter, which makes taking aim and pulling off headshots a breeze. Of course, sometimes you need to take into consideration the bobbing of your boat when boarding an enemy ship out in the ocean, since that can easily throw off your shot.

Now that I mention your ship, the biggest gameplay element in Assassin’s Creed IV is being out on the Caribbean Sea. This is easily one of the most addictive and well-put-together game mechanics I’ve had the pleasure of playing in quite some time; it was a blast using my spyglass to look for enemy ships, boarding them, and then having that ship’s crew at my mercy. When the game’s story made me go back on land, I was honestly disappointed, because I never wanted to leave the water.

There’s so much to do out on the open seas that it’s easy to become lost in the search for buried treasure, hunting sharks, laying waste to smuggler coves, and violently seizing military forts—and you forget there’s actually a story tying all this together. If you make a speed run and just do the story, you’re probably only going to get a 15-to-20 hour game. But if you’re a completionist, you should double those numbers.

Another part of what makes sailing in the open world so enjoyable is the attention to detail. Seeing whales jump out of the water for a breath of fresh air, Spanish and English ships suddenly engaging each other several nautical miles in the distance, or a storm randomly coming together overhead and you have to start swerving and taking cover to avoid waterspouts and rogue waves was phenomenal. And everything looked crisper and clearer than you’d think was possible on next gen.

What really makes the pirate life so fitting for an Assassin’s Creed game is the freedom—with sailing virtually wherever you want, plundering whatever you wish, and stabbing whoever you want in the face serving as the perfect metaphor. The game’s story holds your hand just enough so that by the time you’re done with the first quarter of the tale, you’re ready to roam about and do whatever you wish. In regards to upgrading your ship and Edward’s belongings, there’s a bit of a grind when it comes to the Jackdaw, since you need to board other ships to get the necessary materials and loot. By contrast, you can buy all the pelts necessary to craft Edward’s upgrades directly from shops if hunting animals isn’t your thing.

Besides the story, there’s also the meta-game revolving around Kenway’s Fleet, which allows you to take captured ships, slap a black flag on them, and send them on special missions around the Caribbean—think recruiting Assassins in Brotherhood, Revelations, and Assassin’s Creed III. If your ships successfully complete the missions, you get cash. Unfortunately, this segment would’ve been more enjoyable if the ships got stronger the better they did—much like how you can upgrade the Jackdaw here or how assassins would level up in previous games. One unique difference is the ships can get into a battle minigame to help make trade routes safer—and increase the likelihood of a successful voyage.

Kenway’s Fleet also takes full advantage of the Black Flag iOS companion app so that you can actually send ships out and make money in-game and work with friends to clear trade routes without being tethered to a console. It’s a cool idea, but all it really made me want to do was get back to my controller faster so I could go back out on the ocean and get more ships for my fleet.

So, the single-player’s pretty damn expansive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any multiplayer additions. The one that will draw everyone’s eye, of course, is the Game Lab. This allows players to fully customize multiplayer matches like never before, drawing from every other mode in the game. Also, Wolfpack has seen an upgrade, with new objectives besides group killing added—including protecting treasure chests or killing multitudes of “infected” soldiers.

In all, this is one of the most complete Assassin’s Creed releases to date. I think longtime fans will appreciate Edward’s story and how tight everything feels, but it might be shocking how little the Assassin-Templar conflict actually moves forward. Think of this as laying the groundwork for the next story arc—almost like a monthly comic book. The pieces are being put in place, and during the process, you’re getting to play the greatest pirate game ever conceived.

Black Flag might not topple Assassin’s Creed II from its perch as the pinnacle of the franchise, but if you love swashbuckling and high-tension adventure on the high seas, this is as good as it gets.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal  • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.29.13
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag doesn’t move the franchise forward as a whole—but it doesn’t need to. Instead, this is probably the best pirate simulation in gaming history that successfully lays the groundwork for what’s to come in the series.
The Good The high-seas adventures add a whole new dynamic to the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
The Bad Overpowered Eagle Vision.
The Ugly 18th-century dental plans.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC. The game will be available on PC on November 19th, and is a launch title for PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4.

It’s better down where it’s wetter

At Gamescom, I was able to get my first hands-on with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s single-player campaign. Instead of getting the typical scripted story mission, however, Ubisoft threw me into the middle of the Caribbean Sea for 30 minutes and simply said, “Have fun!” The only limitations? I couldn’t go into Nassau and Kingston yet if I wanted to dock at a major city. Only Havana was available, as well as many of the lesser islands. Of course, the odds of me getting even close to Havana were slim to none, because there was so much to do on the way.

I began the demo on the deck of the Jackdaw, protagonist Edward Kenway’s personal vessel. Eager to try out the revamped sailing mechanics, I immediately took aim at a Spanish convoy protected by some smaller gunships. Looking through my spyglass with a simple tap of a trigger button, I could tell what the convoy was carrying and opened my sails up full, charging rather brashly into battle. While it took me a little time to orient myself to the new aiming mechanics and variety of buckshot, I was fortunate that the bow of the Jackdaw was already heavily fortified, since I plowed headfirst into the aft of one of the gunships. From here, I rained cannon fire on my enemies, easily taking aim with the swivel guns to remove the smaller threats to my crew and using flaming buckshot to quickly wear down my prize’s health.

After dispatching the smaller ships and breaking the main mast of my target, I began the boarding process with a simple button press. From there, my crew let fly grappling hooks that brought our two ships closer together. Once within range, I jumped onto a swivel gun and let some smaller cannon fire whittle down the crew of the opposing ship. Then I jumped across myself and threw another man overboard while stabbing two others in the face with my hidden blade. The ship and its bootywas ours.

Ah, but since it’s a pirate’s life for me, here was the big question: What to do with the ship? Since I’d crashed as soon as the battle began, I chose to repair the Jackdaw and was rewarded with a short scene of my crew carving up the enemy ship and bringing lumber and other supplies onboard my own vessel. I then sailed away from the empty husk and took aim for shark-infested waters.

Here, I decided to do some hunting. From a rowboat, I threw a harpoon tied to a rope at the head of a bull shark. It didn’t take too kindly to that and rampaged in the water—pulling me and my crew deeper into the sea. After several more harpoons, however, I had some fresh shark meat and skin that could surely be sold onshore for some coin.

Then came my most enjoyable part of the demo, when I took the diving bell down into the sunken hull of a ship as I looked for treasure. This segment intrigued me, because it felt so foreign to Assassin’s Creed. Normally, we’re always adding more armor and weapons to our heroor our shipbecoming more and more empowered. Here, Edward strips himself of everything in order to more easily sink with the bell to the bottom of the sea. This leaves him unusually vulnerable to the sea urchins, moray eels, and the variety of sharks that roam the area.

Defenseless, I felt somewhat panicked as I swam as fast I could through the rotted ship’s carcass. My goal? Seven different treasures and two Animus pieces. While no one would tell me what the Animus pieces could do, the ship wasn’t considered picked clean until I gathered them up. I barely escaped with my life as several sharks took chunks out of meI had to punch one in the nose after he clamped onto my leg, which left a trail of blood that began to attract several of the original shark’s friends.

Next, I docked at a small island and took on an assassination contract. Luckily, the target was nearby. I stealthily began to approach my targetmaking sure to tag him with eagle vision—and took out two nearby guards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t stealthy enough and spooked the target, who then proceeded to run to his nearby ship. I took a couple of shots at him with my pistols, but I missedbadlyand had to chase after him in the Jackdaw. After sinking his ship, I collected my bounty and began my seemingly endless quest toward Havana once more.

Unfortunately, my demo time ended here. The session flew by, though, and while I only saw a small portion of everything going on in the world, I felt like I’d done so much. Depending on how you look at it, Assassin’s Creed IV could be a completionist’s nightmareor a dream come true. After pulling up the map and zooming out, I discovered that I’d only covered a very small patch and hadn’t even attempted a single story mission, meaning that Black Flag is easily shaping up to be the largest, most immersive game in the series yet.

Next-gen haystacks look awesome

Before E3 officially got underway, a select few of us in the game-journalism community were able to go behind closed doors and get a peek at Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Not only did we get a taste of what our colleagues in the industry would see during the show, but we also saw exclusive content that won’t be available on the floor or shown during any of the E3 press briefings. For those of you keeping track, the demonstration featured a PS4 build of the game.

We’ve been told since the game was announced several months ago that, more than ever before, players will be given a variety of choices in Assassin’s Creed IV. An emphasis on stealth will return, but it won’t be forced down players’ throats if they prefer a more forward approach. Each mark has a multitude of ways they can be eliminated, and the open seas will be chock-full of uncharted beaches and islands—and exploration is up to the player.

In our demo, we finally got to see these ideas implemented in actual gameplay and into mission types we’ve come to expect from Assassin’s Creed. The first mission we saw was a sidequest from the always-friendly carrier pigeons, who never know that each flight they make promises the death of a Templar when their messages are read. In this mission, Edward needed to eliminate twin Templar brothers operating on the island of Grand Cayman.

Before we get any further, let me just talk about how stunning the game looked. This first section in Grand Cayman was a small fishing village that gave a great sense of how the foliage and water will look in-game. The water was so blue and crystal clear that you’d think it stepped right out of a travel brochure; the trees were also far smoother and more varied than in Assassin’s Creed III and were adorned with brightly colored fruit, with each branch moving independently of its brethren. This level of detail continued throughout our demo: Ever-present haystacks, underbrush players can even duck into, and the buildings of Havana’s unique colonial architecture came to life with spectacular visuals.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. After working his way through the small fishing village, Edward came upon the twins, who he marked with his Eagle Vision. One was sitting at a bar, the other bartering with a local salesman. Edward approached the bar, and quietly stabbed the first brother with his hidden blade, and let his carcass slump unceremoniously to the floor. The second brother had noticed and a chase familiar to previous games had begun.

It was here that we began to see some of the new gameplay implementations of Assassin’s Creed IV. The first was free-aiming with your guns. Instead of automatically locking on with his flintlock pistol, a traditional aiming reticule came on the screen and Edward unceremoniously missed, the shot sailing past the still surviving twin’s right leg, as our demo player promised us it would be alright.

Continuing the chase, the twin made it to the docks where his ship was held and he promptly began trying to make his escape. Unluckily for the twin, Edward’s ship, the Jackdaw, was parked right next to him and suddenly this chase through a crowded market turned into a chase on the high seas as we boarded our ship with a rousing “huzzah!” from the crew.

This led to our first naval battle in the demo. The first new addition that caught my eye is that enemy ships now have lifebars above them, giving you a much better sense of how much damage you’ve done to a ship. It’s also a necessary indicator for what came next. After substantially weakening the fleeing twin’s ship with familiar buckshot from the Jackdaw’s cannons, the demo gave us the option to pull up close to it in order to board it. Grappling hooks launches from the hands of our crew and pulled the crippled vessel towards the Jackdaw. It was pointed out that we could have just sunk the ship and still completed the mission, but this would also be our first chance to see the benefits of boarding ships when prompted.

In typical Assassin fashion, Edward dispatched much of the crew and the final twin to complete the mission. But we still had this ship drifting, now captainless, across the Caribbean Sea. It was here the game offered us an interesting array of rewards for successfully boarding and dispatching the crew. We could cannibalize the ship to help fix the Jackdaw, recruit the crew of the ship to add to the Jackdaw’s, or promote a crew member to captain the ship and send it off to be part of Edward’s private fleet. The demo driver chose this final option and we were introduced to a new mechanic in the form of “Kenway’s Fleet”.

Similar to how in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation you had a ship to trade goods for throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, in Black Flag Edward can build up his own personal fleet to harass unsuspecting vessels. There won’t be any loss of goods here, however. If your fleet should find success on their own individual adventures, all the bounty will find its way to Edward’s pockets.

We were then introduced to one of the ways to command the Fleet and that was through a new, free Assassin’s Creed IV companion app for iPad and Android devices. Not only would this app serve as a way to command our fleet, but it could serve as a permanent world map that you could use to set waypoints live in game with. This is to help keep the action constantly moving so you don’t have to hit the pause button as much. In that same vein, the Animus entries for real world locations, people, and items you may come across on your adventure can also be read through the app, whether you are playing or not. No better way to destroy pacing than reading a few thousand words on game lore, so why not do it when not playing the game?

The next instance of gameplay we saw was one of those uncharted locations I mentioned earlier. A shipwreck caught our eye, washed up against a small sand dune. After jumping off the ship and exploring a little, we came across a recently deceased pirate being gnawed on by a bushel of crabs. After searching his body, we found a treasure map that pointed us to a Spanish controlled island. After sailing through a randomly generated storm, we reached the island and we had the options again of running in and hoping our fighting skills were up to the challenge, or going a stealthier route.

Looking to show off the stealth mechanics, our demo driver took us up a longer, but quieter path along the side of the island, where we only had to dispatch a single soldier before coming across a scene where two unfortunate souls had been a little less stealthy and were caught by some of the Spanish soldiers.

In this scene, we got another taste of the improved HUD, as soldiers now had big white circles above their heads to indicate if they had seen us or not. With a quick whistle, we got the soldiers to come investigate an area where we wouldn’t be anymore by the time they got there, and their circles had turned yellow.  Then we engaged them in combat, where we saw the circles turn red, and we ran them through to rescue the slaves and offer them jobs upon the Jackdaw. We then dug up the buried treasure, synchronized a nearby viewpoint as it was explained they now serve as fast travel points due to the massive size of Black Flag’s world, and headed back to the Jackdaw.

Where most folks at E3 would see this as the end of their demo, we had the chance to continue onward and we’d have been fools to not agree to press on. So, after boarding the Jackdaw again, we came across a heavily defended fort. In order to quell some of the enemy naval activity in the area, we began bombarding the fort’s walls with cannon fire, and sailed out of harm’s way expertly by the demo driver.

After toppling over all six of the forts main towers and walls, Edward and his crew leapt from the Jackdaw and stormed the fort. Once inside, again there were multiple pathways for Edward to take as he began his search to kill the fort’s Governor. Some had more enemies, while others required more free-running sequences, but either way, once you struck down the Governor, the fort belonged to Edward.

Forts aren’t just important for bringing enemy influence down either. We were told a contingent of crew is left behind so that if you are ever in trouble, you can lure enemy ships near your fort and the fort will pummel the enemy ships with cannon fire as well, giving you a permanent ally out on the ocean.

The final bit of gameplay we saw took place in Havana. If anyone had worried that the team behind AC IV would focus too much on the water aspects of the game, you don’t need to worry anymore. Seeing Havana actually triggered flashbacks in my mind to AC II and the team admitted Florence was a heavy influence when it came to its layout and design. Running along rooftops and stealth assassinating posted sentries never looked as good. And the city is absolutely a sprawling urban area full of the life and detail you would expect from any Assassin’s Creed city.

But we were here with a purpose. A local trader had gotten too big for his britches and he needed to be put down. He had grown paranoid, however, and had soldiers stationed around his villa at all times. Here more so than any other gameplay segment we saw was where many options were laid out before us. We could sneak in and do the dirty deed up close and personal in the shadows. Wait until he approached a powder keg just asking to be blown up and fire a bullet at it. Use our berserker blowdarts and have one of his precious bodyguards do the deed for us. Or run in swinging our swords like a madman and hope for the best. I voted for the powder keg option, and that’s what we did. I like explosions.

In order to escape our loud assassination however, we saw a bit more of Edward in direct combat. Much like Connor with his Tomahawk, Edward is an expert with his dual cutlasses and he would often use them both to really drive the point home on his foes, slicing open necks, stabbing both of them through a ribcage, or a flurry of seemingly mad slashes that would cut foes into ribbons.

Even though our demo was only 40-minutes long, we got a sense of the countless acts Edward could do to help the Assassin’s cause as well as forward his own standing in the world. The options given to us cater to gamers of all kinds and the fact that no one style trumps any other will help Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag possibly resonate with fans and newcomers to the series alike. And the sheer scope of the Caribbean Sea looks to hopefully assure gamers that this is the model of what a pirate game should be from here on out.