Sunday, April 17, 2022

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (PC) Review

I finished Assassins's Creed IV: Black Flag on Saturday, April 16, 2022, 1:15:00 PM. I got this game via Uplay for free a few years ago, and I finally decided to play it in March 2022 and I enjoyed this game despite Ubisoft’s best efforts.

The only other Assassin's Creed game I played was the first game, and I never finished it because it frustrated me to no end. There were aspects I really liked, but the controls, and the mission design were really frustrating for me.

My biggest issue, the one that made me quit the first game, was the lack of checkpoints within missions. This has been largely addressed. There are still a few missions here and there which require multiple tries, but for the most part this is not an issue. This does not mean the main missions are good. Far from it, but more on that later.

This game is beautiful. It's almost (but not quite) on par with Witcher 3,. There are so many islands to explore, and they are very well crafted by the designers. The Caribbean setting didn’t seem ideal for an Assassin’s Creed game, because pirates in the West Indies is not what comes to mind when I think about a conflict between Assassins and Templars.

Yet, the vibrant world of the 1700s Caribbean proved to be a great setting for an Assassin’s Creed game. The map is massive, and there is so much to explore. I spent many hours exploring the islands. Some of the islands are very large expansive areas and they are dotted with many collectibles, missions, etc. I particularly enjoyed activating the viewpoints, because of the beautiful vistas of the island that are shown.

Sailing the open seas is also a great experience. There are storms, water sprouts, massive waves, combined with the day night cycle, its a sight to behold.

When I first started the game, my expectations were low, and I did not have an idea of what the visuals were going to be like. I was told by a friend (a fellow PC gamer) that the game is very good, so at least I knew that it wasn’t a below average console port. As I made my way from the shore of Cape Bonavista towards a cliff, I was taken aback by the vibrant visuals. I was expecting something similar to the first game, where the visuals are very drab and muddy, so I was very pleasantly surprised. Little did I know at this point that the best is yet to come.

The most beautiful islands for me are The Great Inagua and Mysteriosa. When I stumbled across the waterfall on The Great Inagua, I had to stop and stare. This island is quite complex with many different routes, and this will eventually become the pirate hideout. Mysteriosa is an island with Myan pyramids, and the views can be quite spectacular.

There are three main cities - Havana, Kingston and Nassau. Havana is controlled by the Spanish, and this is the first main city available to explore. Nassau is a pirate city, which the English monarchy wants to control, and finally Kingston is a city controlled by the British. Of these three, I enjoyed Havana the most.

In terms of visuals alone, this game is in a different league compared to the first game. Getting lost in the world of Black Flag was a fantastic experience.

In Assassin's Creed Black Flag you, the player assumes two roles - Edward Kenway, our pirate of the Caribbean in the colonial era, and as a research analyst employed by Abstergo Entertainment, set in the modern day.

Edward Kenway, born in Swansea, Wales, has lofty ambitions of becoming rich. To that end, he leaves England in pursuit of making it big. This takes him to the Caribbean where he becomes a pirate. In his quest to get rich, he stumbles across an Assassin, and our pirate adventure begins. The story has a lot of interesting characters, and the voice acting is top notch.

I didn't quite understand the modern day angle of the story, and thankfully, it's not a big part of the game, and what little of it there is, is thoroughly forgettable.

The main story missions are quite weak. They borrowed some of the worst aspects of the first game. A lot of it involves tailing someone, and eavesdropping on their conversations. I found this very tedious. Considering how many such missions there are, and how easy it is to make a mistake and have to retry, this is easily the lowest point of the game for me. It appeared as if there was very little thought put into this aspect of the game. I got the feeling that there were two teams with very different design philosophies working on the game. One team was responsible for the linear main missions, and the other team worked on the open world mission design.

How else can I explain the massive difference? While the main missions are linear and boring for the most part, the side missions are generally open ended and there is a lot more fun to be had. There are so many side missions in the game, it's ridiculous. I can see someone sinking in around 60 hours into the game to get to 100% completion. Hunting, fishing, conquering forts, assassnation contracts, naval assassination contracts, collecting items, deep sea diving for treasure, exploring the world, managing a trading fleet, and conquering the sea by capturing or conquering ships.

How did an Assassin’s Creed game become popular for naval combat? I am not sure why they decided to go this route, but I am glad they did. This may be the best pirate adventure game I have played. I think this is a better Pirates of the Caribbean game than an official Pirates of the Caribbean (if it exists).

The player gets to control Jackdaw, a ship that you get to upgrade as you progress through the game. Some elite upgrades require completing story missions, a rather arbitrary requirement in my opinion. As the ship is upgraded, it gets easier to sink or capture enemy ships, and this is where the game really shines. There is a great sense of progression here. Capturing a level 36 man-of-war for the first time is an exhilarating feeling. Once the player reaches a certain level of upgrades, elite enemy ships are unlocked, and they put up a lot of fight. Its not possible to capture an elite ship, only sink it.

Capturing a ship is a very interesting concept. Once a ship is damaged past a point, it is possible to board the ship, and capture it. There are certain objectives that need to be met such as destroying reserves, killing captains, taking down flags etc. Parts of this get very repetitive and highlights the severe shortcomings of the regular combat system.

Combat is nothing like what we see in Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor or Batman Arkham Asylum. It's a very basic system, where you get to press E at the right time to counter an enemy and an execution move ensues, without the need for any player input. However, sheathing swords is assigned to E as well, and you will find yourself putting weapons away in the heat of combat. Quite annoying.

The platforming is smooth but inconsistent, and as a PC gamer who plays first person shooter, I found it somewhat unintuitive. Pressing Space doesn't make the character jump, instead, it should be used in combination with Shift, and it is context sensitive, and this can often lead to inconsistent results based on the kind of terrain you are in. Why not just go the Tomb Raider route? I am not sure. I believe this kind of control system is the staple for this series.

The game ran fine on my setup, and I wouldn't expect any less. I played the game at 2560x1440 resolution, and scaling was not an issue. I would have liked to test this on ultrawide resolution, but I do not have access to an ultrawide monitor at this time. However, the game is locked at 60FPS, and there has been no fix for this to date. All the YouTube videos with steps to unlock the framerate are just clickbait. There are occasions where the game would jitter, especially when the character lands on hard ground after leaping from tall structure. This was very similar to the problem with the first Assassin’s Creed game. Looks like engine related issues from the first game are still lingering.

There are a surprising number of occasions where the game just froze. When I alt-tabbed to look at the task manager, I would see the game executable is no longer responding. I did not find a fix for this. Repairing the game would solve this problem for a while, but it would start to occur again. Initially I thought it might be related to starting the game using GOG Galaxy 2.0 Launcher, but it happens even if the game is started using UbiSoft Connect (they decided to rebrand Uplay. It's still awful).

Speaking of launching the game, UbiSoft Connect prompts for the password when the game is first launched after a computer restart. Considering that login information is already provided to launch UbiSoft Connect, not sure why it prompts for a password. Brilliant user friendly move by UbiSoft’s developers.

Also UbiSoft Connect does not show the play time of the game. Apparently the client does not support showing playtime for older games. Makes no sense. It's unfortunate that UbiSoft insists on subjecting PC gamers to this awful client and while it may not be as terrible as Games For Windows Live, they are really pushing.

In conclusion, this is an amazing game, and totally worth playing. I spent 43 hours and I might go back and explore a little bit more. I am not uninstalling it yet.

+ Naval Combat
+ Open World
+ Pirate story
+ Voice acting
+ Music

- Controls
- Main missions
- Combat system

Verdict - Must Play

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