There’s an endless debate that’s raged on playgrounds and barstools across the world, and it goes something like this: Which is cooler? Pirates or ninjas? What’s that got to do with Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag? Well, consider that Edward Kenway, the new hero of the latest chapter in this epic franchise, starts out his life as a pirate. Next, consider that assassins (lower-case “a”) are pretty much a Western take on the mighty ninja. And knowing that Edward’s journey will place him in the ranks of the mighty Assassins, the debate is pretty much over. After all, why choose just one when you can have both in a single larger-than-life character?
Of course, the combination still left us wondering how these two very distinct sides of Edward’s life could possibly work together. Pirates, on the one hook, are loosey-goosey rebels who rejoice in revelry. Assassins, on the other (hidden-bladed) hand are a disciplined lot: there’s a finely honed method to their madness, and they create order in the swirling chaos of life. It’s a conflict that, according to Game Director Ashraf Ismail, plays out in multiple ways – both in Edward’s story and in Black Flag’s gameplay.
Gold and Glory
“The best way to describe Edward: he’s an anti-hero,” Ismail says. “He comes with his own set of morals that are – because of his background as a pirate – a bit selfish and reckless.”
Ismail rattles off a list of other adjectives and phrases to describe Edward: Estranged. Doesn’t accept rules. Rebel. Brash. Reckless. Cocky. Handsome. The one thing they all have in common? These aren’t typical characteristics found in the selfless and disciplined Assassins. (Except, perhaps, handsome. There’s no rule in the Creed saying you can’t be good-looking.)
“So Edward is this really interesting personality that rubs… not in the best way with the Assassin’s Creed,” Ismail continues. “And this is the story that we want to tell, because it’s refreshing. We want to tell the story about this guy who doesn’t quite know who he is in life. He’s poor, but he’s charismatic, and he uses this for his advantage. And then he gets lured into the pirate life for all the gold and glory.”
But Kenway is no mere cad. Even though he’s heave-ho’d himself into a swashbuckling life, he realizes that piracy alone won’t bring him happiness. Somewhere on a deeper level he suspects there’s more to his existence. “When he gets mixed up with the Assassins, he starts learning about the Creed,” Ismail says. “He starts understanding that maybe this is an interesting way of life, this Assassin’s Creed. But it goes against his inherent selfishness.” That conflict – between the selfish and the selfless, or the pirate and the Assassin – is at the heart of Edward’s story. “This conflict is what makes him an interesting character,” Ismail says.
By Land or Sea
Whereas Edward’s story is all about his internal turmoil, the gameplay goes offers the opposite experience: “We wanted to make sure that the pirate and the Assassin elements were really fluid,” Ismail explains. “Edward acting and behaving like a pirate but having the skills of the Assassin –
the two really merged well together.” Pirates, being outlaws, are naturally stealthy. (Because, duh, it’s counterproductive to thunder while you plunder.) “Pirates were sailors and they would climb rigging, they would climb masts, so they had this really incredible navigation ability,” Ismail says. “This is another reason why the navigation abilities of an Assassin really worked well with Edward.”
“This is one example of dirty pirate combat that really enhances the combat of being an Assassin”
And perhaps most important: the combat. “Pirates fought a lot, and they also used pistols,” Ismail says. Edward also spends a lot of time aboard his ship, the Jackdaw, both navigating from place to place and engaging in naval combat. All of this works together intuitively, Ismail promises. For example: Edward has an assassination target on land, whom he chases. The target escapes Edward by boarding a ship and sailing away. “All of a sudden, you have to climb onto your ship, and you have to sail after him,” Ismail says. “If he’s just a target you have to kill, you can destroy the ship. Or you can board the ship and assassinate him as Edward. But any of this goes. It is important to make sure the players feel that the two mechanics of being a pirate assassin is fluid and seamless.”
But it’s not just about a seamless integration. The two styles of gameplay that stem from being a pirate and an Assassin allow for some altogether new aspects of combat. Take, for example, Edward’s pistols. In Black Flag, you can upgrade Edward so eventually he’s carrying four guns, all of which can be used in a combat loop: pull out one, then the next, the next, and the next – bang, bang, bang, bang – to do some serious damage. “This is one example of dirty pirate combat that really enhances the combat of being an Assassin,” Ismail smiles.
Finally, Ismail points to a common pirate navigational tool that also can be used as an Assassin: the rope. “It’s part of the pirate fantasy to swing across ropes. From here, we have assassinations that you can do from the rope. So a lot of the new ingredients that are pirate-themed also have a connection to the Assassin gameplay.”
It’s all part of what makes Edward a unique, compelling character – and a rip-roaring new anti-hero for Assasin’s Creed IV Black Flag.