The worldwide launch of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is just over a week away as of this writing, and you’ll soon be able to see for yourself what sorts of changes Jacob and Evie Frye are bringing to the series and its newly industrialized world. Before that happens, though, let’s continue our series on what made each previous Assassin’s Creed unique with the wonderfully piratical Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag.
With the possible exception of actual sea voyages, there are few things that can’t be improved by adding pirates, and Assassin’s Creed is no exception. Combining free-running and Templar-stabbing with open-world piracy, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was a huge, aquatic sandbox filled with explosive spectacle and fun things to do. Climbing around on old fortresses in Havana and Nassau was interesting, sure, but a big part of ACIV’s appeal was going out on the water, hammering hapless enemy ships with cannon fire and then swinging over to their decks to finish the job. This was endlessly addicting, and the promise of being able to take on bigger ships was usually enough to push me to keep plundering so that I could keep upgrading my ship.
If that ever started feeling repetitive, there were plenty of other distractions scattered throughout the Caribbean. Harpooning huge sea creatures was fun, particularly when they’d try to turn the tables and attack my boat. Diving to the ocean floor to ransack shipwrecks was an interesting change of pace, even if the sharks gave me the willies. And running around scooping up the collectibles that were revealed with every Viewpoint is always enjoyable, no matter the context.
Sea forts may have been my favorite, though; playing out like a large-scale version of piracy, they made me smash each of their turrets and mortar towers in turn(usually while dodging mortars, cannon fire and ship-wrecking storms), and these crumbled and exploded in deeply satisfying ways before I stormed the place and cut through its garrison of troops. As a bonus, clearing sea forts came with a sense of accomplishment, in that I now had “ownership” over a slice of the map and could see all nearby treasures and activities.
As deeply enjoyable as its side activities were, Assassin’s Creed IV also delivered one of the series’ strongest stories. As Edward Kenway, we saw the Assassin Brotherhood through the eyes not just of an outsider, but of an amoral criminal who rejected the philosophy and embraced the cool costumes and terrifying methods. More important than the Templar-Assassin war were the pirates Edward went to sea with, and ACIV did a bang-up job of making larger-than-life figures like Anne Bonny and Blackbeard into relatable, even sympathetic characters. The story even managed a few big yanks on my heartstrings, which – given that it was working with figures who’ve been caricatured and reduced to familiar clichés in countless media – was no mean feat.
The naval sandbox made for one of the most compelling open worlds in the series’ history, and its strengths were carried over to Assassin’s Creed Rogue, the sequel that flipped the script and let you hunt Assassins as a Templar. Keep an eye out for our next video, in which we’ll sail those icy waters and explore the dark side of Assassin’s Creed.
For previous entries in this series, check out these features: