They can hide in the shadows and kill with a single blow. They can take down the toughest targets with a swift stroke of a hidden blade. They are Assassins – and when they’re able to perfectly plan and carry out their missions, they are virtually unstoppable. Which, of course, creates a challenge for the developers behind this long-running franchise: How do you build a believable and full-featured reward loop for the player when your main character can (for the most part) defeat anyone in his path with a few well-placed, well-timed hits? The good news: With Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, that challenge has been overcome. And it’s all thanks to the pirate setting, along with Edward Kenway’s ship, the Jackdaw.
“We have something previous Assassin’s Creeds didn’t, which is progression,” says Game Director Ashraf Ismail. Unlike other open-world games – which can incorporate some of the common methods for creating player progression, like tossing tougher and tougher enemies at you – previous Assassin’s Creeds had no such luxury. After all, when you’re an Assassin, anyone is potentially a one-hit target. “You can’t really have enemies with a million hit points,” Ismail says.
Enter the Jackdaw. With a ship at the heart of Black Flag’s gameplay, Assassin’s Creed IV now has a way to offer genuine progression that’s fully integrated into the experience. “We have enemies that will destroy you in two seconds at the beginning of the game,” Ismail says. “If you face a Man-of-War, you’re toast.” That means players will need to upgrade the Jackdaw’s armor, its cannons and more, in order to get ahead in the game.
“Having the Jackdaw allows us to have a really deep progression system,” Ismail continues. “We have a lot of different weapons with a lot of upgrades. This really ties everything together. It gives us a reason to travel the world. It gives us a reason to find collectibles.”
As an example, Ismail mentions a proverbial island that has the resources you’ll need for a killer upgrade to your ship. Getting there, however, won’t be easy. That island happens to have two of those massive Man-of-Wars patrolling the harbor. That same island also happens to be beautiful and unique, so even if you’re not yet in need of those resources, you’ll likely be drawn to it, if only to check it out and see what else you can uncover. “We use a lot of mechanisms to get you to explore the world and find every nook and cranny and uncover every collectible,” Ismail says.
The best part of this progression system? It all happens naturally within Black Flag. Let’s say, for example, you’re seeking to upgrade the Jackdaw’s cannons to the highest possible level. To do so, you’ll need to visit certain locations and acquire specific items. In other words, it takes effort – considerable effort –
but, Ismail promises, you won’t even realize how much work you’re putting in to this goal. You’ll just be having fun.
‘Having the Jackdaw allows us to have a really deep progression system’
“At some point you’ll look back and realize you just spent the last two hours going to this place and that place and killing this guy and attacking this ship,” Ismail smiles. “It’s so natural. I think that’s one of the coolest things we have in the game.”
The gameplay progression system also helps move the player naturally (and seamlessly) between the land and sea – from the Jackdaw’s deck to the sandy beaches and urban environs of the early 18th century Caribbean… and even deep underneath the ocean. After all, in order to develop your ship – which you’ll need to do if you want to travel deeper into the game – you’ll need to spend plenty of time on land, finding resources, uncovering treasure maps, recruiting crew and more. And once that’s done, you’ll need to sail off to new areas, engaging in naval battles along the way… while harpooning the occasional shark or diving into the depths to find sunken booty. “I think we found a really strong balance between being the captain of a ship and doing naval stuff,” Ismail says, “then, all of a sudden you’re running around as Edward, doing a boarding or jumping in the water or landing on an island.”
Edward’s pirate ship isn’t the only thing that’s upgradeable in Black Flag. Being a pirate himself, Edward also brings new upgrade options to the game, including the number of guns he carries, along with other weapons and even his health. It all makes sense, given Edward’s background as a pirate and his somewhat reluctant embrace of the Creed. But, ultimately, it’s the ships that tie the world of Black Flag together – and it’s the Jackdaw that lends Assassin’s Creed IV the strongest and fullest progression system of any Assassin game yet.
For more on the Jackdaw, set sail to the following Black Flag posts: