EDITOR’S NOTE — “Late To The Game” is a new, semi-regular review format we’re kicking off here on AYBOnline. A lot of us are “patient gamers” — waiting a year or more following release before we try a title. And sometimes, that can be valuable — we never see those release-day bugs, and we can look at games with the full benefit of hindsight.
Kicking off our Late to the Game series, appropriately enough, is AYBOnline member and CEO Aaron Kostuik. Take it away, Aaron! — JM
So it seems that I am consistently ‘late to the game’ when it comes to playing all the latest and greatest. Mostly that’s because I am trying to run AYBOnline and get things ready for BaseLAN. During the events I walk around to chat with the attendees and see what they are playing; of course, not having a lot of time to play games myself, I have to live vicariously through others. There are usually some amazing ones that stand out, and Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag was definitely on my bucket list of games to play.
I picked up the game for Wii U, as it is currently the only ‘modern’ console that I have at home, so I already expected the graphics to not quite hit the mark compared to the other consoles and PC. But it didn’t seem to matter in the end. The quality was still decent and didn’t really take away from the overall experience, although at about 40% completed, I did hit some quality degradation due to the Wii U not being able to keep up with what was happening on the screen. The quality loss went away after the next save point and never came back so it was probably due to a “perfect storm” (haa haa) of a huge ten-ship battle, a coincidental typhoon, and distant forts using mortars. The Wii U was definitely struggling to keep up.
Now, I must note here that I have not played any of the other games in the series, so if there is story line crossover between all of the games, I won’t know about it while I write this article or play the game. I also am not a huge 3rd-person-view game player; I have mainly enjoyed FPS games all my gaming life. When I actually started to play this game, I had to force myself to not throw down the Wii U controller in aggravation, though I still did many times. Getting used to this style of play was very hard but after a few days I really got the hang of it and have no issues now.
I am not going to go into a long-winded explanation of the story line or the history of the Assassin’s Creed series; this is a Late To The Game piece and if you want to read up about the game itself, you can hit up the Wikipedia page and check it out. I definitely should say here that the storyline is pretty good; it keeps you entertained and interested in the game, and if you liked the old Ninjas vs. Pirates “controversy”, then playing an actual Ninja-Pirate should be right up your alley.
Essentially, you are in the New World, and you end up taking someone else’s identity and joining up with other pirates and Templars to defeat the Spanish and British to make the West Indies your own. Throughout the game you can find manuscripts talking about real pirates in the Caribbean and other interesting tidbits of historical facts regarding pirates and privateering, which is nice if you are into that. It doesn’t force it down your throat, but is accessible via the menu system should you want to give it a read.
Let’s talk about what really stood out to me (and again, keep in mind I haven’t played other games in the series):
- Immense World – The sheer size of the map is pretty impressive. You can explore almost anywhere and I like that the overall map is completely zoomable. You can zoom in to the city level from the world level.
- Fast Travel – There are many unlockable fast-travel locations, which you can unlock by visiting or “syncing” (kind of like a save point, where you climb to a super high point and overlook the area; the game then syncs up and opens up new areas to explore). My issue with a lot of large-mapped games is that I don’t have a ton of time to play games and so when I do, I want to be able to skip all the travelling. AC4 lets you do this for almost every location and it definitely makes a huge difference.
- All Objects on Map – For the most part, all the items to find are on the map. I like games that have surprises and Easter eggs, but as I get older I have less time for “hide and seek,” and I’m happy that you can just set a marker on the map to find items like hidden treasure. There are of course, a FEW hidden treasure chests but to find them you need to find the treasure maps, which are shown on the map screen, so it’s not impossible to find them.
- Good Graphics – Keep in mind I am playing on a Wii U, so the graphics quality is not epic, but the funny thing about the graphics is that the day before I picked up the game I was discussing with someone that I still haven’t seen a game with really good water effects. Go figure, it was one of the first things I noticed in AC4. The water effects are gorgeous and the way the boat cuts through the waves looks stunning which leads me to my next point.
- Mind Blowing Weather Effects – I was thoroughly impressed with the weather effects in this game and when I say that I mean two things. Firstly, the weather completely changes the game play when you are on your boat and even makes you wonder how people traveled in wooden boats hundreds of years ago and survived. The wind and waves affect everything from sailing to combat (aiming). Secondly, the weather adds to the overall experience because it makes you feel like you are really there. Last night I was sailing on calm seas; miles away to the east, there was a huge thunder and lightning storm in the distance, and to the west the orange sun was setting. I haven’t seen such a wide range of effects in a game in a long time, especially ones that make me feel like I am really there.
- Musical Score – The music seamlessly changes from exploration to combat, and fits whatever is happening on the screen perfectly. The sea shanties that are sung during calm weather do get repetitive and annoying but there is a quick option to tell your sailors to stop singing. The combat music makes you want to pick up a sword and start swinging from one boat to another to join the fray.
- Customization – The upgrade system works very well for both your ship and personal aspects, and in some cases for your personal appearance, they’ve gone overboard. I am still wearing the same thing I started with clothes-wise, but have definitely attempted to craft more items to improve my statistics as I found very quickly that health, attack, and defense bonuses were needed during combat. As for upgrading your ship, you get to collect wood, metal and cloth from ships you salvage after battles. I thought this was going to be a grind, but it actually wasn’t. Just having fun in the game gets you the resources you need to upgrade your ship, to have more fun. You can upgrade all aspects of the ship such as cannons, hull, mortars, battering rams, crew quarters (so you have more crew for fighting ship-to-ship) and cargo hold (for collecting and selling cargo). There are bonus quests to get colour customization for sails and ship ornaments.
- Physics Engine – Pretty solid, I have yet to run into any real glitches or see any oddities as far as the physics goes. The water physics is pretty amazing in the sense that it really feels like you are on a boat sailing on the ocean. Ground physics are pretty good too and how the character is able to run on top of things is really neat. Although, there is a small issue with having a map that you can pretty much climb on anything, and I have that in my “cons” below.
- Story Line – You cannot beat this story line, it flows extremely well and obviously ties into past games. The manuscripts you pick up throughout the map are readable and speak to the history of real pirates of the area back in the swashbuckling days. It keeps you entertained and honestly has some good comedic aspects as far as joking between the characters. The voice acting is very strong and it seems they’ve done their homework for the nationalities that were competing in the West Indies.
Now on to some of the oddities and things that I don’t like about the game:
- Sea Shanties – I know I said above that the musical score was really good, but the sea shanties that your crew sings when you are sailing (and not in battle or bad weather) get annoying. It’s like that song that’s stuck in your head and you keep hearing the same part over and over; in AC4, you only ever hear the same part of the shanty over and over again, due to how often you get into combat. Throughout the game you collect new songs, but the issue is still the same: you keep hearing the same 10-30 seconds of the songs continually.
- Repetitive Cut Scenes – Every time you capture a ship or take on a assassination contract you get the same cut scene played. Now, this could be something that plays during the load/save but I don’t think so because of the fact that the game autosaves while you play. It adds on another 30 seconds every time, and in most cases you just want to get back into the gameplay immediately. There’s no need for this.
- Items In Funny Places – I wasn’t too sure what to call this topic so I’ll try to explain instead. As you are sailing on the ocean there are some islands dotted all over that have treasure chests or other things to collect. You sail by with the boat, stop, jump overboard and swim to the island, get whatever you are getting and then swim back. This becomes tiresome, and feels odd to me because all the other regular islands and ports have rowboats on the shore that you can run up to and quick-travel back to your boat. Why don’t these islands have this? I have to waste time swimming to and from the island all the time. I may be nitpicking, but I like to think I’m an efficient person and this just wastes time. I find myself trying to sail as close to the island as possible, so my travel distance is shorter, and then I just end up damaging the boat on the shore.
- ‘Sometimes’ Stupid Character Control – It never fails: when you want to open up a treasure chest, you end up climbing on it. Due to the fact that you can climb 99% of the map, there are situations where you end up climbing on things you don’t want to. If you walk up to a chest on the ground and you want to open it, you can only do so from the front. If you are on the wrong side and want to walk around the box, the character constantly tries to climb on the box and you end up fiddling around. I know, I know, hardly a complaint considering the fact that you CAN climb on everything, but there are certain circumstances where you only have so much time to open all the boxes, like in a situation where you find a ship already destroyed and are just stealing the treasure. Standing on boxes while trying to open them while you have a countdown timer going on tends to cause frustration, especially when the boxes are all facing different directions.
Despite the slight aggravations in my “cons” list, and the fact that I literally had to learn how to play 3rd-person-view games on a controller (something that I am not used to), you can see that I do not really have anything against this game. I think that if someone were to ask me what was my most favorite video game of all time, I can safely say that this is one of them. It is definitely my favorite game since Payday 2. The overall experience of this game is just tremendous. The weather effects, tied in with the musical scores during battles, help immerse you into a realm that some of us only see in movies. Fighting huge, historical tall ships during a squall, all while being tracked by bounty hunters is pretty impressive. Obviously, I prefer the sailing of the ships and the inherent battles that come from it, but the 3rd-person missions where you are just controlling the character are just as good. The game has many side quests that you can do along the way in order to help generate more money for your ship upgrades. I did find that, the way I play, I obtained as many of the “free” treasure chests on the map right off the start as I could, and so that made me a little more powerful than I needed to be in the early stages of the game. Once I was further, the difficulty evened out pretty fast (around the 40% completed mark).
This is definitely one of those games that if you missed the boat (ha ha ha) on it, you should check it out. Ubisoft hit the nail on the head with this one.
Aaron Kostuik is a contributor and the CEO for AYBOnline Inc. He’s not just the owner, he’s a member too!