Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. You’ve doubtless read the previews, and heard about Ubisoft Montreal’s newest sequel in the series. After the hype surrounding the third game in the series and the utter deflation that the final product provided, fans are right to be wary about this one.
In fact, with its premise of an Assassin pirate who goes around stabbing dudes and stealing their female consorts when he’s not hunting whales and raiding ships like a boss, the game is definitely unlike anything the series has pushed forth till now. That it’s a sort of prequel to AC3, with you playing as Connor’s grandfather Edward Kenway, but takes place immediately after the events of the same makes one even more wary.
But really, looking at the game, it’s easy to see what Ubisoft Montreal is doing. What they’re really doing is making a more realistic Skies of Arcadia. And really, even if they’re not doing so intentionally, they should certainly start.
If you don’t know, Skies of Arcadia is both one of the last original RPGs that Sega had created and also one of the best RPGs of all time. As an escapist fantasy with pirates, it’s also one of the better pirate games to ever be released.
The game had all the excitement of a likable protagonist, awesome ship battles, and an original story that mixed stealth and action with drama and adventure and made sure to fit just about every trope of piracy and high-seas hijinks into its weird premise of flying ships as much as possible.
At a glance, it’s certainly impossible to consider the two games similar in any way whatsoever. One of those is a cartoony RPG (pfft); the other is the follow-up to a multi-million dollar franchise that focused on freedom, truth, conspiracies and the war between Assassins and Templars.
But the actual game gives off no such vibe. This is an adventure where you can do anything and it all ties back to your ship. The assassinations appear to be taking a back seat to the adventure aspect of discovering sunken wrecks and fighting sharks.
You’ll be upgrading your ship and seemingly building a pirate empire, taking to cities and following a shadowy purpose apart from your usual plundering ways. And wouldn’t you know it, but even Blackbeard is a little cautious of Kenway.
Skies of Arcadia is the same, believe it or not. You can explore a vast world and find mysterious new locations. These discoveries would fetch a pretty penny and help up your rank as an adventurer. Even more exciting, the way the protagonist Vyse builds his reputation, coinciding with the storyline events that lead to the epic conclusion, you can literally sense a legend unfolding before your very eyes.
Think of Black Flag as what happens afterwards: What happens when the legend becomes an epic myth, one shrouded in mystery and all grown up, going about what it does best but all towards furthering a deeper purpose? What if it discovers bloodshed, booze and sin, experienced in the ways of the world but still highly endearing towards them?
That’s the image of Edward Kenway that’s been presented to us. And while we could point towards both of the games, and look at the naval aspects as the epicenter of all intrigue (the combat in Skies of Arcadia was tight and focussed but never the focal point of the game), both games function as a purely escapist medium of entertainment but grounded in the tenets of piracy. Everything you do, and everything you work towards comes back to that one central theme: You are a legend.
And you’re damn good at it too.
Again, with skepticism running high, it’s already interesting that Ubisoft is deviating so far away from what its previous games worked so hard to build up. It’s no longer cloak and dagger plotting – this is straight up action-adventure, whether you believe the developer’s testimonies of plenty of stealth or not.
Of course there have to be numerous routes to accomplish a mission – what kind of AC title, let alone open world game would it be if there weren’t? But stealth isn’t the focus.
Nonetheless, maybe this is the kind of game we need to wash the failings of AC3 from our memories. Maybe we just need a good, strong adventure to remind us that not everything need be about who’s with the Templars and who’s avenging who. Maybe we just need something fun from a talented developer that has been working way too hard to push this epic, be-all-end-all tale on us from the word go.
Maybe we just need another Skies of Arcadia to show us that, hey, it can be a blast if you give it a chance. That Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag happens to be a part of the mega franchise that is antithetical to its main purpose is a different matter altogether.
Of course, and you knew this was coming, that’ll be IF they can successfully pull it off.