The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been responsible for some of my most memorable gaming moments of this passing generation; it’s also been responsible for my biggest disappointment in recent memory. Assassin’s Creed III was awful, but not bad enough for me to give up on the IP. The good news is that Black Flag is really good.
I’m still making my way through the campaign; there’s a lot of content and plenty of things that have been very well designed in order to side-track the player. Once you hit that open ocean, there’s a veritable cookie-crumb trail of activities.
It’s likely that quite a few people are holding off on Black Flag until next-gen consoles become available in South Africa. It’s also possible that you’re waiting for the PC version. This is one game I wish I’d been able to put on hold until a PlayStation 4 found its way into my house; it’s a good looking game even on the aging Xbox 360 hardware, but on high-end PCs and next-gen consoles, it’s going to look stunning.
Below is a list of ten aspects of Black Flag that are worth highlighting and worth knowing before jumping in.
1. Kill that HUD
Switch off certain HUD elements like the minimap; rely on landmarks and visual clues instead. Black Flag is one of the most immersive Assassin’s Creed worlds Ubisoft has created so far, but it is still mired by the futuristic HUD that doesn’t fit with the setting. Yes, it’s supposed to represent the Animus HUD, but there’s no denying it makes for a cluttered experience. There’s something great about unfurling The Jackdaw’s sails and entering Travel Speed; your crew’s shanties becoming slightly muffled as the sound of the sea and the wind picks up the further the camera pulls away from the ship’s deck; it’s made all the more immersive without that stupid minimap in the bottom left.
2. Download the companion app
If you can, download and use the official Assassin’s Creed IV companion app for Android and iOS tablets. The app syncs to your game and updates in real time, meaning you can have a permanent map on a separate screen if you’ve turned off your minimap as suggested above. The app also allows you to stay in the game and not have to navigate the game’s slightly bloated (albeit slightly improved) menus. Yes the menus are disguised as an Animus menu and it is in a sense an “in-game” menu, but it still ruins the illusion of being a pirate on the high seas if you need to hit the pause button to set waypoints etc. Now you can do that all on a permanently open world map via the companion app; then have the waypoints appear in your game.
3. Collect the sea shanty pages
Assassin’s Creed III first introduced this type of collectible as Benjamin Franklin’s missing Almanac pages. In Black Flag, collecting those bits of pages that blow away as you approach them now nets you an instant reward: they’re actually sheets of music for your crew. When you’re on the sea, your crew will start singing as they work. Those shanties add a staggering amount of atmosphere to the game; there are tons of them too so collecting the pages essentially increases your sea shanty playlist.
4. Don’t dwell on the past
Approach the game as a clean slate; forget the convoluted, present day crap of previous games. Desmond Miles and company are gone but you will see familiar faces during the present day portions of Black Flag. If you’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game, then welcome aboard!
5. Thar she blows!
Upgrade your harpooning equipment before picking a fight with large marine mammals. Throughout the map you’ll spot areas that are rife with particular species of whales and sharks. Harpooning and slaughtering these specific species will give you the materials needed to upgrade Edward’s equipment. It’s a very similar mechanic to that which is found in Far Cry 3. Expect to fail many harpooning activities until you’ve upgraded your row boat and harpoon strength. I picked on a white whale first; it won.
6. Avoid the lure of fast travel
Fast travel has been more deeply entrenched in the game; synchronised viewpoints now offer in-city fast travel; all discovered areas on the map can be fast-travelled to as well. When on the sea, sail to your locations; you’ll be constantly tempted to pick fights with ships, and in doing so you’ll get valuable resources to upgrade The Jackdaw. Speaking of resources: target the ships that have metal; you’re going to need a lot of metal.
7. Customise your Jackdaw
It’s essentially another leading character so make her your own. You can customise sails, figureheads and ship wheels. Some of the more impressive options require you to locate plans before they unlock; most of these can be found in treasure chests. These are simply aesthetic ship customisations; they have no effect on the game but they do make The Jackdaw just that much more your own.
Don’t underestimate that ram in ship combat. Once you’ve upgraded it enough you’ll be able to ram straight through the smaller Gun Boats that often escort the larger merchant ships that heave with valuable cargo.
9. Dig up treasure
You’re a pirate for crying out loud so play the part! Treasure maps are some of the most fun distractions in the game and will remind you of the treasure hunts from Red Dead Redemption. The rewards are also very often worth the hunt: lots of gold, special weapons or ship plans.
10. Play Kenway’s Fleet
But don’t get too bogged down in it. In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Ubisoft introduced the minigame that saw you sending your new assassin recruits on missions across Europe. There’s something similar in Black Flag called “Kenway’s Fleet”. It’s not very compelling in terms of gameplay (it’s essentially an elaborate menu you’re “playing”) but you can net some neat rewards like treasure maps and valuable resources. Interestingly, you need to be online in order for this to portion of the game to be playable.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to waste your time navigating menus instead of playing the game, you can queue up some Kenway’s Fleet missions via the companion app, and then just leave them to do their own thing. Any rewards will be transferred into your game.
So there you have it; these are pretty much the parts of the game that I’m loving the most. If you’re already playing the game, leave some thoughts below and let me know what you’re enjoying the most. Our NAG Online review will be going up shortly; Matthew Vice has you covered on that one.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m no longer that jaded about this series. Gosh, I’m a fickle asshole.