When a new year starts, I go back and finish the previous year's Assassin's Creed. I spent early 2013 rediscovering AC III. I've rung in 2014 by playing 23 more hours of Assassin's Creed IV. I have some more thoughts about this one...
Actually, first, I have a lot of videos to show you!
These videos show many of the things I did long after I finished the game's main storyline. Technically, I guess some of them are spoilers in that they show some of the rarest weapons and best unlockables in the game.
Let's take a look, shall we?
I've admitted before that Assassin's Creed games pretty much hit my sweet spot. I like open-world games. I like conspiracy stories. I like third-person action and platforming. I like games that can serve as historical tourism. And I love, love, love good sidequests.
I'm also forgiving of a messy game's faults if the game is properly ambitious, which is why I probably tolerated more of Assassin's Creed III's flaws than others did. And it's also probably why I had a such a good time going back to AC III to discover its more polished side content. That game's New York and Boston underground levels are excellent, gritty re-workings of the AC formula. That game's Homestead missions flesh out the personality of the game's protagonist. Only by carefully going after every treasure chest and other collectible in III did I come to appreciate the rich amount of gameplay hidden in the game's seemingly bland forest.
Assassin's Creed III requires a lot of extra effort to really "get", I think. In contrast, Assassin's Creed IV is more immediately appealing. Its scenery is more visually striking. Its interface—weapon selection, item switching, map-checking, crafting—is all snappy. The game runs better. Fewer things get in the way of the fun. The improved fast-travel system and a map loaded with icons representing things with which to interact give players a bounty of options for entertaining themselves.
It would almost seem like AC IV, unlike AC III, has nothing to hide. In a way, that's true. The 23 extra hours I spent with IV did less to alter my impression of that game than my bonus nine did with III. But they did change some things...
My Assassin's Creed IV revelations:
- The city stuff is tired. Really tired. As much as I love these games, I don't know how much more I can take of climbing the sides of buildings, catching an overhang, running across a roof toward a guard to stab him, hiding in a pile of hay, hearing the twinkling sounds of a treasure chest, grabbing said treasure, getting caught up in a fight against four soldiers and then charging into an assassination mission in which I need to spot an enemy within a green circle on my mini-map and then kill him.
I'd played a lot of the land stuff in AC IV already, back when I reviewed the game last year. When I returned to the game this year, I initially did a lot more of the naval stuff. After having a great time on AC IV's high seas, I went back to Havana to do everything I could do in that city. It was boring. It was beautiful, but boring. Mopping up the leftover missions in Kingston was a little better, because that city was a little more unusual. It's divided by a body of water, a la AC Revelations' Istanbul. Including III and Liberation, these newer Assassin's games have suffered from being set in less-than-fascinating cities that are devoid of landmarks or any real character beyond, at least in IV, some distinct visual identity. These cities are full of missions that are feeling more and more same-y. Something needs to change.
- The diving missions are good! It took me a while to get what AC IV's developers were going for, but I've come to think quite highly of IV's underwater missions. The ones set in the game map's easier northern half aren't inspiring, but the southern ones are varied and offer some great sights. You can dive through a massive upended boat or swim through some caves into a not-so-abandoned smugglers' hideout. Since you don't have good fighting gear on you, those diving missions that lead you into on-foot hand-to-hand combat wind up being some of the more interesting and challenging sections of the game.
- The sailing is indeed excellent. Okay, this isn't a new thought. It seems that everyone liked the naval combat in Assassin's Creed IV, which is a good upgrade from the rough draft that was in III. It's fun to chase a ship and fun to be chased by them. The more you fight, the more you learn how useful fire barrels are (that's the revelation!), how effective a strong broadside is and how... ok it's not all perfect...how tedious boarding eventually becomes.
Ubisoft can do a lot more with this sailing stuff, playing with more kinds of ships, adding more personality to the crew, and maybe even giving the player a fleet they can commandeer of their own. The sailing is the one aspect of the game that actually feels a little light in content, which probably just means that it's good enough to leave me hungry for more.
- Edward just is not as interesting Assassin's Creed lead as his descendants. I hadn't liked Edward as much as his son and grandson, AC III's Haytham and Connor, respectively. I had liked Haytham from the moment I first played AC III. He was a surprise bonus character, and a rogue at that. He's intriguing. Connor was notoriously much harder to like. He was annoyed most of the time. His voice-actor delivered his lines flatly. As I've mentioned, the side content in III fleshed Connor out and recast him as more of a Robin Hood, a man of the people who scowled at the authority figures in the game's main missions but showed a warmer, more likable side when dealing with regular folks in the game's side adventures.
Edward was defined in IV's main story as a greedy, somewhat homesick, very reluctant assassin. That's fine. But, for better or worse, I got no greater sense of Edward's character from the extra 23 hours of the game that I played. AC IV is a more gameplay-driven game than III and the extra 23 hours bore this out. Edward was a useful avatar. He was fun to upgrade—to arm with cooler guns and swords and gear. But the game doesn't have much to say about him. There are no hidden depths. He's just the blond guy I have steering my ship and stabbing templars. That's too bad. I wanted more.
I do recommend that other AC IV players go back and play for another few hours. Getting the hang of naval combat and upgrading your ship until you can take on the legendary ships is very rewarding. Plus, the game is just so beautiful that you might as well indulge in a second virtual Caribbean vacation. I'm glad I made a return trip.
Next up in my early-2014 tour of recent AC games: I will finish poking around in Abstergo!