I mentioned before that I had started Assassins Creed: Black Flag a short while ago, and its been a strange start. Its a cool puzzle game, with a neat theme and a fun ship to ship combat system. I keep coming back to the game, mostly because its convenient, but also because its an enjoyable distraction.
I think. Actually, the feelings I have with this game are complicated. This game has both some excellent hooks and some really strange effects that both keep me coming back and have started to make me sigh in frustration. I’ll work through those, and give an update on my progress in the game, so SPOILERS AHEAD FOR A 3 YEAR OLD GAME
First, and I went over this last time, the tutorial is pretty miserable. The longer I play the game, though, the more I realize that its not the tutorial that is the problem, but it is the way the game introduces concepts. Instead of introducing them organically, when the instance comes up, you have to go through a certain portion of the main story to get there.
for instance, I am currently unable to dive to wrecks, even though I can sail up to them, and they are clearly pointed on my map, because the game tells me I can’t. I don’t get to die and learn that I can’t do this yet, I don’t get a line telling me that I don’t have equipment or some other such. I simply get a note across the screen that tells me this isn’t available.
Similarly, I’ve been doing assassination quests since I stepped foot in Havana, right after getting off that wretched first island. I have only just now been told what they are, how they are communicated, and where to find them. Additionally, I’ve been told that, unlike a normal contract, they are going to pay me for these because they know money motivates me. Even though I’ve been receiving money every time I killed some poor sot. It feels really strange to get the explanations to the game after I’ve been doing the task for so long.
Second, there are some strange interactions that chafe me probably more than I feel they should. Very specifically, I am speaking about cannon fire and sailing speed, but there is also ship to ship combat.
Lets talk sailing speed real quick. This didn’t bother me so much until cannon fire and turning really started to get on my nerves. There are three speeds in the game, in addition to complete stop. Slow, Speedy, and Travel. Slow Speed is simply that, a slow, plodding forward movement. Well, to be technically correct, all movement on this ship is forward. Speedy is a pretty solid clip that allows you to traverse short distances relatively quickly, keeping you in the action as well as making sure you’re engaged between the many islands and reefs. Travel speed zooms out to a high third person, you get to see your ship in all its glory, and hear the very cool and flavorful sea shanties. The problem I realized fairly quickly with this is that it makes no mention, reference or matter to wind. Seeing as this is the age of sail, I’d like something to be made of it. Braking and turning also seem to have some problems. I don’t know much about sailing, but I am pretty sure a boat doesn’t turn on a dime, yet I have found that the best and easiest way to turn the boat is to, while holding the steering wheel to the direction you want to turn, slam the brake button to slow down. You’ll drop speed extremely quick, pivot on the stern, and then once you’ve gotten turned, quickly hammer on the acceleration and start in your given direction. Its much, much faster than trying to turn the damned boat the right and proper way. I get that it is a concession to the game not having complete fidelity, because steering a ship is complicated and a pain in the ass, but its becomes very aggravating when you compare it to firing a cannon.
I expect, when I am shooting a cannon from the broadside of a boat, to have a bit of leeway in terms of aiming and firing. Its not all that accurate because its a damned boat, but It shows a clear arc and trajectory that you can control. The targets are often moving, being other boats, but sometimes your attacking stationary forts. Now, let me get this out of the way right here: I’m probably being extremely pedantic here, but its one of the large problems I have with ship to ship combat.
When I fire the cannon at a stationary target, I want the cannonballs to land on the target. I understand the moving boat causes some drift, but what should not cause drift, after the paragraph above where the wind has no effect on my movement or ships steering, is the rolling waves. Often, I will get his with waves that cause, in the moment between my pulling the trigger and the boat firing, the cannonballs to sail high or wide. Again, I want to be clear that this likely wouldn’t bother me if both the sails and the cannons were being controlled by the environment, but to have one but not the other is especially aggravating.
Finally, before I get to the story portion, I want to talk about how demons damned complicated the ship to ship combat is (and sailing in general).
First, you have the helm. The player is in control of the direction the ship is heading, which is to be expected. There are also 4 weapon bays on the boat: Forward Canons, Left Bays, Right Bays, and Rear Fire Barrels, each of which are controlled by how your character is facing, which is difficult when you trying to stay on course, trying not to crash into an island, reef, or an innocent ship. You also have mortars on the ship, which you have to use when zoomed in, in three dimensions. Doing all of this while trying to keep track the other ships and where they are and how you’re doing is mind boggling, and you have to do that while your checking your speed and direction to make sure you stay afloat.
It, also, is really exhilarating when done correctly. I feel like I’ve managed to wiggle through a puzzle that I didn’t know existed.
One of the things I’d not expected was to be drawn into the story so strongly. It is still a video game story, which I’ve rarely seen done to an exceptional level, but it is one that I am enjoying, at least.
Kenneway, the Assassin you’re playing, is a lying dirty cheat that simply stole an assassins uniform and started shanking people right good. He’d taken up the job with aplomb and finesse, to a way that kinda breaks the suspension of disbelief. He’s a pirate who has the skills of an assassin without actually being an assassin first. Sure.
We get to Havana, where I met with the Templar Order and finish off the traitor Duncan Walpoles job: Selling a bunch of assassin names to the Order and capturing some sort of Sage.
Later, I assume because I’m a no good pirate, I decide I am going to double cross the Templars, and start warning the assassins that I gave up about the Templars that are hunting them, and start doing what I can to make it right. Currently, my first two are women, so I assume its some chivalric duty.
I’m also, somehow, engrossed in a plot to create a Pirate Republic down in the Caribbean, working with a trio of other pirates trying to set it all up. We go on a boat hunt, and I learn how to do ship to ship combat, which I’d been doing because it seems pretty fun. Often it is, but there are sometimes that it simply leaves me spent.
Most recently, one of the pirates I’m working with, one James Kidd, has proven, also, to be an assassin of a sort. He’s shown me the ropes, introduced me to the local assassins, and started paying me for the assassinations I’d been getting paid for all along, and introducing me to a chamber with a “couple dozen” locks to go find.
The two quest chains – Track down the assassins I set up and find the locks, both seem to lead to interesting outfits, but nothing more. I’m not sure that I’ll be doing the Chamber Locks puzzle for Kidd because they have been pretty lame, But I will likely be doing the assassin assist quests because they’ve been pretty interesting so far. They feel, in a shallow and much less cool manner, like the personal quests from Mass Effect 2. The first one I did was for an Irish Pirate that ended with me having to sneak into warehouses full of gunpowder, set them alight, and get out in 10 seconds before the damned things exploded.
The other side quest that really tickles me are the set piece fights at the Island Fortresses. In order to take over the Caribbean, there are a pule of forts that you have to assault. Each composes of three parts: Destroy the outside fortifications, infiltrate and kill the officers of the defense force, and then kill the commander of the fort. These forts act as viewpoints for the ocean areas, but also make the area around me much less hostile. I’m able to traverse these waters without really worrying about who sees me and why because I control the areas. None of them have been pushovers, but the three part fight has been interesting and enjoyable.
I also have a fleet, which is a pretty cool minigame based on shipping, trading and pacifying trade routs in order to make money and secure the seas. As I’ve only really invested in big, nasty ships for my fleet, I’m enjoying taking down the few challenges they’ve given me, and look forward commanding a fleet of merchants and scallywags.
For a game with so many collectibles and ways to burn your time, I’ve already pretty much burnt out on them. There are only so many times I can hunt down a chest, break into a house for a manuscript, or climb a wall for an animus fragment. None of them seem to do anything for me other than add to my completion percentage, and I just don’t care enough.
The side quests that do entertain me – Forts, assassinations, Templar Hunts and ship battles are clearly going to be the ones that I focus on. I’ll likely do the main story and be done with the game, wherever it takes me. It’ll have been a fun, and thankfully free, expedition into the Assassins Creed Games that I will likely not repeat again.