Things I Like:

  • The way Edward waddles a bit in knee-deep water
  • The way the smoke rises off your firing cannons
  • Boats = fun (sorry, ships)
  • The weather looks really cool, and makes sailing around visually interesting
  • The legendary ships feel appropriately legendary
  • Edward Kenway is pretty much Heath Ledger with a worse accent
  • Shanties
  • The berserk dart is maybe the most fun weapon I’ve ever used in an AC game; it opens up some really nifty options for stealth
  • Naval forts are fun to conquer. They’re short enough to be over quickly but big enough to feel satisfying
  • Swinging on ropes makes you feel very cool
  • The diving sections are a surprisingly fun twist on the AC-stealth formula
  • It’s definitely my favorite of the Creed games I’ve played so far

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Okay Things:

  • Combat is about as good as Assassin’s Creed III, which is to say, passable
  • Stealth is definitely better than Assassin’s Creed III, which is to say, also passable
  • Boarding ships starts out being really exciting and ends up being tedious, but thankfully, avoidable
  • Weird item economy: why can I only get certain supplies from destroying ships? I have like a million reales in the bank, I should just be able to exchange them for goods and services
  • Free-running is still finicky as ever
  • The story is... a thing. Occasionally fun; mostly incomprehensible
  • Harpooning is not the worst, but pretty thin gameplay-wise.
  • No one ever explains why Edward instantly has all the skills of an assassin, he just puts on the outfit and boom. On one hand, I definitely don’t care. On the other hand, wut?
  • Cities are smaller and not as interesting architecturally, but they make up for it with a nice variety of more natural settings. Havana is just plain gorgeous, though
  • Mayan Stelae are the saddest excuse for “puzzles” I’ve ever seen, but I’m glad I did them because that armor you get is mad dope
  • Are we ever supposed to believe that “Captain Kidd” was passing for a dude?

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Things I Don’t Like:

  • One time I watched a sea turtle slowly crawl across a beach towards the ocean. When it finally got to the water, it turned around and crawled the opposite way. Turtle AI: 2/10
  • Present-day story bullshiiiiiiit (your mileage may vary. Me, I hate it)
  • I want to slap everyone who worked on the hacking minigames

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  • Weird hovering crewmates sometimes (also file under “Things I Liked”)
  • The core combat mechanics are good enough, but things get confusing during ship boarding and any other situation where you’ve got allies. They don’t really help, they just muddy the action
  • Why the fuck am I collecting all these “Animus Fragments?” The game doesn’t seem to care if I do, but seeing all those dots on my map is like torture... I’d better pick up every single one to see what happens (ETA: FUCKING NOTHING, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS)
  • Seriously? More eavesdropping missions?
  • This strategy mini-game is just terrible. Why can’t I fast forward through the battles? And what is the god damned point of any of it??? Granted, I still spent a bunch of time playing it. It was all kind of a blur...
  • Thank you, Uplay, for constantly bombarding me with social notifications. I don’t have any friends on my Uplay account and I like being reminded of this
  • [SPOILERS] So you go through all the trouble of making a well-developed and interesting female supporting character who’s crucial to the narrative without being a love interest, and then you completely torpedo all that in the third act by simultaneously making her a damsel in distress, unaccountably pregnant, and then sticking her in a fridge to motivate Edward... Seriously Ubi, how are you so bad at this? [END SPOILERS]

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TL;DR:

After a good 30 or so hours spent with Black Flag, I feel just as conflicted about the Assassin’s Creed series as I did when I started. On one hand, the sheer amount of fun to be had on the high seas makes this an easy recommendation. Sailing, sneaking, swinging and stabbing are all as enjoyable as they need to be to keep a gamer invested. As I said above, it’s hands-down my favorite Assassin’s Creed game I’ve ever played.

On the other hand, if you have your doubts about the series as a whole, this is unlikely to be the game that changes your mind. Despite its slick presentation the storytelling remains deeply flawed, many aspects of the gameplay feel pointless, and certain persistent quirks of the series’ mechanics go un-fixed. But regardless of how familiar these problems are, the Assassin’s Creed IV offers some truly unique pleasures all its own, and it does so with flair. I certainly don’t regret the time I spent with it, and while that may sound like faint praise, time is a precious resource. “Not wasting it” is enough of a victory for me.

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Addendum: I just started playing the Freedom Cry DLC, and will weigh in on that soon. But my first impression is that it’s even better than AC4, some minor quibbles aside. Stay tuned for details.