Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

Written by Puching Zhang — I couldn’t wait for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to arrive. I anticipated a lot of its features not that long ago. It’s out now, so I did a deep dive. Here’s what is to love about it — and what will probably disappoint you.

All following image credits: Ubisoft

Assassin's Creed IV Cover

Recently a friend described Assasin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to me as the “best pirate game ever, the worst Assassin’s Creed game ever.” He’s right about the pirate game part. Ubisoft did a great job with the plot and setting for this one. It even trumps Disney’s “Pirates of the Carribean.” Yes, eat your heart out, Disney.

RPG Functionality

In terms of setting, the Golden Age of Piracy is pure genius for a role-playing game (RPG). You get an awesome variety of pirate weapons, from the mundane to the surreal. Awesome choices range from the classic North African scimitar to the fan-favorite rope-darts and the epic hanging weapon, first seen in the previous edition of the series.

Assassin's Creed IV Hunting

With Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Ubisoft has set sail on the RPG genre with naval combat. It’s innovative and edgy. You get to explore the full pirate experience — there are more than 50 islands and tons of enemy ships to attack and plunder.

Better still, Ubisoft is no longer restricting movement with the animus synchronization feature anymore. That means players are now able to sail wherever they please. Just don’t start attacking a ship two levels higher than your own, or you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the sea, slowly decomposing in Davy Jones’ locker.

The Story

Campaign wise, I was slightly less thrilled with Black Flag. There’s nothing wrong with the characters. Edward Kenway, the protagonist, is a classic Jack Sparrow kind of guy. He’s free-thinking, smart, deadly. His fighting style even reminds me of the opening scene of Pirates of the Carribean IV, the one where Jack escapes with a pastry.

Assassin's Creed IV Blackbeard

And the antagonists are no worse, either. You’ve got Governor Woodes Rodgers standing in direct opposition to Kenway. He’s like Lord Beckett to Kenway’s Jack Sparrow, which is pretty much a plot rip-off. Oh well.

Despite the fairly well-drawn picture, the plot line has shifted from previous editions of the series. This is good or bad, depending on your take on the matter. Here’s mine.

If you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed, you know the general pattern. You’ve got an assassin protagonist who’s got a hit list of various templars that he needs to, as the Mob would say, “take care of.” Only problem is, this time around Edward isn’t even an assassin for most of the story. The assassin robes that he wears are actually garments he stole off an assassin he killed.

Wh…what? The assassin in Assassin’s Creed lifted his core identity? Am I seriously watching this? It’s kind of absurd.

But wait. There’s another twist. Get ready for the deep dive, plot wise:

In Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Desmond Miles has been replaced by a new character in the modern day setting. The new guy is a worker for Abstergo Entertainment, an extension of Abstergo Industries, who are essentially the modern-day templars. He tests Abstergo’s new game Demons of the Carribean, which is, you guessed it, an RPG centered on Edward Kenway. Ubisoft really shatters the fourth wall here, which is cool, but strange as well.

I assume that because the modern-day protagonist works for Abstergo Entertainment, the game doesn’t dive too deep into the real evils of the Templar Order, lest the worker defect to the assassins (plot twist anyone?). But that’s still a poor excuse for Ubisoft to write a stitched together campaign which hardly feels like a complete, flowing story. Rather, we just go from mission A to mission B.

Naval Power

Even with those glaring issues for an AC diehard, Assassin’s Creed IV is the best pirate game I’ve ever played. Ubisoft’s kick-ass graphics combined with the naval combat of the era make for some stunning gameplay. While this pirate game isn’t 100% historically accurate (it can’t be, in real life a British Man-o-War will K.O. a pirate ship in one broadside, but not here), it comes close, with a huge variety of enemy ships, from tiny sloops to real ships of the line.

Assassin's Creed IV Naval

Epic naval battles are not exactly new. Creative Assembly’s Empire Total War was the first video-game to debut realistic naval combat on an epic scale, but that buggy mess is a review for another day. Assassin’s Creed IV is, truly, the first pirate game to have realistic naval battles. You can actually see the ship splintering and burning. Or, better yet, if a stray cannonball manages a lucky shot at the opposing ship’s gunpowder keg the explosion is both jaw-dropping and seamless. I mean, who among us wouldn’t want a five ton floating hunk of wood to shatter into a million pieces? I know I would.

Now, before you guys even think about recreating Curse of the Black Pearl, where Sparrow takes down the HMS Goliath, remember that the Jackdaw has a progressive upgrade, in which players buy new parts in order to watch its transformation from tiny sloop to solid warship. Naval RPG, pretty sweet, right?

Assassin's Creed IV Naval Combat

Plus Ubisoft has done an awesome job recreating the wide variety of weapons pirates had in those days. Pirates would’ve fought with anything, literally, so Ubisoft’s design of smooth, realistic hand to hand combat is simply epic. Now, it’s nothing compared to what Ubisoft showed in it’s E3 trailer, but it’s good enough.

As far as multiplayer goes, it has roughly the same features as Assassin’s Creed III. A bunch of guys trying to assassinate each other. Nothing too special. Although I would’ve loved a privateering mode, where players can join with the British or Spanish navies and crush each other in a classic PvP battle. I mean, c’mon, Ubisoft. You’ve already debuted a great naval battle engine, it might as well set sail with a multiplayer mode, putting something fresh in this category for once.

Overall, I will give this game a 7/10. The graphics and attention to historical accuracy were great and it was the best pirate game ever (objectively, speaking, as always). As far as an Assassin’s Creed game goes, it was okay. The storyline wasn’t horrible — there was personality and character development but the flow of the game was choppy. And it would be, shall I say, unfamiliar for most fans of the Assassin’s Creed series.

This is Fegelein Puching Zhang for signing off. Until next time.

Based in Chicago, Fegelein Puching Zhang is our gaming scribe at  Read more of his work here or contact Fegelein at