Assassin's Creed 4: I’m on a boat... and it sucks
The open sea. The sky seems endless, the waves are crashing against your ship, and your crew won’t stop singing the same goddamn pirate songs! Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag expands on and centralizes the naval aspects that gained much praise in AC3, however; after playing the game for hours I began to feel seasick.
Initially, captaining my own ship as it sailed from one destination to the other was empowering. I attacked random ships as they sailed by, looted their cargo, and it felt wonderful. Eventually, though, I realized that with every cannon shot I fired I was starting the same chain of events over and over again. You attack a ship, weaken it until you can board, and then you can either board it or destroy it completely. If you destroy it, you lose half the cargo it was holding and your notoriety increases, so it’s pointless. If you board it, however, you have to kill most of the crew and maybe burn a flag every once in a while. Boarding is the only real option because you can repair your ship, lower your wanted level, or add the ship to your fleet. I mean every pirate focuses on lowering their wanted level, right?
I bought this game because it presented itself as a go-wherever-and-do-whatever-you-want pirate adventure, but what I got was, “You cannot access this memory now, please progress the main story.” While sailing to some kick-ass-looking Mayan ruins I hit a wall. Not a rock wall, but a mystical Abstergo wall that prevented me from climbing and faith-leaping off of some historic culture. This isn’t anything new, but when you’re sailing in the middle of the open sea, it’s pretty bizarre.
Not only did I sail to ruins I couldn’t climb on, I had also just wasted a solid fifteen minutes traveling there. Travel times are too long, at least for my attention span. Personally, the distance between each location is too realistic for my tastes -- I know it’s not the months they spent sailing in real life, but I definitely became stir-crazy. They do offer fast-travel points, however; you are forced to synchronize the select locations in order to have access to them. I love leap-of-faithing as much as the next guy, but I have to do it for every single location that I want to come back to? Without doing this you will have to endure the long voyage again and again in order to get around.That’s like forcing someone to do something that was once optiona--oh wait.
I can channel my inner adventurer when it comes to open-world games, for sure. Skyrim, a game that holds a special place in my heart, was able to keep me engaged and sane throughout. While traveling to distant towns I was able to run around, maybe ride a horse if my virtual legs got tired, or even just go on a crazy killing spree to keep my short-attention span focused. There were various ways to go about attacking creatures, and there were unique situations that occurred on the way instead of the same cutscenes and instances over and over again. While Skyrim is magical there are no magic walls in that game. They are more clever in that sense: placing higher level creatures that challenge and at least give you a chance to progress into the unknown.
AC4 lets you ride a boat, but at a cost. What was advertised as pirate-based exploration ended up making me feel less like a pirate and more like a passenger on the designer’s journey. If Ubisoft plans to stick with the open world and the pirate theme, they should break down the barriers and pick up the pace. There should be more than one way to do things, whether it’s traveling from one place to another or boarding ships. Swashbuckling shouldn’t feel like busywork, the high seas shouldn’t feel like a giant checklist, and piracy shouldn’t have boundaries.