There’s an idea floating around right now, even on this site, that next-gen consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One aren’t worth buying. That they’re simply too expensive, and there aren’t enough games out for either yet. The ones that have been released? Lackluster, mostly.
I can’t really dispute this. It’s kind of a hard sell to tell someone to shell out $400-500 for a system with barely a handful of games worth playing, not to mention the cost of the titles themselves, controllers, online subscriptions, and so on.
With that said, if you do decide to make the leap this early, the only title I can truly classify as a must-have is Assassin’s Creed 4.
Trust me, I’m as surprised as you. I’ve played through five of these games so far, though I stopped the second Assassin’s Creed 2 spin-off because I couldn’t do the whole damn thing over again. I kind of liked 3, but the series felt like it was losing steam over time.
And then came…pirates.
Assassin’s Creed 4 might be a middling assassin game, but it’s quite simply the best pirate simulator in video game history. The idea sounded like a half-assed spin-off of 3 with more ship combat and a “4” slapped on it, but thirty hours later, I’m of an entirely different opinion.
The sheer amount of content packed into the game is astonishing, and though much of it is a combination of collectibles and minigames, it’s the best kind of each category, and all are fully in keeping with the pirate theme of the game.
Yes, there’s a central story. It revolves around up and coming privateer Edward Kenway trying to become pirate king of the Caribbean, mainly by locating a site coveted by both the Templar and Assassin orders, the Observatory.
Hilariously, despite being the star of Assassin’s Creed 4, Kenway isn’t even an Assassin. He killed a traitor assassin and takes his hood and wrist blades, but he works for coin only, and barely even tolerates the Assassins who are constantly trying to extract help from him. Kenway is far and away the most likable lead this series has ever had, and he’s finally a character you actually want to be around, something that can be a struggle for most games.
While the story missions are fine and good, it’s the world you’ll get lost in completely. The map is a vast string of Caribbean islands from Cuba to the Bahamas to Jamaica, and its filled with all manner of distractions that will aid you on your road to riches.
The most fun you can have in the game is ship-to-ship combat with your prized Jackdaw, a shitheap you slowly turn into a floating fortress as the game progresses. The game’s high seas hijacking gameplay is the most fun I’ve had in a long time with any game. You fire various cannons at your enemies, then when their ship is crippled, you grapple it to you, board the deck and kill everyone you see until the rest of the crew submits. You plunder their cargo, goods you use to upgrade your own ship, and you can decide if you want to repair your damaged boat, make friends with the survivors to lower your wanted level, or send the ship to be a part of your own growing pirate fleet. I’ve repeated this process probably close to 50 times so far, and it’s still incredibly fun as you take down bigger and bigger ships.
The game tasks you with assassination mission both land and sea based. You can get in bar fights. You can hunt sharks and whales with harpoons in a nail-biting minigame that allows you to harvest their skin and bones for upgrades. You raid smugglers’ dens and warehouses. You blow through the walls of enemy forts and take them for your own. You use a diving bell to loot shipwrecks for coin and upgrades. You use maps of buried treasure to hunt down hidden chests with massive rewards inside.
You’re a goddamn pirate, and every single one of these activities are fun. All of them.
No, the game isn’t without its flaws. Despite cries that the series’ combat was too simplistic, AC4 has doubled down on that fact, essentially making you press one button to insta-counter kill 90% of enemies, and using another button for “break defense” on the rest. There are only five enemy types total, and only hulking brutes post a challenge with their “half your life bar” massive axe swings.
And no, this isn’t an assassination game, not really. Yes, they did try to insert a variety of stealth missions, and stealth is usually an option for any land-based assignment. That said, when left up to me, the player, I’d rather just dive straight into a fort of British officers, swinging double cutlasses, yelling “AHOY MATEYS!”
The game looks gorgeous on the PS4, even though we all know as a cross-gen game, it can only go up from here. With that said, no Assassin’s Creed game has ever looked better, and the lush jungles and blue waters of the area are the most vibrant locales the game has ever seen. You don’t miss the massive, sprawling cities at all, really.
I’m sure the game is just as fun on last-gen consoles, but take me at my word when I say this is truly the only next-gen title you shouldn’t miss. Despite what you may think of the series, Assassin’s Creed 4 is a better game than nearly anyone could have imagined.