Every new Assassin's Creed game brings the promise of something new. Whether it's a new character for players to control, a new world to explore or a new storyline to uncover, the size and scope of the series has always been inspiring. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag looks to be no different, as it introduces some of the most engaging and charismatic individuals of all time: Pirates.
It's too early to tell just yet, but this might be the most ambitious of any Assassin's Creed game to date. Ubisoft is taking the naval battles that were a highlight of Assassin's Creed 3 and turning them into a core part of gameplay. Now ships aren't just used for the occasional mission, they are your vehicles for exploration.
And who's the lead character for all this plundering you're going to be doing? A man called Edward Kenway, father of Haytham Kenway from Assassin's Creed 3. Edward is a British pirate living in 1715, who is described as being cocky and charismatic - just as you'd expect from a pirate - but also clever and a skilled warrior. Edward stumbles into the age-old feud between the Assassin's and Templar's and wonders if there's more to life than simple piracy.
Edward is the captain of the Jackdaw, a large ship with a crew that requires some management. You'll have to make sure they are fully replenished at all times or they won't last too long. Battles and natural events such as storms will also take out a number of your crew so you'll always be recruiting new men to aid your cause. The Jackdaw itself starts off with 12 cannons but up to 100 can be added over time to change it into a real war machine. Other features such as swivel guns and explosive mines can also be added, very handy when doing battle with other pirate ships.
These battles are also very different to Assassin's Creed 3. Whereas before they took place at a distance, you'll now have the option of steering right up to an enemy ship before launching grappling hooks to chain the two together. From there you and your crew can swing over to the other ship for some melee combat.
Another strength of the Assassin's Creed series has always been Ubisoft's attention to detail and historical accuracy. Black Flag will continue that trend, as famous pirates such as Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Ben Hornigold and Charles Vane will all be featured in the game at some point, with Edward either fighting with them or against them.
Ubisoft is promising the most varied world in an Assassin's Creed game yet, filled with over 50 unique locations for your ship to sail to. Key locations across the islands have been revealed as Havana, Kingston and Nassau. Havana is the capital of the Caribbean, ideal for rooftop chases that the series is known for. Kingston will feel slightly more unsafe, as it's been described as having a lively and dangerous atmosphere. While Nassau will probably be the most fun as it's being called the pirate haven.
The big cities will be supplemented by several other locations that all help to add colour to the setting. Hidden coves, fishing villages, jungles, forts, Mayan ruins, plantations and other small islands will all be available to explore. Ubisoft is aiming to keep loading times to a minimum but is keeping quiet on when they will occur. The intention is to have players sail to wherever they need to get to before anchoring, diving into the water and swimming to shore in one seamless process. When it's time to leave, boarding your ship should also be done without any annoying pauses for loading.
If you find that you and your crew have some spare time between being rowdy pirates then you could try some of the other activities included in the game, such as searching for treasure or harpooning whales. You can even dive deep into the water to explore shipwrecks. Be careful though, as you will probably find yourself coming face-to-face with a deadly shark at some point, similar to Far Cry 3.
It's unclear how big a part the present day setting will play in Black Flag, but it will possibly take on a less prominent role than ever before - which frankly is a good thing. We're told that players will take control of a researcher in Abstergo Entertainment, a new front for the Templar group. However the vast majority of the game will involve pirates, so don't get too upset. Multiplayer will also return with new characters, maps and modes to fit in with the pirate theme, although Ubisoft is keeping quiet on those details for now.
There are many sceptics out there who believe we're being flooded with too many Assassin's Creed titles. The yearly iteration model works fine for the likes of FIFA and Call of Duty, but can it be applied successfully to a series as story-driven as this? Possibly not, and last year's Assassin's Creed 3 was a disappointment to many, but Black Flag looks like it could be the revival that the franchise needs.