Ubisoft stole the show at the Penny Arcade Expo this year. The video game company had three massive booths set up at PAX East to show off its most hotly-anticipated upcoming titles — "Splinter Cell: Blacklist," "Watchdogs" and of course, "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag."
Recording devices of any kind were strictly prohibited at the "Assassin's Creed 4" demo, so unfortunately, we can't bring you any of the totally sweet gameplay footage we saw, or even an audio recording of creative director Jean Guesdon discussing his vision for the game.
What we can do, however, is describe in vivid detail what we saw, using words. "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag" will take sandbox gaming to epic new heights when it debuts Oct. 29, and that goes both for current-gen and next-gen versions.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag is set in the year 1715 in the Caribbean Sea during the Golden Age of Piracy. The time/locale/theme could not be any better suited for a massive sandbox title. Imagine looking through your pirate spyglass, seeing some far-off island plantation and then simply setting sail for it, with the intention of looting and plundering anything and everything of value.
The naval mechanics of "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag" have been completely revamped with an eye toward expansiveness, though never at the expense of gameplay. Nothing is a throwaway. You can sail around the Caribbean, encountering endless islands and AI-controlled ships — feel free to plunder all of them. There are even rare and enormous whales that you can fish out of the water and sell on land at a premium.
Your ship can be upgraded and will need to be repaired periodically. It won't run itself so you'll need to find a capable crew. The game won't simply provide one to you just so you can get on with swashbuckling more expediently. You'll need to work for it. At the demo, Ubisoft reps said one of the ways to find crew members is by starting a bar fight and impressing an NPC.
By far, the coolest thing we saw at the PAX East demo was the ship-boarding mechanic. At any point in a naval engagement, you can order your crew to deploy grappling hooks that will force both vessels together, allowing both your ship and the one you're attacking to be boarded. Your crew will follow you into glorious battle and the better your crew, the more glorious the battle will be.
Ubisoft says "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag" will mark a return to the stealth mechanics that featured more prominently in earlier entries in the series, and we saw this play out in the naval warfare gameplay. Once aboard an enemy ship, you can sling yourself atop the sail, and then sneakily make your way down ropes and beams — searching for the ideal vantage point from which to rain down death.
It isn't all good news for "Assassin's Creed" purists, though. Desmond is set to take a backseat in Black Flag's plot line — making way for newcomer Edward Kenway, "a pirate trained by assassins."
"Desmond has been the main protagonist of the franchise so far," said Guesdon. "This won't be the case in 'Black Flag.' That being said, the game isn't a reboot nor is it a spinoff, and we're continuing to develop a consistent mythology. So yes, Desmond will be referred to as a very important legacy of the 'Assassin's Creed' universe."