Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Assassin’s Creed 4 Design Review: Oh The Random Directions You Will Jump

It’s odd, but the worst part about Assassin’s Creed 4 is the part that theoretically has gotten the most iteration and polish, which is to say the movement model of running, jumping, climbing, and attacking, which is oddly fickle and difficult to control.  I would say that, roughly, 80% of my deaths in this game are from missed jumps, such as attempting to leap from one mainmast to the other, and instead plunging onto the deck beneath my feet, having jumped in an entirely different direction.

This is especially frustrating because most of the game mechanics are quite good.  Killing people is fun, being stealthy is fun (although the lack of crouching seems odd), brute force is fun, shooting your pistols is fun, and exploring the world is fun.

And the life of the pirate is very fun – exceptionally so.  Ship-to-ship combat is a novel and engaging experience, with a very smooth advancement curve that has you picking and choosing fights carefully early on, while charging ahead full-steam into a fleet of Man o Wars later on.  The experience also is an absolutely beautiful treat, complete with waves that wash over the deck of your ship and smoke that lingers in the air post-barrage, barely concealing your enemy.

I’ve talked to a number of people who said that they would love to play the Pirate game without the Assassin game.  I’m not one of those people.  I found that the two experiences complement each other very well – once you get a little tired of one experience, you can jump to the other experience, which helps keep you engaged with the game.

I would, however, love to ditch the Assassin’s Creed story on the next go-round.  I’m not hugely familiar with Assassin’s Creed backstory – before this one, these games were consistently games I’d buy then get not-very-far into – but the narrative in AC4 is a muddled mishmash of gibberish and pseudohistory.  They also throw you into the deep end of the core AC story – including the part where you’re just a modern-day nameless person reliving ancestral memories thanks to high technology – which are utterly mystifying if you’re not well-versed in the series.  The game needs a much better on-ramp to the story.

It could also do with a less despisable protagonist.  The character you play, Edward Kenway, isn’t actually an Assassin, he just happens to kill one in the opening act and then pretends he is one for the rest of the game.  True assassins point this out repeatedly – you’re not one of us!  To be fair, Edward is truly a jerk, with almost every action he takes.  Which again, is pointed out to you repeatedly.  The story gives you little choice but to be a jerk, and then other characters reprimand you for the decisions that the writers made for you!

Raiding fortresses is hugely fun, and I wish the payoff was better.  Kenway’s Fleet is half-realized – it is effective at providing goals for the pirate game, but by the time you’ve got a fleet of Man’o’Wars, you no longer need the cash they provide.  The number of alternate activities available – diving, whaling, etc – is impressive, but don’t really add a whole lot to the game experience.  And I realize they are an effective story delivery mechanism without being cutscenes, but cutting the number of ‘tailing’ missions to be about a third of what they are currently – or alternatively making them less fickle or putting effort in reducing loading times between efforts – would be a very strong step.

Overall, I completed 84% of all goals before I finished the main story.  I’m glad that I played the game, although I really wish that it had been slightly less ambitious in order to have time to polish its problem bits.

1 Comment

  1. Yeah, the jumping has been a problem since at least AC2 when they introduced a bunch of jumping puzzles inside the tombs. Their engine is pretty awesome at freerunning, which means just sprinting in a general direction, jumping automatically when you run out of building, and catching onto whichever section of new building happens to be in the way when you intersect it. But this movement is intentionally fuzzy, which seems to make it very bad at “there is only one direction I want to jump and one thing I want to catch.” The engine is under the assumption that there should be a catch point basically anywhere you happen to jump, and isn’t prepared for when the level designers only put in one.

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