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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is Great, But it’s Time for a Change
After Assassin’s Creed III disappointed many people with its bland protagonist and uninteresting setting, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag rights the ship (hah!) by fixing many aspects that the previous game stumbled on. Edward Kenway is infinitely more likable than the brooding and teenage-angst filled Connor. Black Flag starts off with a literal bang, immediately bringing the player into the world with high-octane action and greatly expedited tutorials. Sailing your ship around the variety of different locales looks and feels amazing, with the wind at your back and your crew heartily singing an assortment of different shanties. The pirate-themed drama is engrossing as well, as characters grow and relationships evolve throughout the course of the game. There are so many things Black Flag does right, but by the end of the game, I couldn’t help but feel that it’s time for a radical facelift for the franchise.
The primary reason why this feeling of staleness began to creep up is because the core gameplay was starting to lose its luster. Sure, the combat is stylish, brutal, and choreographed beautifully, but the counter based fighting system became repetitive and oftentimes too easy. Bouncing from one kill animation to the next generally speeds up the process, but the fact that I can murder a ridiculous number of dudes with relative ease makes the fighting seem inconsequential and more of a chore. The tougher enemy types that aren’t defeated with just a simple counter are also extremely easy to dispatch as well, with either a defense break or a quick succession of hits after a counter. As a result, I found myself vastly preferring the stealth sections over the open combat, and if given a choice, I always chose to assassinate my targets hidden and concealed.
In fact, I enjoyed everything out on the periphery of Black Flag more than the story missions themselves. I remember diving underwater to discover buried treasure, exploring islands, hunting wild animals, and engaging in explosive naval battles more fondly than most of the main sequences. The gameplay segments that utilized stealth were more compelling to me, like silently stalking a rowboat as it treks through a river at night. And while on the topic of mission structure, the tailing/eavesdropping missions need a serious overhaul. Not because they’re hard, but because I’m often so focused on making sure I’m not getting seen that I often tune out the actual conversation I’m supposed to be listening to.
Ubisoft is in a strange position. The Asssassin’s Creed games make enough money and garner enough critical acclaim to warrant making them on a yearly basis, but I feel this sort of development cycle will never allow them to hit the high mark that Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood reached. The leaps and bounds the second game made from the first game were enormous (and I still think it’s the best game in the franchise), and Brotherhood added the mechanic of the Assassin’s guild to help you out in battle. But with only a year of development, I’m not sure how it’s feasible to expect another drastic evolution of the formula. Who knows, maybe Ubisoft will conjure up another imaginative setting with a cohesive narrative and all will be forgiven. Regardless, I hope that the series will continue to make strides in expanding and tweaking the blueprint of what comprises an Assassin’s Creed game.