Previews

Assassin's Creed 4 preview - whaling, Templar secrets, the economy and Desmond's successor

"In short, this could very well be the start of a new trilogy."

Well, we weren't expecting the number four so soon. Assassin's Creed III was trumpeted as a clean break from the annual release of Assassin's Creed II's sub-trilogy. It had been in development for years, we were reassured, featuring a completely new style, from another place and another time. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is set in the same era as Connor Kenway's story, but the action has drifted ever so gently south, and backwards in time.

Jean Guesdon, creative director at Ubisoft, explains the brand new integer: "We have one rule in the Assassin's Creed franchise: we can only add a number when introducing a new hero, a new setting and a fresh gameplay experience. We are introducing a new protagonist in Edward Kenway, a new setting in the Golden Age of Piracy in the West Indies, and a new experience in the first life-sized naval open world. We felt confident that the offer was fresh and unique enough to have a number title." Oh, and if you were wondering why a fresh number gets a subtitle? That's because it's about pirates, and pirates are too cool to not have a subtitle.

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So, meet Edward Kenway. He's the father of Haytham Kenway. That's Connor's father. You remember him. He's the guy you spent the first five hours of the game controlling in Assassin's Creed III, thinking "did I buy the right game?". After a PR campaign centred entirely around Connor, Haytham was a surprise that some people found frustrating. But it did split ACIII into three neat narrative acts: Act I: Introducing Haytham; Act II: Introducing Connor; and finally, introducing them explosively to each other. With that story over, and with Desmond no longer in a position to extend Connor's story, it makes sense to rewind.

Wait a minute, you're probably thinking. With Desmond out of the picture, why are we still following his DNA strand? Ubisoft isn't giving too much away in this regard, but it laid the groundwork in ACIII: first pondering if Abstergo had a backup of Desmond's brain, then adding dialogue of unseen onlookers to some of the closing scenes. It's all tied into the growing presence of Abstergo Entertainment. That's the games wing of the sinister Templar corporation, the operating system that pops up when you slip in the multiplayer disc. For Black Flag, there's no Desmond, no Assassin. It's you - an employee of Abstergo Entertainment, with a research grant, your own Animus, and the brief to research the life of Edward Kenway. We ask whether this "you are the player" approach means it'll be a first-person experience or a management sim. Our question is ignored.

But Ubisoft is talking about Edward. Guesdon describes the new addition to the Kenway saga: "Edward is a young, brash Welshman born to an English father and Welsh mother. Charismatic and clever, but with a recklessness that borders on pathological. Generally kind, but naturally selfish, he has a habit of valuing his own ludicrous ideas long before he will consider sensible or rational approaches to any problem. And he enjoys his drink, much to the detriment of his vital organs." After the brooding, blind idealism of Connor, Edward sounds like a welcome return to the likeable rogue - although he's not, Guesdon insists, a return to Ezio.

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We're happy with where it's going - some of our best nights out have been spent in the company of drunken Welshmen. In the trailers, we hear Blackbeard himself talking of Edward Kenway in hushed tones - of a fierce warrior and a spirited pirate captain, beloved by his crew. But his early life was one of failure. His first marriage was not to the sea - it was a far more traditional and much less briny ceremony, involving a woman. Edward's family moved to Bristol, where he met and married "the lovely and stable Caroline Scott." It's a sign of how turbulent and flighty a man is, when his wife being "stable" is a noteworthy trait.

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