on January 20, 2014
I've played a lot of the Assassins Creed games, the original, the second, and Revelations. I feel like this is the best in the series by far.
First of all, they don't hold your hand like Revelations did, after about two hours in the story, the game will let you do what you want. Most of the world is open and, excluding deep sea diving, you're free to do what you want because a pirate is free!
Graphics 5/5, really incredible IMO; the waves at sea both calm and frighteningly large are great to look at, every time I am caught in a storm at sea, I often pause to appreciate the visuals. Lightning, giant waves, even waterspouts that threaten your livelihood make the game feel epic. There's seamless transition between spotting a ship ripe for pirating, firing your cannons until they're immobile and on fire, and positioning your ship for your crew to pull the two together for some on-boat pirating. No loading screens, no hiccups.
I'd give the audio 4/5 stars because the voice acting often sounds lower quality than some of the other audio in the game, which I notice on my headphones. However, the music...
The music is 5/5 stars. I'd even give it 6/5 stars if I may; seriously, as a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack by Hans Zimmer - this music is perfect. It's epic music that really gets you into the mood to be a pirate, blasting cannons and sinking ships. In particular, the Storm Sailing Theme #1 is my favorite and gives me chills when I listen to it, which is ample excuse to charge head-first into a distant hurricane.
There's also the sea shanties, your crew singing as you sail around the world map, and you'll find yourself compelled to be running around to collect additional shanties across the world.
The flaws I find with this game come from the gameplay, while it is varied and fun, very entertaining, and tons to do; this isn't a very difficult game. The most trouble I've had in the game comes from the pre-scripted stealth missions, where the game needs you to go on a somewhat linear path to follow an NPC. One mission in particular, in a swamps, there seems to be only a single path you can take, and every time I tried to be creative to take a different route, I'd hit an invisible wall and get a failed mission.
The game has no difficulty slider, it's up to you to control your difficulty in the open world. Areas of the world map are 'higher level' than others, requiring you to upgrade your ship before you can take out the ships and tasks in the south west and west sides of the map.
However, you CAN make the game more difficult by tailoring your interface. If you're finding the game to be trivially easy, try disabling interface elements such as the minimap, the SSI, wanted meter, the healthbars, etc. There's ways to figure out all the information without the interface elements being enabled - your crew will shout out if there's a stranded pirate at sea, the hull of your ship is splintered and messy when damaged, the enemy ships have holes and tattered sails when they are damaged. It's much more of a challenge when you don't have indicators pointing out where and how many enemy ships there are, especially in the midst of a storm.
In addition, the stealth combat is much more difficult with SSI and/or the minimap disabled - you still have audio indicators when you're being spotted, but you don't know where the enemy is that saw you. The combat, without SSI, has no indicator for countering, which I prefer; you have to be aware and watch for their flourish before an attack.
Overall, the stealth assassination and land combat gameplay, combined with the frequent and fun naval exploration and battles at sea provides the game with a nice pace that's easy to get lost in. They break up the monotony of each other very well.