One of the biggest problems of Assassin's Creed III was the main character, Connor Kenway. Following on from Ezio Auditore whose charm and charisma had carried us through II, Brotherhood & Revelations, Connor felt too dull and boring to the point where even his Templar father, Haytham - was so awesome that in some places I was actually rooting for the Templars over the Assassins. To counterbalance that problem, one of the best new inventions of Assassin's Creed III was the ability to Captain your own ship and participate in several side missions and often use it in the main storyline itself. However, you never felt like you got as much free will on the sea as you did on the land and as a result most of the time during my completion of Assassin's Creed III was on dry land. I still don't think I've completed most of the side missions available in the sea. Thankfully though, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag addresses both problems, creating a rootable, nuanced protagonist in the form of Connor's grandfather, Edward Kenway - and the ability to explore the sea and the land in the biggest and best Assassin's Creed adventure yet.
If you were turned off the franchise with the last installment then Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag corrects everything that went wrong. I've already mentioned two elements that affected my enjoyment of Assassin's Creed III but there are more to come. Whilst the last game took an age to fully get into the action with an overlong event focusing on Haytham before introducing us to Connor, Black Flag throws us strait into the thick of things. You're not yet a Pirate Captain, still a member of a crew, when you find yourself thrust into the middle of a battle fighting an enemy Assassin named Duncan Walpole. However, first - you must escape from your ship, and chase Walpole down before eventually killing him, only to discover that Walpole is turning over an important package in Havana for a large reward. However, there's just one problem - the giver of the reward has not seen Walpole's face, and would only identify him by his Assassin robes. As a result - the ever opportunistic Edward leaps at the chance to take the prize for his own, and steals the Assassin's robes and unwittingly finds himself drawn into the midst of a war between two secret organisations, the Assassins and the Templars. And of course, he ends up aggravating both.
The visuals of Black Flag look amazing, even on the Xbox 360. I've yet to play it on either an Xbox One or an PS4 but if the graphics are an improvement on what we've seen here I will be utterly blown away. They're just jaw dropping, with some incredible detail put into the scenery, the ships and the characters themselves. It feels just as good as the Assassin's Creed franchise is going to get in terms of design - and it's easily one of the strongest parts of an excellent game. Several times I was just blown away by the sheer visual elements of what the game had to offer when it was hauling us through the rich era of piracy, and the open world experience that those who have encountered the series with before will find that you could just as easily spend a whole session just exploring the world looking for new surroundings as you could advancing the plot, which is a thing of awesomeness in its own. It's worth picking up the game for the graphics alone though, let me tell you that, and if for some reason you're not already interested after the word "Pirates" then I don't know what will keep you hooked.
It's not perfect though, and there are some problems. The fighting mechanics are annoying and cumbersome but the game has improved the stealth advantage of things even more with whistling when in hiding spots to lure guards towards you becoming even more crucial - however, I think that they could have improved on the combat system because it is still frustrating in times. I also would have liked a bit more variety amongst the ships that Edward faced at sea, we're limited to British and Spanish enemies for the vast majority of the game, with the ships divided into classes (Gunboat, Schooner, Brig, Frigate and Manowar) that lack variety. Once you've fought one from each of the class there's no new experience when it comes to fighting at sea, and towards the end of the game the naval combat can feel repetitive. However, the ability to heavily customize your own ship, the Jackdaw, is good to watch as the upgrades are actually more affordable than the ones on Assassin's Creed III. They're also more important - I rarely upgraded my ship and managed to complete the game in the previous game but here I found that I had to upgrade it pretty constantly unless I found myself frustrated when facing down Frigates and Manowar class ships.
In conclusion then, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is the best game in the franchise yet. It corrects almost everything that fans may not have enjoyed in the previous installments and provides a new and fresh experience, bringing life back to a series that many may have feared was losing its way. It's the freshest installment yet in the franchise and I have loved every second of it. One of my favourite 2013 games - Black Flag is a must buy for any fans of pirates, previous entries in the series or just those who love open world adventure games. Highly recommended.