THE BLOG
03/26/2013 03:01 pm ET Updated May 26, 2013

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag First Impressions From PAX East 2013

I attended PAX East 2013 and was blown away by a lot that the conference had to offer, but the most intriguing upcoming game I had the pleasure of previewing was Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Now, I'll admit, I've always been a huge fan of the Assassin's Creed series.

Currently nearing the end of Assassin's Creed III, I'm enjoying the game even more than I enjoyed its predecessors, and I expect that trend to continue with the next installment in the series.
Black Flag already has me more excited than I've been for any video game in years. Here are the highlights from the private screening.

Underwater Environments

I'm a scuba diver, and for those aren't, I can tell you that there isn't anywhere I've experienced in the world quite as beautiful as the underwater paradise of the Caribbean Sea. Somehow, Ubisoft has managed to bring this beauty to the Assassin's Creed franchise, allowing players to not only admire it, but also explore it.

The preview featured Edward Kenway (the protagonist) diving deep under the water, encountering sunken pirate treasure as well as gorgeously-animated sea life. One scene even depicted Edward tangling with a large shark. The landscapes of the series have always been one of its many strong suits, but the ability to explore underwater in a beautiful sea environment will add a new layer of rich, robust gameplay and experience for players.

Land Environments and Exploration

Black Flag is set in 1715 in the Caribbean islands, during the "golden age" of pirates. As such, the game's landscape, as shown in the preview, is a magnificently and beautifully-rendered tropical island. The video featured Edward walking in some of the island's varying environments, including a sandy beach, through a coastal town with a busy harbor, and deep within a humid, dark, inland rainforest.

This is a significant departure from the series' previous landscapes, which typically have largely consisted of bustling cities from different eras. However, I'm thrilled about this change; it's a new direction that really has me excited to explore it.

Speaking of exploration, one of the developers revealed that it will be "key" in Black Flag. I can only imagine what treasures players will be able to find by exploring, but the thought of traversing the island paradise -- both on land and below water -- will keep my anticipation for this game high.

Improved Naval Combat

Assassin's Creed III introduced naval combat to the series, which many players (including myself) thoroughly enjoyed. However, it was very limited; there were only three different types of ammunition that could be used, and while boarding enemy ships was a highlight, it was only possible during specific, pre-programed cutscenes.

Black Flag changes all that. The preview revealed that Edward's ship will be upgradeable and customizable. It will also require a crew to operate and man the cannons, which will need to be recruited and maintained throughout the course of the game. Most excitingly for me, Black Flag will feature the ability to board "virtually all" ships and accomplish your objective as you see fit.

New ships have also been added to provide a thrilling and intense naval combat challenge, including new, giant Man-of-Wars.

New Physical Combat Options

Edward will be able to dual-wield short swords, resulting in some amazingly-awesome kill combos. Additionally, he will be able to carry and wield at least two flintlock pistols. It appeared that he will also have the ability to wield a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other, though this may be reserved for kill-combos only.

The iconic hidden blade, a staple of every assassin, makes an expected and welcome return as well.

Conclusion

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is positioned to be the best installment of the series, and that's difficult to accomplish, given its scintillating success. The game is set to release on October 29, 2013, for Xbox and PS3, and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.