If you’re part of the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer community, you’re probably nervous about AC4: Black Flag. It’s not that you’ve heard anything bad per se, just that every iteration of Ubisoft’s social stealth/parkour based acion game so far has introduced as many issues as it has solved.
So when I say “Assassin’s Creed 4 multiplayer is exactly what the community needs,” I understand that is a weighty statement. But, believe it or not, Ubisoft has managed to address 90% of what AC4 needs to live up to its fans’ expectations. And it all starts in the all new Game Lab private match mode.
It’s time for a change or two (or two hundred)
See, when I put on my Backseat Game Designer Cap and dreamed up the changes AC4 multiplayer needed to have, my primary concerns were:
- Balance changes (ability tweaks)
- Incentive changes (scoring tweaks)
- Private match tools to facilitate events
- Recording tools to facilitate events
Microsoft and Sony basically did Ubisoft’s job on the final point (since both consoles will have live recording and streaming options), but realistically speaking, the odds that Ubisoft would take all of my advice were pretty slim. Lucky for me, it turns out they did the next best thing.
The Game Lab tool in Assassin’s Creed 4 allows any player to create custom versions of any multiplayer mode in Black Flag. Think Pistol is cheap? You can remove it from the game, or decrease the score it awards, or increase its cooldown drastically. Want to reward stealth? Double the Hidden bonus and take away all acrobatic and aerial kills. Bye-bye, roofers.
While the complete list hasn’t been completely revealed, the Game Lab is said to give players “over 200 parameters” to change. Some of the known variables are:
- Ability availability
- Ability cooldown
- Ability crafting (force certain craft configurations)
- Ability slots (disable one, two, or all ability slots)
- Action scores
- Bonus scores
- Bonus triggers
- HUD elements (change or disable compass, portrait, etc.)
- Match length
- Presence of duplicate personas
Basically, the only things you can’t change are target acquisition and maps, so you can’t for instance play Assassinate in a tiny Simple Deathmatch area. Overall, Game Lab will give Assassin’s Creed 4 players the option to “fix” the multiplayer exactly how they like it. No more forum whining. No more unfair tournament wins. Everyone goes home happy.
“Wait a minute, WiNGSPAN, the Game Lab is just for private matches,” you might interject. And you’d be right in the general sense, but you’d also be wrong in the arguing with me sense. Yes, it’s true that public, ranked matches will still be played by whatever defaults Ubisoft settles on. But you’re missing two important points.
Both casual (playing with friends) and competitive (competing in leagues and tournaments) play are really the only places special rules matter. Do you care if some random scrub uses Smoke Bomb to Poison you online? You’ll never see him again. But if your friends or your clan determine it’s detestable, then enforcing it matters.
The second point is that Ubisoft can learn from the community. Instead of players whining and theorycrafting about balance, they can create game modes and test them over and over. So if, for instance, RaininStormwake finds a way to perfectly balance Assassinate (we’ve briefly discussed this before) and his special mode becomes popular, the Ubisoft devs can use that feedback to patch AC4 or plan for their next game. In the long run, everyone wins.
Hell, everyone wins in the short run, too… because you can bet your assassinations that Top Tier Tactics will be running some absolutely ridiculous contests. Think you can win a match of Assassinate using only Morph and Poison?!
Oh right, the rest of the game
If I’ve been remiss in discussing the rest of the game, that’s pretty much because there haven’t been that many other changes between AC3 and AC4 as far as multiplayer gameplay goes.
The graphics are obviously better on next-gen hardware (lighting and cloth movement are particularly sexy in the Playstation 4 build I tried), but you won’t find any major changes. That said, there were a few things to note that have been switched up:
- Instead of distinct diamonds, a counter with [skull] X [number] now illustrates how many pursuers you have. I don’t really like this system, but it takes up less space.
- Contested kills have changed: instead of giving a fixed score to the killer and target, each player’s kill and stun score is halved, rounded down.
- Ground Finish is now linked to the B/Circle/Shift button, making it impossible to accidentally input instead of a more important Kill/Stun
- There are some kind of changes to the Approach Meter, but I do not believe they are finalized
Also of note are the things that haven’t changed. Whispers return as they did before. The controls are pretty much the same. The harlequin stand-in character is still an annoying little shit. You know… Assassin’s Creed staple stuff.
Get ready to fly the black flag
As far as single player gameplay goes, I’m honestly not interested. Call me a cynic, but I felt the series lost its narrative magic after Brotherhood. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m also willing to wager that on the value of the single player disc I’ll sell after buying Black Flag!
Even if the single player experience is awesome, the reality is I won’t have any time to play it… I’ll be too busy destroying you in Assassin’s Creed 4 multiplayer. It’s coming, it’s looking awesome, and it’s going to be the best pirate-themed murder simulator ever.