The Open Sea
With Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the AC series brings its trademark blend of historical realism, anachronistic parkour and balls-out-insane sci-fi conspiracy nonsense to bear on one of history's most romanticized, fictionalized and misunderstood eras: the so-called "Golden Age of Piracy." With the stated goal of showing who these people really were and what their lives were really like, Black Flag promises unvarnished insight into the fascinating, terrifying and very real world pirates inhabited. (And it'll throw murderous super-acrobats into that world, sure.)
To back up its claim, Ubisoft's pulled back the curtain a little to show us some of the key historical people, places and events that'll you'll meet, visit and take part in during the game. And over the course of the next several entries, we'll tell you a bit about who or what they are, and what you should expect when the game finally hits this fall. So *ahem*: Avast, ye scurvy white-robed ninjas of ambiguous ethnic origin! Here be an accountin' most historical! Now clear yer ears a'this silly Long John Silver bluster and get to readin'!
One of the three major cities you'll visit in Black Flag, Kingston is the biggest city in Jamaica, and was founded shortly after another important English settlement, Port Royal--once known as a central hub for pirates--was partly destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. When showing it off as part of Black Flag, Ubisoft described it as being similar in character and design to Assassin's Creed III's version of Boston--which makes sense, given that they're both English colonies.
Having inherited a good chunk of Port Royal's population, Kingston became no less busy a seaport and trade hub. So while it sounds as though you'll be climbing more small wooden buildings, there should at least be a lot going on to occupy your attention when the time comes to start exploring (and assassinating) on land.
Now this is a little more interesting, especially if you miss the European cities from Ezio's games. Havana, Cuba, may be synonymous with communism and contraband cigars today, but in the 18th century it was a flourishing Spanish colony. And by the time Black Flag opens, it will have just undergone a construction boom that filled it with some awfully pretty examples of Old World architecture. Expect lots of elaborate buildings to climb and--more importantly--distinct landmarks to explore.
Also, by this point in history, Havana had had problems with pirates for going on 200 years. Don't expect the Spanish to be too tolerant of Edward's shenanigans. In fact, it wouldn't surprise us if Havana turns out to be kind of difficult to get into, at least early on. Certainly, you won't find it quite as welcoming as what's in the next entry...
Another English colony formerly known as Charles Town, Nassau achieved a special kind of notoriety in the early decades of the 18th century. Largely abandoned by its British founders during the War of the Spanish Succession (which ended in 1714), Nassau's sparse population made it an ideal haven for the veterans and privateers left jobless at war's end--many of whom had turned to piracy to make ends meet.
Initially used by pirates as a meeting point, Nassau and its decrepit fort quickly became a headquarters for seafaring criminals, and was declared a full-on pirate republic by some of the more influential pirate chieftains who sheltered there. Black Flag's story will apparently revolve around building Nassau into the New World's first democratic republic, but don't expect it to last--in 1718, alarmed by the place for all kinds of reasons, the English authorities retook the city. Their main armament in this conquest? Nothing more or less than a letter from the King of England.
Event: Explosive escape from Nassau
As it turns out, the letter was a royal pardon for any pirates who surrendered to the Bahamas' newly appointed governor, which was enough to get most of the pirates in Nassau to happily lay down their arms. Most, but not all. One captain, Charles Vane, very much liked being a pirate, and very much intended to stay one. As the governor's small fleet approached Nassau's harbor, Vane and his crew set one of their own (stolen) ships ablaze.
Seem weird? Well, according to several accounts, Vane had loaded the ship's guns beforehand, meaning to turn it into an explosive trap for any ships that came near. Vane's plan didn't destroy any additional vessels, but he did manage to take the crew of one ship hostage, and successfully sailed out of the harbor before releasing them. We're betting that when this goes down in the game, Edward Kenway will sail out with him.
Pirate: Charles Vane
So just who was this Charles Vane guy, anyway? Well, kind of a bastard, for starters; while his desire to turn down a pardon and keep on pirating won him some followers at Nassau, his popularity wouldn't last. Vane had a reputation for cruelty, it seems, and in addition to torturing and killing surrendered captives, he was also reportedly a fan of bilking his own men out of treasure.
Strangely, those aren't the things that led to his downfall. After an extraordinarily successful and dishonorable run, Vane made the mistake of attacking a disguised French warship, thinking it was a cargo frigate. While his crew wanted to stay and fight, Vane turned tail and ran--and the next day, Vane's men voted him out of office, replacing him with Calico Jack (who we'll get to shortly), and set him adrift.
Event: The marooning of Charles Vane
He may have been one of the biggest dicks in the Caribbean, even by pirate standards, but Charles Vane wouldn't let a little thing like being fired by his crew keep him down, and it wasn't long before he was back to his old tricks. His new run ended in 1719, when his ship was wrecked and he found himself on a deserted island in the Bay of Honduras, where he spent several weeks. Given that this was important enough to call out specifically during the game's reveal, we're guessing Edward's probably going to spend those weeks with him.
In the end, Vane's inveterate awfulness came back to bite him in the ass. After nearly being "rescued" by one Captain Holford, a former pirate who knew Vane too well to trust him onboard his ship, he found passage aboard another boat where nobody knew him. Unfortunately, Captain Holford also knew that ship's captain, and long story short, Vane was dragged back to Port Royal and hanged.
Possibly the most legendary and recognizable pirate of all time, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach wasn't so much a savage sea-terrorist as he was an object lesson in the importance of branding. Keenly aware that few people would want to cross swords with a maniac who stuck lit cannon fuses in his face, Blackbeard created a persona so outrageously fearsome that his victims would simply surrender, rather than put up a fight. In reality, he was in reality a democratic leader who treated captives relatively humanely.
That's not to say he was a good guy, or that the trailer for Black Flag--which shows him talking up Edward Kenway as far more terrifying than himself--should be taken as anything less than a whiff of ultimate-badass power fantasy. Consider that when he was finally killed by pirate hunters in 1718, he sustained five gunshots and about 20 cuts before finally going down. And when his headless corpse was thrown into the water, it reportedly swam around the ship several times before disappearing (which may have been a small embellishment).
Pirate: Benjamin Hornigold
While he's primarily remembered for being Blackbeard's captain and for making the infamous Teach his second-in-command (and for not having a decent picture anywhere on the internet, hence the handsome stand-in), Benjamin Hornigold was an important pirate chieftain, and one of the founders of the pirate republic at Nassau. By some accounts he lived a fairly quiet life of retirement while at Nassau, until the English rolled in in 1718 with their letter of pardon. Happy to accept the clean slate the authorities were offering, Hornigold went one step further: he became a pirate hunter, returning to the sea to kill or capture his former comrades.
It isn't hard to see that there's a very good chance this change of heart will make Hornigold an antagonist in Black Flag, especially if Edward sides with Charles Vane and co. when they sail out of Nassau. What makes this even more likely is Hornigold's death under ambiguous circumstances, as he's presumed to have drowned after his ship hit a reef during a hurricane. Presumed. As in, it could just as easily be Edward's Hidden Blade that finishes him off.
Pirate: Calico Jack
Even though Ubisoft has given him more or less equal status among the other historical pirates appearing in Assassin's Creed IV, John "Calico Jack" Rackham isn't a terribly impressive seafarer on his own. A small-time operator known for raiding fishing vessels, his accomplishments included having a cool flag, stealing a sloop and ousting Charles Vane from his captaincy after accusing the latter of cowardice.
His middling career didn't escape the notice of authorities, but Calico Jack successfully evaded the likes of Ben Hornigold and surrendered at Nassau for a pardon in 1719. Like so many other pirates, however, Jack had a hard time staying honest, and resumed his outlaw life the following year--only to be caught, tried, and hanged. So what, exactly, makes him worthy of being showcased alongside the likes of Blackbeard? Well, for one, he seems like kind of a cool guy, not least because of real claim to fame: his torrid relationship with a woman named Anne Bonny who you may have heard of. And if you haven't, then you'll want to pay attention to the next entry
Pirate: Anne Bonny
A sailor's wife who was wooed away by Calico Jack, Bonny didn't stop at marrying the captain--she was also an active member of his crew for over a year. And while she reportedly dressed as a man, her gender wasn't a secret; buccaneers, it turns out, could be surprisingly progressive when they wanted to be. (And being the captain's wife probably came with a few perks.) Along with fellow transvestite and Calico Jack crewmember Mary Read, she's one of the only female pirates known to history.
While the fact that they were female pirates was enough to spark widespread attention and scandal circa 1719, Bonny and Read were legendarily tough, going so far as to fight alongside the crew. And when Calico Jack was finally captured in 1720, Bonny and Read were among the only crew members to put up a fight, seeing as nearly everyone else (Jack included) was dead drunk at the time. Interestingly, the only person recorded as fighting alongside them was an unidentified crewman. Is it possible we'll see Edward fill those shoes? We wouldn't rule it out.
Event: The Massive Wreck of the Spanish Armada
Given that the Spanish Armada was wrecked in the English Channel more than a century before Black Flag opens, we're going to guess that what Ubisoft's actually referring to with this event was the wreck of the 1715 Treasure Fleet, a Spanish fleet of 11 ships that were struck by a hurricane off the coast of Florida. Every last one of them sank.
With 700 sailors dead and tons of gold and silver now littering the ocean floor, the area was quickly swarmed by salvage ships and privateers--which naturally included a number of pirates who made tidy fortunes by "salvaging" the salvage ships themselves. Our guess is that you'll want Edward to be right in the middle of this; if nothing else, it sounds like it might be an opportunity to amass treasure for well, whatever it is you'll spend treasure on in Black Flag. Ship upgrades, maybe?
Event: Assault on 42 Portuguese ships
While Bartholomew "Black Bart" (and presumably also "Dread Pirate") Roberts hasn't been specifically revealed as a member of Black Flag's cast, the fact that the game will include this particular event makes him a shoo-in. Both more successful and longer-lived than his contemporaries, Roberts was known for several daring raids, but perhaps none quite so ballsy as the one he led in Brazil's Todos os Santos Bay.
Spotting a fleet of 42 Portuguese ships anchored in the bay, Roberts decided it would be a good idea to slip in among them and get up to some mischief. Quietly capturing one of the smallest ships, he brought its captain on board his own vessel and ordered him to point out which ship held the most treasure. Using his captive as part of a ruse, Roberts was able to safely get close to the treasure ship--which was much bigger and better-armed than his own--and board before its confused defenders had a chance to respond. With both ships under his power, Roberts escaped, slipping away with a fortune meant for the king of Portugal.
No peg legs here
That's all that Ubisoft's teased us with so far, but Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is going to be a huge game, and the final years of the so-called Golden Age of Piracy were filled with fascinating people and events that we haven't covered here. Are there any you were hoping to see? Did we omit anything important about the buccaneers mentioned herein? Let us know in the comments below.
And if you're looking for more, check out everything you need to know about Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and an interview with the developers.