Free to explore the present day at your leisure
The Assassin's Creed series has gone from exploring the Third Crusade, hanging out in 15th Century Florence, fighting in the American Revolution, to now sailing the Caribbeans as a pirate. All this is thanks to the Animus, a device that takes characters from the present day setting within the game world to explore their ancestor's past.
In previous games, the story saw players going back and forth between exploring the present day to becoming an Assassin. For the first time in the series though, Assassin's Creed IV is letting you leave the Animus at anytime during your adventure. It's your choice, to the point that you can pretty much ignore it entirely.
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This time around, the real character you play as is an employee of Abstergo Entertainment, a subsidiary of Abstergo Industries. This isn't Desmond, if anything it's you that's this employee as the experience in the real world is all in first person this time.
As an employee of Abstergo, you're using the Animus to research the life of Edward Kenway, main hero of Assassin's Creed IV. You're told that the company is doing media entertainment such as games and movies about pirates, so you're jumping into Edward's life for historical accuracy. As you go through this adventure however, you begin to learn something is up. Everything is not as it quite seem as you begin to learn the value of Edward's role in the Templar/Assassins feud, and of course what your real purpose in all of this is.
So, why the big change? Ashraf Ismail, director on Assassin's Creed IV, told me that they wanted to let players have a choice when dealing with the non-Animus gameplay.
"We know that the present day is a bit polarizing with fans," Ashraf told me. "Some people love it, some people hate it. But one thing I always tell people is that it's part of the brand -- the Animus technology, the present day -- it is part of the mythos, it is part of the meta story that we tell.
"It is going to be there, but to balance the love and dislike for it, what we did was that you go back to it in the main path a few times -- five times -- for like three minute sequences. So it's very short."
Outside of those five moments that will take about a total of 20 minutes out of your time, you'll never have to deal with this aspect of the game if you don't want to again. For those of you that love this part of the game though there's a ton of content there, "hours of content in the present day." The building itself is kind of like a mini-open-world Ashraf stated.
"So for the fans, for the people who want to look for the lore, for the people who want to see what happened to Desmond after [Assassin's Creed III], there's tons of content in there, and it's optional. You can exit the Animus anytime you want, start walking around the office building, hear what co-workers are saying, sneaking into different rooms, finding servers and hacking them to get information -- We've left it completely optional, you can pretty much do it almost anytime."
Note that there will be some specific missions where you can't leave the Animus for "specific reasons" as Ashraf told me. When I went hands-on with the game again, I jumped out of the Animus while in the middle of the ocean while on my Jackdaw ship and dove right into the real world.
Let me tell you, nowhere near as exciting as jumping from the top of a ship's mast and driving two hidden blades into the skulls of my enemy on the ship's deck. It was kind of funny going from cubical to cubical, seeing people's desks and overhearing co-workers gossip. This part of the game is really going to be for you diehards just obsessed with everything Assassin's Creed.
And speaking of ACIII, what's up with the stuff that happened at the end? ACIV is taking place after the events of the last game, and yet the world still exists. While Ashraf wouldn't give me specifics, he did state that there will be a progression to that whole story and that we'll be seeing cameos from those special characters we've seen since the first Assassin's game.