How Assassin’s Creed 4′s seamless seas are shaking up the series canon. We look at how the new game is doing things differently

Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag preview screens

What was the most disappointing thing about Connor’s (not so) Revolutionary adventure? Aside from his extremely slappable face, obviously. Some would suggest it was the fact you could spend hours faffing around in trade menus on the Homestead, only to have nothing to spend the money on. Frankly, we could sit here frowny-faced, naming ways in which Assassin’s Creed 3 wasn’t as great as we wanted it to be all day – but we’re thinking of one particular reason. You couldn’t just walk on to a boat.

Assassin’s Creed 4 PS3 preview

If you were overcome with the urge to embed grapeshot in the broadside of a galleon (and we’ve all been there) you had to talk to a man with a book, choose from a mission menu, and after a fade to black and a loading screen, you appeared on the water. Land and sea never joined up, making those excellent battles feel bolted on. During the presentation of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, these moments are referred to as “teases”. Black Flag, Ubisoft says, will be seamless.

Black Flag, Ubisoft says, will be seamless

Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag preview screensSeamless. It’s a word that’s repeated frequently during the presentation, so you know it’s top of the message checklist. You’ll board your ship directly, and take the wheel. And if, towards the end of a battle, you want to board an enemy ship, you can seamlessly run onboard. And if you want to climb up the crow’s nest and take a seamless tinkle into a storm, the only thing stopping you is the lack of a ‘tinkle’ button.

New hero Edward Kenway is the grandfather of Connor, and the father of Haytham – that guy you were surprised to find yourself controlling for the first third of Assassin’s Creed 3. Half Welsh, half English, Edward’s a likeable dreamer with a fierce love of the booze. After’s Connor’s over-earnest and occasionally frustrating idealism, it’ll be a relief to play someone who’s capable of japes. After all, this is the era when pirate crews would get drunk, throw their hats into the sea, then raid a ship the next day to get some new ones. Yeah, they were vicious killers. But fair play – that’s some quality hat-based banter.

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With one failed marriage tucked under his belt, Edward Kenway decides to finally make good on one of his dreams – to work as a privateer for the British Army. His timing is pretty lousy. After six prosperous months of wartime privateering, the 1713 Treaty Of Utrecht lays a thick, profit-killing peace across the sea. That leaves thousands of restless, well-armed men left to stew idle in a billion gallons of brine. Basically, it’s a recipe for pirate soup. That’s the setting for Black Flag – with a freshly established Republic Of Pirates.

Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag preview screensThe timeline’s been rewound a few decades to 1715 to accomodate this, back to when all the most romanticised pirates were active and the most cartoonised of them all, Blackbeard, speaks of new hero Edward Kenway in reverential tones. Other famous tales will also be retold, such as the marooning of committed pirate Charles Vane, and the wreck of the Spanish Armada that triggered the gold rush. All with the fantasy map of Assassins vs Templars overlaid, naturally.

The setting has also drifted south, to the seas and islands around Cuba. This is a chance to bring in the most varied set of locations yet. By the end of AC3, we were sick of climbing up the same boxy Boston church tower to sync up our map. This time, you’ll be exploring Mayan ruins weaved into jungle terrains. Fishing villages, plantations, forts, and three major towns, spread across three countries: Havana, Kingston, and the Bahaman capital of Nassau.