Assassin’s Creed: Pirates Hands-On Preview

With Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag available now on consoles, iOS gamers might be feeling a little left out. Fortunately, Ubisoft is releasing a mobile-specific pirate game set in the world of Assassin’s Creed on December 5, so you’ll be able to set sail with a crew of salty dogs from just about anywhere. We had a chance to go hands-on with an early build, so read on for our impressions.

Assassin’s Creed: Pirates features a new character, Alonzo Batilla, who starts the game as a captive of the British Navy. He’s freed by an infamous pirate, La Buse, who takes Alonzo under his wing and gives him his own small gunship. From there, you’ll learn how to steer your vessel, plunder other ships, and hire more mates at the local tavern.

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Like Sid Meier’s Pirates, Assassin’s Creed: Pirates offers a range of activities on the high seas. Through the initial tutorial levels, you’ll be taught basic movement controls. You just swipe on a wheel to steer the ship, and press a button onscreen to unfurl the sails and move faster. When you encounter an enemy ship, the game switches to a side view, and you have to aim an arc of cannonballs at your enemy as they move faster or slower to evade you.

During combat, you’ll also have to dodge, which is an interesting and unusual action for large, slow ships. Enemies will telegraph their attacks with a lighted pathway, which indicates where their cannons will fire. You then have only a second to tap a button on the right or left, moving your ship out of the way of their attacks. You’ll often have to do this several times while your own cannons reload.

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As a result, combat is simple, but mostly fun. After you sink a ship, you’ll be able to tap on floating boxes to grapple the loot onboard. Loot includes gold, but also resources such as wood, food, and books. You’ll even find the occasional message in a bottle, which reveals more of the storyline and hints about La Buse’s buried treasure.

If Assassin’s Creed: Pirates was all just sailing and shooting, it probably wouldn’t hold up over several hours. However, we were impressed by the variety of missions– you can trace a pathway on the map to take assassination missions, steer towards wreckage within a strict time limit, and locate treasure using a first-person spyglass view. All of this is rendered beautifully, with a colorful Caribbean sea teeming with galleys. Your crew will even sing shanties as you explore the islands.

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You’ll also gradually level up and hire new crew members, which lets you upgrade your ship’s abilities. While we had to complete a lot of missions to level up, this means that the game will provide many hours of gameplay, with an interesting story told through written dialogue and comic-style character art. The controls and combat may be simple, but the storyline and variety of content appear to make up for it.

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Assassin’s Creed: Pirates will be available on December 5 for $4.99 (payable in dollars only– no doubloons). If you enjoy the Assassin’s Creed console series or similar games like Sid Meier’s Pirates, it’s definitely worth playing.