Ubisoft has revealed the first official details on Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, the next entry in the Assassin's Creed series heading to "every available platform" - including PlayStation 4 and, presumably, Microsoft's next-generation Xbox - this autumn.
Set in the Caribbean during the early 18th century, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag follows the adventures of swashbuckling pirate Edward Kenway, father of Assassin's Creed 3's Haytham Kenway and grandfather of Connor.
Ubisoft describes Edward as a brash, cocky and charismatic British privateer who is "motivated by infamy", and who sets sail on the high seas after being relieved of military duty from the Royal Navy.
The developer's ambition is to "create the first naval open-world game" and tell "the true story of the Golden Age of Piracy" by recreating various moments from the era's history, including the wreck of the Spanish treasure fleet in 1715, and the marooning of Charles Vane. "The moment where Edward is marooned on an island with a nutcase with only a bottle of rum and a pistol between them," teases lead content manager Carsten Myhill, "you can imagine how this scenario might pan out."
As well as Charles Vane, players will get to meet some of history's most notorious pirates, including Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Anne Bonny, and Calico Jack, visit the game's three main cities: Havana, Kingston and Nassau, and explore up to 50 different locations dotted around the Caribbean, including jungles, plantations, hidden coves and forts.
Unlike previous games in the series, Ubisoft is keen to stress that Black Flag is set within one unified world rather than a series of individual maps, where players can transition "seamlessly" between naval exploration and land-based gameplay.
The entire ocean will be available to explore, creative director Jean Guesdon claims. What's more, a new underwater mechanic will let Edward dive deep under the ocean waves. He'll have to make use of a new diving belt, but this will allow him to explore the depths of the sea floor to find loot and hidden treasure, investigate sunken vessels and fight deadly sharks.
But there's a "second main character", the developer states, before introducing the player's ship, Jackdaw, a vessel which can be upgraded with additional cannons and swivel guns as the player progresses. Though land-based gameplay remains key, Myhill claims that the developer has taken naval combat "to the next level" for Black Flag, showcasing the second iteration of the seafaring mechanic first introduced in Assassin's Creed 3.
There are now multiple types of enemy ship, some loaded with cannons, and others designed to ram directly into your vessel, and it's up to the player to decide how they wish to board them, whether it be swinging across using a new rope tool, stealthily swimming up to the deck, or climbing across the ship's sails.
Rival ships can be scouted for loot with a new spyglass before being engaged, and contain plunder, including rum, gold, clothes and 'special items', each - presumably - being forms of in-game currency.
As well as upgrading their ship, players must also manage their crew, which can not only perish during naval battles and boardings, but through natural events like raging storms. New crew members can be found and recruited within the game world, and are used to perform actions on your ship and help in naval combat.
The entire game world will also be open from the beginning, Guesdon states, although specific areas will be protected by stronger enemies and powerful galleons, artificially restricting access until the player's vessel becomes strong enough to defeat them. Ubisoft also claims that the global world will be bigger than any previous AC title.
Beyond seafaring, though (and as with its predecessors), certain parts of Black Flag's campaign will also take place in the present day - but don't expect to see the return of Desmond Miles.
"With AC3, we ended the narrative arc of Desmond," says Guesdon. Instead, the player itself is the lead character in the present day, tasked with researching the memories of Edward Kenway.
"The interesting thing that happened in December 2012 is that the real world and the fictitious world merged," continues Guesdon. "From December 21, we're now in the same world as the Assassin's Creed universe - so you are now a part of the AC universe. You will be yourself in the main present day. You're researching the memories of Edward Kenway. You will be the present day hero researching Edward Kenway and being part of that conspiracy."
How exactly that will function, though, or whether the mechanic will support cross-device play like Watch Dogs, is not entirely clear. Will players be able to research Kenway using their smartphones? Only time will tell.
Another element of Black Flag that Ubisoft isn't yet to prepared to detail is the game's multiplayer, and though Guesdon hints at new game modes being included, details on its functionality has yet to be revealed.
"We're taking players to a new era. An era filled with ruthlessness, danger, and non-stop action," continues Myhill.
"We are the perfect franchise to deliver such a story. We have the expertise in creating gorgeous, blossoming, sprawling cities; living, natural environments; and as we saw in Assassin's Creed 3, intense naval action.
"We will treat this era with the same historical reverence as we have done with all the eras gone by... We will tell the true story of the Golden Age of Piracy."
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U on November 1, 2013. A date for the PC and next-generation versions has yet to be announced.
Source: Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag media event attended by VideoGamer.com.