When most people think of Assassin's Creed, they picture a sprawling single-player adventure spanning multiple timelines and spectacular open-world environments.
Ever since Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, however, Ubisoft has placed increased emphasis on multiplayer, experimenting with a wealth of brand new and traditional game modes.
Digital Spy spent some time getting to grips with Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag's multiplayer, sampling 'Wolfpack' and 'Discovery' modes and speaking with MP director Damien Kieken.
An expanded Wolfpack experience
Assassin's Creed 3 introduced a co-operative Wolfpack mode, which saw 2-4 players murder their way through 25 stages of assassinations, earning extra points for inventiveness.
Not only does Wolfpack return in Black Flag, but it has been expanded to encompass a whole series of modes. Damien Kieken explains why this was necessary.
"Wolfpack is one of the big things in this year's game. Last year it was only a mode, where the idea was to have a co-op experience in the multiplayer, but this year it is made up of several modes, so it's really becoming its own entity.
"The idea is that we introduce Discovery mode, which is a way to learn the different mechanics of the Wolfpack, because one of the things we noticed last year is that we wanted to make a co-operative mode, and if you want a mode to become co-operative, it needs to be hard."
Discovery begins in the Mayan Ruins, charging players with the relatively simple task of assassinating two targets.
The map is quite beautiful and the action is easy to follow, while each character has their own unique stealth kills. Still, for a mode that's supposed to be hard, the first few stages of Discovery are incredibly easy, but then, according to Kieken, that's kind of the point.
"If it's not difficult, people will not co-operate together, and so [in Assassin's Creed 3] we just threw this at them, and it was hard to learn what was going on and how to be a team.
"Discovery mode does this part of the job, and it allows us to keep the Unleashed mode, which is the hard part.
Discovery is a very linear experience, and it doesn't seem to have much replay value, but it does have its own narrative - something which remains under wraps - and certainly does prepare you for Unleashed.
In this respect it's more than just a training mode. With a timer ticking away and increasingly challenging objectives, the difficulty soon ramps up, although it pales in comparison to Unleashed, which is genuinely tough.
By the end of our time with Wolfpack, we were completely immersed in the action, frantically searching for the next target and racking up combos.
Concoct your own battles in GameLab
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag also gives players more options to fully customise and create their own multiplayer adventures, which is where GameLab comes into play.
"The other big new multiplayer addition is the GameLab," Kieken continues. "The idea with Game Lab is that we want to give more power to player, so we built a tool to let them build their own mode.
"They can mess around with more than 200 parameters, and really create the experience they want.
"They can edit the scoring, which is a big thing, because the scoring is the backbone of our experience.
"If you disable most of the scoring and set it to aerial kills, for example, everybody will have to perform aerial kills to win the session, so you really have to play differently."
The ability to customise the multiplayer experience isn't exclusive to Black Flag, of course, but in a game that gives players the freedom to eliminate enemies in a wide variety of different ways, GameLab opens up some interesting new gameplay possibilities.
"There's one called 'Pistolier Mode', in which the only way to kill people is with the pistol ability," Kieken continues.
"And then it becomes a weird shooter. It really changes how the game feels.
"We spent a lot of time on that [GameLab], because we want to give all of these tools to a player, but also we don't want them to do things that will break the game, or are not interesting, so we need to find the right balance.
"In multiplayer if something is wrong, it will be discovered very quickly and it can break the whole game for everyone."
Our time with GameLab's almost infinite number of variables is short, but the ability to upload preferred game modes to the community is a nice touch, and one that will highlight the best games, and hide the broken ones.
Listening to the fans
The community aspect of the Assassin's Creed multiplayer experience is clearly important to Ubisoft, especially when, as I pointed out earlier, most people associate the games with single-player adventures.
Kieken says that creating multiplayer for Assassin's Creed is tricky, but by listening to the fans, it gets better every year.
"Based on community feedback, we've tweaked core abilities, added new animations, revamped the scoring system to make it easier to understand, and also introduced some multipliers," Kieken continues.
"This is a minor feedback on our side, but it has a huge impact on the game. We changed the button to do the ground finishes. Before, ground finishes were the same button as the kill button, and sometimes player would perform a ground finish instead of a kill.
"Now that we've moved the button, they can choose what they want to do, and the community is super happy with the change."
The team has also tried to make multiplayer stand out by introducing new locations separate from the main campaign, as well as lots of skills that are alien to Edward Kenway, including various traps, disguises and shields.
In addition to GameLabs, players have a wealth of cosmetic items to upgrade, individual moves and taunts, as well as a healthy base of characters to choose from.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag's multiplayer greatly expands on last year's offering, introducing lots of new options to create and customise the perfect online experience.
It will take something special to tear us away from Black Flag's mammoth single-player campaign, but the wealth of competitive and co-operative game modes might be just the ticket.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag will be available for Xbox 360 and PS3 on October 29 in North America and November 1 in Europe. It will also be available as a next-gen launch title.
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Watch a trailer for Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag below: