My GF and I have become a mass murderer. Singular. One throat-stabbing, fort-raiding, cannon-blasting, treasure-hoarding pirate from Swansea. We are Capt. Edward Kenway, and we are not bloodthirsty—we are bloodquenched.
Since we installed the Playstation 4 about two months ago, my GF and I have left a body count of more than 6,000 across the Caribbean, mostly Spanish and English soldiers, a few pirates who betrayed us and one small tribe of indigenous forest guardians. Those 6,000 poor souls don't include the crews of the 500 vessels our ship, the Jackdaw, sent down in splinters to become homes for moray eels.
I should probably say here that we're talking about Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, a video game, and the people we've killed through Capt. Kenway are just the same eight or so adversaries who repeat in various costumes within the game. Also, if it's not obvious, my GF doesn't want her name in here. I'm not going to make her incriminate herself as a pirate.
As I explained in an earlier column, I haven't had a video-game console since the Sega CD in my early teens. My GF's gap goes back even further. Her last gaming system was the original Nintendo. She was reasonably skeptical of bringing the PS4 into the home, but two months later, Kenway has become a member of the family.
Set in the West Indies during the first quarter of the 18th century, Black Flag is hooks-down one of the most exciting works in the history of the age-of-pirates genre, up there with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Pirates of the Caribbean, both the Disneyland ride and the movies. The world of Black Flag is just vast, with detailed models of Havana, Kingston and Nassau and dozens of jungles and desert islands and caves and ruins and shipwrecks and villages on stilts to explore. And a whole lot of sea, with your men singing more than 30 shanties as you sail it.
Within the game, Kenway faces myriad challenges and options, a game for every type of gamer. My GF and I quickly discovered our individual strengths and our shared determination to complete everything that can be completed in the game.
My GF did the bulk of the treasure hunting and managed the massive fleet of ships Kenway captured, sending them on missions back and forth across the Atlantic. She once spent several hours learning an ancient board game, Nine Men's Morris, through practice and YouTube videos, just to complete one of the side challenges. She's also an art collector; each time she turns on the PS4, she takes Kenway to his Great Inagua mansion to check out what new artifacts have appeared on his shelves. My GF isn't afraid of killing, but, in her hands, Kenway's weapon of choice is a blowgun with non-lethal sleep darts.
I was mostly in charge of stressful, potential combat and stealth missions during the principle storyline of the game. I also handled the naval battles, blasting whole schools of ships with mortars, cannon shot and fire barrels, goring them with my ram. I did most of the harpooning (although, despite her vegetarian lifestyle, my GF once harpooned a whale to get the materials to craft Kenway a dart pouch). I also maneuver Kenway during his shipwreck dives—avoiding sharks and struggling to remember which way is up.
I can't help but wonder what kind of psychopath Kenway—being controlled by two personalities—would look like to the residents of his world. Stories would fly on the wind of the dreaded, personality-split Kenway, one minute the benevolent pirate merchant of the Atlantic, the next a moving massacre. He's a millionaire with a palace of hoarded opulence, and yet, he'll stand on a rooftop scattering handful after handful of coins over a busy market square until there's a mob scene.
You see, my GF and I are running out of challenges, and we're getting bored. We've cleaned out all the treasures (and "Animus Fragments," whatever they are), hunted all the animals and carried out all the assassination contracts. There's nothing else in the store for us to buy. There are no empty nooks in our gallery.
To complete the game in the completely completist way, we need to finish the "social" challenges, which means connecting and sharing with our "friends" over the Playstation network. Thing is, we don't know anyone on the Playstation network, and she and I aren't all that keen to invite another psychopathic stranger into our lives.
So, since this might be the end of our journey with Kenway, let me give you the rest of our stats. We've sailed 902 nautical miles, swum 31 nautical miles and travelled another 427 kilometers by land. Kenway's harpooned 28 sea animals, consumed 34 mugs of rum (passing out three times), collected 374 treasures and run away from combat 514 times.
And we've spent 141 hours in love with this game.