'Stiq Tips Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's brand new open sea and sailing system adds an exciting new element to the franchise's well-established structure, but it can be a bit confusing at first. In Black Flag, there's no lengthy three-hour tutorial to suffer through before you get started, you're just thrown into the world with nothing more than a tattered outfit – and you're not even a real assassin yet! Here's some help to assist in your evolution from rags to riches.

One important thing to note right off the bat is that Assassin's Creed IV has built-in online social functions. You'll encounter things like "social chests," "social ships," and more bonuses that pop up when anyone on your friends list finds a similar bonus. By playing online, you'll earn much more cash than you would if you weren't connected to Xbox Live or PSN. You'll also unlock more social events for your friends in turn, so you can pat yourself on the back for that.

'Stiq Tips Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag
Eventually, you'll want to actually play the game. When you enter each new area, try to make sure you climb one viewpoint and synchronize it – in Black Flag, each synchronization spot is a fast travel spot, so if you need to get somewhere fast, it helps to have covered all your bases. To fast travel to a specific area on the world map, zoom all the way in rather than looking at it from a macro level and you can pick a specific quadrant of a town. Having said that, try not to rely on fast travel too much – you will regret it later in the game. When you first acquire your ship (The Jackdaw), sail everywhere – no exceptions. Along the way you'll find crew members to save and materials to grab in the open ocean, as well as ships to pillage, which allows you to upgrade your own vessel. You might be tempted to avoid encounters and sail around them, but it's important to engage smaller ships at the very least, so you can earn more materials to upgrade yours (don't forget to sell your sugar and rum, as they have no point other than to barter for cash). Don't be tempted to waste money on Edward or your pointless hideout upgrades – you'll want to spend the vast majority of your loot on your ship, as the toughest missions in the game are all naval based.

Unlike GTA, being "wanted" is actually a good thing, as it allows you to find well-equipped ships to loot much more quickly. Should some of these swarm you and put you in a jam, make sure you board ships to give yourself a breather from the pack – then once you're done, simply choose the "repair ship" option. If you find yourself sailing in stormy skies or troubled waters and are lacking focus, try holding the left trigger from the front of the ship to "aim" your front-loaded weapon – it lets you get a more clear picture of your surroundings compared to just sailing normally. If you're traveling at full speed and the camera zooms back in, it means you're close to crashing into something, so immediately slow down and correct your course. Once you've upgraded a bit, note that the southern tip of the world has the harder ships/content, and thus, the better loot.

If you want more missions, go for the forts right away, and max out your mortar capacity and power to take them out. Here's another fun little tip: When you're commanding your ship, you can use the direction pad to queue up new shanties (sea songs), avoiding the more annoying ones – kind of like Grand Theft Auto's radio system.When you're outside of combat, note that Eagle Vision is vastly improved in Black Flag. Now, you can hold your camera on targets to "mark" them, and see them through walls at all times. This is especially useful for rooftop soldiers, where you may have eyes on them at one moment, only to lose them the next. Don't forget to use distractions – whistling while in bushes is the easiest way to take out patrols, and don't be afraid to mash on the whistle button if they don't approach you right away. The game also forgets to mention that you can switch your active gadget to coins, which allows you to throw some pocket change at citizens in exchange for some makeshift cover.

If combat is inevitable, keep your cool and watch those counter icons above enemy heads. If you can score one counter, press the attack button immediately after – I repeat, do not mash the counter button. In Black Flag, pressing the counter button twice will just throw your enemy down or into other foes (which can be useful for thinning out groups), but the real meat and potatoes is the instant kill counter. Just like past games, this triggers a one-hit kill frenzy, so you can systematically take out enemies instantly, provided that you press the left analog stick towards your prey. I call it the "death combo," and it's by far the most effective way of killing off groups, so initiate it in any way you can as quickly as possible.

'Stiq Tips Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag
But you shouldn't use active counters on every enemy all of the time – specifically the heavier ones, who can counter your counter. What you'll want to do there is use a gadget to throw them off balance. Personally, I've found that sleep blowdarts are an excellent way to counter big enemies, as it takes them out of the action immediately, allowing for a very quick one-hit kill. When in doubt, use a blowdart anyway, as they even work on major targets (which can basically be considered the boss fights of Assassin's Creed). Berserk darts work like a charm on ranged enemies tucked away in a guard tower, as they can't immediately be killed by other alerted guards.

Outside of the Animus you'll have to solve a ton of logic puzzles to unlock more secrets and insight into the world of Assassin's Creed. The good news is the vast majority of these puzzles are optional, including the clear-cut toughest variety, the sphere grids. If you're determined to complete all of the puzzles, note that most, if not all of the sphere puzzles can be solved by going through the blue portals at a specific angle. If you're finding yourself running around the sphere without a sense of purpose, hold the look button, map out a concise course to a portal, and just go from there.

Multiplayer operates more or less the same as prior entries, but the golden rule still applies – keep your calm. Resist the urge to run around all the time, as it completely blows your cover and leaves you open to veterans. Instead, use the regular or fast walk and watch how NPCs act. Look at their movements, the way they approach certain objects, what they typically approach. Even if you have to play a private game, look at the tendencies of NPCs and start emulating them. Once you've mastered that simple concept, you should be able to perform better than the vast majority of other players online.

Not only will you be able to stay incognito, but you'll also earn massive points for stalking your prey while staying hidden, which ultimately wins you the game. As a general rule, you will not want to use anything online that makes noise, as even the mere sound of the gadget will advise your hunter of your location. It's not about the amount of kills you get, it's how you get them. Undetected kills earn you a much higher score than chasing someone down, and filling your score meter while tailing them adds to that total. Remember that if you find yourself on the lower end of the leaderboards with a collective of quick kills.

With these tips, you'll be on your way to pimping out your Jackdaw and becoming the baddest assassin who ever lived. Although the life of a real pirate may not have been all that glorious, the wealth of content in Assassin's Creed IV should keep you busy for some time.

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This article was originally published on Joystiq.