Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is out now on both Xbox 360 and PS3, with PC and next-gen versions arriving on 21 November.
Like all Assassin's Creed games, it's sizeable in both scope and gameplay, so here are just a few of the reasons we're enjoying this latest foray into the AC world.
Captain Kenway's ship is much more than just a fast travel device and cannonball delivery system. It's detailed enough to almost feel like a playable character itself. The upgrades available aren't just functional either — you can find a variety of plans for different figureheads and other cosmetic adjustments to put your own personal take on the ship.
Once settled in the Jackdaw, your cabin becomes a focal point for changing your outfits and weapons, as well as upgrading your ship and running your own fleet of ships for additional profit.
It's hard to overstate just how much fun these are. The ship combat from ACIII has been tweaked and expanded, making this a really ridiculously satisfying experience. Broadside cannons, forward chain shot, mortars, fire barrels and swivel guns are all upgradeable as the game progresses.
The ship-to-ship combat system is easy to pick but takes a little time to master, and some of the best fun you'll have is attacking a ship that's probably too tough for you and taking it out by the skin of your teeth.
It's not just in combat that Black Flag's nautical world comes to life. Getting out and about and exploring the various islands in the Caribbean setting should be a main priority as soon as you come into possession of the Jackdaw.
In true AC fashion there are more collectibles — messages in bottles, Mayan stones, animus fragments and more — than you can shake a cutlass at, as well as hidden treasures to uncover, wrecked ships to dive and chests to loot.
You can find out about new areas by tipping your local bartender for a bit of gossip, but there's a lot of fun in just pointing the Jackdaw in a random direction, opening up the sails and seeing what you find.
Edward Kenway is an oddly likeable chap for a murderous pirate. Seeing him slowly progress through the game somewhat echoes Ezio's progression in the ACII episodes, but Kenway is even more charismatic than the Italian lothario.
Privateer, pirate or assassin — no matter what role he's playing, Kenway is a well-written and realised character, especially in the way he relates to both his crew and the other pirates he meets along the way.
Core gameplay improvements
ACIV feels tighter than the last game in many ways. Combat is a little more brutal and takes a bit more thought than just spamming the counter button. Careful use of smoke bombs and playing around with your weapon choices can make for a free-flow feel to combat.
Pure stealth missions can still be a little frustrating, but the environmental cover mechanics work a lot better than the last game, and the free running is a little less likely to have you spontaneously jumping in the wrong direction.
Possibly, the only bad note is the harpooning mini-game, which is one way of obtaining certain crafting supplies. It can actually be a rather distasteful experience, but you can find other ways to get the materials, so this can be skipped if need be.
The side missions that have you raiding plantation warehouses, on the other hand, are a great deal of fun, especially for stealth junkies.
In all, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a great return for the series — an impressive combination of storyline, characterisation and gameplay experience, all working together to create a compelling and immersive experience.
The current-generation console version looks so good that we can't wait to see what the versions on the PS4 and Xbox One are going to be like. For anyone planning on buying a next-gen console around launch, we'd definitely recommend picking up a copy of Black Flag at the same time.