AC IV's Controversial, Online Singleplayer Features Make Game Easier

AC IV's Controversial, Online Singleplayer Features Make Game Easier

The fun, rich single-player campaign of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is more enjoyable and less tedious if you play the game with an active online connection. Without a connection, multiple valuable features are not available.

Curiously, the game's publisher Ubisoft seems to be walling its online features off unless users activate an online pass, dubbed a Uplay Passport. The Passport is free to new purchasers of ACIV but will cost $US10 for anyone who gets the game used or borrows it from a friend.

While Ubisoft has yet to comment or clarify the extent to which it is gating some features with its Passport, we think we've been able to figure most of it out. And while reports yesterday focused on the Passport being needed for ACIV's optional Fleet mini-game, it goes further than that. We believe that the game's other useful singleplayer online features may be gated by the Passport as well. (We're actually appealing to those of you who have the game to help us confirm.)

The Passport is activated by inputting a code printed on a flyer that is included with boxed copies of the game. Presumably, digital copies of the game will activate the Passport on their own. Text on the flyer indicates that, among other things, it provides "access to the full single-player experience."

AC IV's Controversial, Online Singleplayer Features Make Game Easier

The Fleet game is an expansion of some of the assassin training mini-games offered in recent installments in the series, though those didn't require an online connection. In ACIV, players send ships, rather than assassins, throughout the Atlantic Ocean to battle other ships and hopefully make successful trades.

The Fleet game can be played within ACIV or separately on the game's tablet-oriented companion app. It's more or less a board game with real-time elements. Players start with just a few ships but can add more by capturing them in the main part of ACIV. The ships have stats for speed, firepower and cargo storage. The Atlantic is drawn with possible trade routes. The point of the game is to build a fleet, send tough ships into dangerous shipping lanes to destroy enemy ships and then to send fast ones through the shipping lanes to make money.

It's a game of stats, commodities, and time-management. Ships can be scuttled for gems. Gems can be spent to buy more docks. Missions must cool down before they can be tried again. And, supposedly, your progress speeds up if more of your friends are also playing. It has some of the hallmarks of a social game, but with more real strategy and no microtransactions.

Here it is, briefly, in action:

Playing the Fleet game well earns the player some much-needed money. In a game — that is the whole of ACIV — where normal treasure chests only contain a few dozen or a few hundred coins and really good cannons for the ship you sail can cost tens of thousands, it's useful to have some ships out on money-making errands. But since these ships can take hours or even days to sail back, Fleet isn't actually a huge in-game money-maker.

Why require online for this? It's possible that Ubisoft is checking your friends' progress to network your fleets in some way. It's hard to say. I played the game the weekend on a retail PS3 prior to its official release and, as far as I could tell, didn't have any friends who were also playing it. In fact, I didn't realise the game was using an online connection to enable it. I'd inputted the Uplay Passport code already and was none the wiser.

Here's how the game introduces you to the Fleet game and then stops you in your tracks if you didn't activate the Passport:

AC IV's Controversial, Online Singleplayer Features Make Game Easier

The Fleet game is, in my opinion, skippable. If you don't get it, you miss a nice additional feature, but you're still getting a heaping amount of content in the game, probably 30-50 hours of missions and sidequests if you want to do everything (I finished the game in 28 hours with a 63% completion rate.

But here's the catch: my colleague, Kirk "distant descendant of Blackbeard (not kidding)" Hamilton finished the game at nearly the same completion rate — 65% — but in five hours' more time. Further, he didn't sail with as upgraded a ship as I did and didn't dump 10s of thousands of coins on upgrades to his pirate hideout. The reason is because Kirk was always strapped for in-game money and I was not. He had to run a lot of small assassination missions to get the money to upgrade his ship to survive key storyline missions.

The reason Kirk was strapped for in-game cash and I wasn'tis because I took advantage of ACIV's other single-player online elements: its social goods that come in the form of Royal Convoys, white whales and social treasure chests.

Yes, social treasure chests. See?

AC IV's Controversial, Online Singleplayer Features Make Game Easier

Whereas the dozens (hundreds?) of regular in-game treasure chests that you can find while exploring ACIV's high seas and deep jungles contain dozens or hundreds of coins, social chests, I found, always include nearly 1,000. They spawn in all sorts of unexpected locations and, when they do, you get an alert that you've found one as well as a notification that the location of the chest will now appear in the copies of the game that your friends are playing. That's kind of neat, but, more importantly, valuable.

What's better than a social chest? A Royal Convoy. While you can sail the game's Caribbean and find regular convoys of ships that you can plunder for about 1000 coins, if you find a Royal Convoy, you can plunder for 10,000 coins. As with social treasure chests, you either have to find one of these convoys while playing online or you have to have one generated on your map, triggered by a friend discovering one while they're playing. You will not find these if you are playing offline.

There are also white whale locations that let you hunt the game's version of Moby-Dick. That'll get you some valuable hide. Both the social convoys and social whales run on a timer. You don't have to attack the convoy or hunt the whale when you find them, but you'll see what, if memory serves, is a 24-hour or so counter ticking down until they disappear from the map.

We haven't been able to confirm that the social chests/convoys/whales require a Uplay Passport. But, if being online at all with this game requires a Passport, then they do. No matter what, they do require an online connection. We've asked Ubisoft to clarify. In lieu of them doing so, we're hoping that some of you out there can say whether you've been able to access any of these online features without the Passport.

It had seemed that online passes were going out of style this year. It also seemed like the idea of playing ostensibly single-player games with an online connection was still an unproven concept. Happily, you can play the vast majority of ACIV without the online-connected features offered for the game's solo campaign. But even if they merit being tied to an online network, it's another thing to have Ubisoft seemingly tie those online features to an online pass. We're not sure why Ubisoft did that other than to penalise used-game consumers and the kind of pirates that this game isn't about.

We'll update you as we find out more.


    There goes my desire to play this game.

    So. why isn't Kotaku condemning Ubisoft for using online passes still? Is it just because they aren't EA?

    If your Uplay Passport code is missing, or it has already been redeemed, you can buy a new one at: Playstation® Store.

    So it's basically an online pass: if you've bought a used copy of this game then you miss out on a portion of content unless you buy another activation code.

    Joy to the world.

    Last edited 31/10/13 3:30 pm

      no its an online pass... a season pass is typically pre-purchasing unreleased DLC... online pass just gives you access to either multiplayer portion of the game or in this case... stuff for single player

      ultimately... think of it as DRM for console versions of the game or a way for ubisoft to make money off used copies... that said it seems you can actually play without it... which is nice

    I believe I'm playing online, but I haven't activated my UPlay Passport. I can confirm that I can access the Social Chests, White Whales and Royal Convoys. I also discovered a Royal Convoy by purchasing information from the bartender at one of the Taverns.

    Guess I'll get this on steam eventually on PC... I dont have my consoles hooked up to the internet.

    I really hate this ind of'd be ok if you just need to hook up once to validate and then can play off line...but these constant connection ones are annoying...what happens if you network connection dies. Least its not one of those ones that dump you if you lose the connection...

    As to why does ubisoft do this..well they've been trying to spruke ubiplay for ages as a meeting place (which is really just a DRM process)
    Hopefully the steam version wont need uplay...

    My knee-jerk reaction is to say, "Grrr, stop walling things off behind DRM that don't need it," but on closer inspection, this is quite a sneaky way around the 'it should be on the disc' argument.

    The key to figuring out if something 'should' (YMMV) be restricted by DRM or paywalls is if it NEEDS to be online to work properly. Diablo 3? No. Sim City? They made the argument, but actually, no. A mobile game which links directly to your console game? Well... how else are you going to get them to talk to each other without the net? So yeah... that works.

    Very disappointing. Almost like a pay to win if you have friends...

    Ubisoft: putting the 'Ass' into 'Assassin's Creed'.

    I am glad I saw this article before I bought it. I thought Ubisoft was improving but it looks like they are just as much scum as ever.

    I don't trade games and I don't buy much second hand, so I'll enjoy being able to compete with my friends online.

    Well, I'm going to be in the minority here and say that all sounds like fun. I like the idea of spontaneous community challenges and similar things to keep the game fresh add the occasional surprise. And you can still get access to it if you buy the game used: just use $10 of the money you saved by buying a used copy to pay for it.

    Last edited 31/10/13 5:05 pm

    How will this apply to the PC version? Can I just install my sons version (when it arrives) and pay a poxy $10 to unlock the content?

    this requirement has been"removed" the passport is now free...

    Do you have to beat the game before the white whale and royal convoys show on the map bc right now they aren't and I am connected to uplay

    I'm borrowing ACIV from a buddy, and did NOT activate his Passport. I do have an internet connection, and have logged on with my Ubisoft account, and am getting all of the content you are referring to except the community chests and royal convoys. I am not really strapped for cash, though, as I know how to time manage and use fast travel...

    Why is this such a big deal to people. If you buy the game in new condition then you get one right away. The only people this could effect are people buying used copies 6 months from now, and people who get games off their friends. If you were going to buy the game anyways it shouldn't make a difference and not buying it when you were going to is just stupid. Like I said, it comes with the pass anyways......

    We'll unfortunately not everyone has the resources needed it all the time to buy new games or have constant net access making you buy a dlc is one thing but to grab a single player noncompetitive game and make it so that you need a passport and net access to experience it fully like this is just to exploit an already dry audience. I know it's a business but have a heart for god sake.

    I relise this is an old thread, but I would like to add my two pennies.

    Single player online sucks for those of us who live out in bfe and are still stuck in data cap web land. My only net source is my stupid slow a** straight talk phone. IF I did want internet of any kind where I live I'm stuck with anything that is serviced by Wild Blue. I can data cap a max package with an xbox360 connection in less than a half hour on updates alone. Even without updates its not worth $100+ for something that I can cap in under a day.

    Simply put: Single player means SINGLE PLAYER. Not, I want to go online and play Farm ville and depend on my 200+ friends.

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