Naval combat is a huge part of Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag. It's required to get through the main story of the game, and essential if you need to get money and resources to upgrade the Jackdaw. But you can't just sail into battle, cannons blazing. If you don't have a proper strategy, you won't get very far against the more formidable opponents on the open seas.
Aim is Everything
There are two important aspects to aiming in Black Flag. The first is aiming your broadside cannons and other close range attacks. If your objective is to cripple an opposing ship as quickly as possible, you want to aim for the lower hull region. The lower on the hull, the better. Aiming for this area will almost always inflict the most damage at close range.
If your objective is to prevent the enemy ship from maneuvering, whether it's out of your attack range or into a better attack position for their ship, aim for the masts and sails. It's best to use the chain shot fired from the front of the Jackdaw to incapacitate a ship's mast and sails. While not the most damaging option, it doesn't take much to bring down a mast and sails, and you won't waste more powerful attacks by using the chain shot. It's also effective if you're chasing an enemy, since the chain shot at the front of the Jackdaw will be your primary attack option.
From long range, your best option is mortar shots. However, these are harder to aim than closer attacks, such as the broadside cannons. It's rare to see an opposing ship stationary in the ocean. Chances are they're always on the move, especially when they're under attack. Because of this, you have to watch their movement and aim the mortar shots to hit ahead of the ship. It takes time for a mortar to reach a target once it's been fired, which means you also need to account for the delay. The farther away the target, the more lead time you need when aiming the shot.
At the beginning of the game, the Jackdaw doesn't have much in the way of offensive firepower. However, you can still take down low level ships. As you continue to upgrade the Jackdaw, more and more resources and money are required. You can continue to take down low level ships, but that won't net you much money or precious metal required for many of the Jackdaw's upgrades. You'll need to take down the higher level ships to get a good amount of loot. To do so, you'll need to upgrade the Jackdaw accordingly.
Focus on hull armor first, then upgrade the number of broadside cannons and purchase the heavy shot. Add mortars to the Jackdaw, then increase the strength of the heavy shot while also upgrading the number of broadside cannons on the ship. Hull armor, broadside cannons, heavy shot strength and mortar strength should be your top priorities when it comes to upgrading the Jackdaw.
If you have money and resources left over, you can look into replacing the fire barrels with chase cannons, getting more storage for ammunition and adding to your crew quarters (essential for boarding large ships), even increasing the strength of the chain and round shots.
It's All in the Approach
There are a few different ways to approach an enemy ship and remain effective. From a distance of roughly 300-400 meters, use mortars as your initial attack. Keep an eye on where the opponent moves and counter accordingly. If they run, continue to chase them down with mortar shots until you can close the distance enough to switch to broadside cannons or chain shots. If they change course to move in your direction, come to a stop and continue to use mortars until they're within range of your other weapons. You can even turn around and keep them at mortar range if you're a good shot.
Once an opposing ship is close enough to use broadside cannons or the chain shot, approach from a 45-degree angle. Broadside cannons are your most powerful weapon at close range. The key here is to attack from an angle that allows you to use the Jackdaw's broadside cannons, but makes it difficult for the opposing ship to counterattack with their own broadside cannons. From a 45-degree angle, you can use the Jackdaw's broadside cannons for an initial barrage, then turn toward the rear of the opposing ship if it tries to get a better angle to use its broadside cannons.
It's almost impossible to completely prevent an enemy ship from using broadside cannons, but you can limit their target range. If you continually attack from a 45-degree angle, pointing toward the rear of the ship, it will considerably limit the target area for the broadside cannons on the enemy ship. In fact, if you can keep your broadside cannons pointed at the rear of the opposing ship, it will be very difficult for the enemy to hit the Jackdaw with anything other than chase cannons or fire barrels.
Turning on a Dime
Most people would assume that you should constantly stay on the move during a naval battle. However, given the way the Jackdaw moves in Black Flag, that's not always the best strategy. There are four sailing speeds for the Jackdaw: stopped, one sail, two sails and travel speed. The slower you're moving, the more agile the ship.
Even when the Jackdaw is stopped, because you're on the ocean, you're never at a complete stop (unless you're anchored in a harbor). When the ship is "stopped,” you can make turns far more quickly than you can at higher speeds. Use this to your advantage during naval combat. If an enemy ship is using mortar shots, don't be afraid to come to a complete stop to avoid the yellow and red circles that indicate mortar targeting. You also shouldn't be concerned with stopping mid-battle to turn the Jackdaw so an opposing ship doesn't have a good line of fire.
To be the most effective in battle, you should constantly adjust your speed to match the situation at hand. If the enemy ship looks like it's on course to ram the Jackdaw, come to a complete stop and turn to limit the damage, or avoid the ship completely. If you're approaching with a good angle of attack and the opposing ship turns to align its broadside cannons, don't hesitate to stop or slow down so you can change your angle of attack and potentially prevent the opposing ship from using their broadside cannons effectively.
Pick Your Battles
There are a good number of ships roaming around the Caribbean. If you attack one, there's a good chance many of the surrounding ships will join in on the battle against the Jackdaw. For this reason, it's best to attack ships that are alone or in small groups. Even the most powerful Jackdaw can be taken down by a large number of weaker ships.
Always use the scope to determine the level of the ship you're about to attack, and any surrounding ships. If there are several high-level ships in close proximity to one another, it's best to look for a different target, or wait until the ships separate a bit. Keep in mind, if you're in the midst of a battle against multiple ships, you can incapacitate one ship and begin the boarding process to immediately pause the battle against any other ships. The other ships generally won't leave the area, but they will cease attacking the Jackdaw until you've completed the boarding process and pillaged the current ship.
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