It's barely worth saying, but the star of your videogame is really important. Even silent blank slates like Gordon Freeman can become loved, as we imagine how cool it would be to be revered, feared, and have simmering sexless love affairs without even having to open our mouths.
This is probably where Assassin's Creed III went wrong. Connor was a good-hearted lad, and fair play to him. But ye gods, he was earnest. And naive! The Assassins couldn't have had a less effective ambassador. The Templars would patiently explain the case for authoritarian control, and Connor would scream, "But my mum..." and run off up a tree. Well, that's how we remember it, anyway.
It's also where Black Flag pulls an absolute blinder. Edward Kenway is a fine rogue. He makes a great job of externalising whatever internal tortures he suffers, running through his foes, keeping treacherous company, mixing with scurvy swabs and all those other phrases that are too salty to appear in Black Flag's excellent script.
The action kicks off straight away, thereby fixing another problem. We enjoyed Assassin's Creed III, but you'd have to be a ballsy kind of liar to argue that it didn't test the player's patience. A third of the game was a prelude and Haytham's painfully long boat journey to America was a clue that Ubisoft was building a library of art assets it could use in its next, better game.
Black Flag is that better game. Reach the third chapter and the open seas are yours to sail at will, dropping off as you see fit at tiny islands, large cities and distractions of every size in between. The mini-map is full of alluring icons, too: even during your first chase you'll be stopping off to check the chests and treasure maps and climbing up the synchronisation points to light up yet more compelling distractions.
The world map is a little deceptive. When you first zoom all the way out you'll be slightly overwhelmed by the size, but it's not as daunting as it looks. Only the sea links the locations on the map: you can't run from one end of the largest island to the other. That doesn't make it an empty world, just a more manageable one. Side-missions include robbable plantations, claimable Templar forts, upgrading your ship and home, skinning animals, exploring wrecks, sea battles and treasure hunting.