Shiver me timbers, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, I be in search of booty, avast ye landlubbers, I’ll crush ye barnacles and send you to Davy Jones’s locker… And other piratical phrases. For me, there haven’t really been a great many good pirate games. The pirate life is a fantastic setting, yet very few developers use it for their games. Yeah sure, there have been a few really good games that have a piratical theme like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag… But that never was a pirate game, just an Assassin’s Creed game wearing a pirate hat. My all-time favourite pirate game was Sid Meier’s Pirates! It just gave you an open world and the chance to forge your own career as a pirate. There was a story, but it was bare minimal as the focus was on creating a legacy as a pirate over following a plot. For years, I’ve been waiting for someone to take the idea behind Pirates! and just update it. Developer 3DClouds and publisher Team 17 throw their pirate hat into the ring with King of Seas, but is it worth a play?
Right, let’s get the plot out of the way first. You play as one of two (selectable) offspring of a king. starting out as a new captain, you are sent on your first ever mission. On your return, you find your father, the king, has been murdered and you are suspect number one. Your ship is attacked and sinks, while you are left for dead. Fortunately for you, some pirates are passing by and save your life. They take you to their island and teach you the ways of being a pirate. It is then up to you to clear your name and find the real killer… All while being a pirate. The plot here is thinner than an anorexic supermodel’s waistline, but to be honest, the plot is not why you play a game like this.
King of Seas takes place in a procedurally generated pirate world that is crammed full of things to see and do. After a fairly standard tutorial to get you used to the controls, you are then left to your own devices to do as you wish. Yes, you can stick to the story and just sail your way to the end credits… Or you could completely ignore the plot and just enjoy being a pirate. All of the action of King of Seas takes place on the waves and you never set foot on dry land. Well okay, you can visit various ports and when there, you can visit taverns to hire more crew, keep abreast of the least news and even pick up randomly generated missions. There’s also a carpenter you can visit to repair and buy new ships. Plus each port has a market where you can buy and sell goods. Everything in the ports is done via a menu system too, so you never get to walk the towns around or anything.
There is a trading system in King of Seas and it works really well too. A port may be proficient in producing wood (as an example), so the buying price is low. Fill your storage with cheap wood and set sail to find a port where wood is harder to find and sell for a nice profit. With a constantly fluctuating trading mechanic and trade routes which are ever-changing as the game continues. There are many different commodities to trade in too so you’ll always be able to bring in some coinage. And what do you use that coinage for? Upgrades… Lots and lots of upgrades. Pretty much everything on your ship can be upgraded, the figurehead, the sails, the hull, even the crew and more. Each of the upgrades have that RPG colour coding thing depending on rarity and each will affect the stats of your ship too. You know the one where white-labelled items are common, up to purple and orange being rare and very rare. Different items have different stats and even special abilities. And about those special abilities.
King of Seas is not a serious game at all, it had a decent sense of humour and knows that it is meant to be fun. You are given four special attacks, triggered using each of the four main face buttons on the controller. These can range from having a flamethrower shoot out of the front of your ship to giant tentacles that will slap nearby enemies and even magical attacks. Yup, this is far from being a serious game based on actual pirate history. Then, even your cannons can have modifiers on them such as poison and elemental attacks. While I don’t think I would describe King of Seas as being a deep RPG, but it definitely has RPG elements to it, including a experience/leveling/skills system.
Battling on the high seas is pretty basic stuff. Your ship can fire its cannons from either side with the press of a button. You’ll often find yourself circling your opponent and doing your best to hit them while trying not to get hit yourself. If you have ever played any piratical themed game with seafaring combat before, then you’ll know what to expect here. In terms of sea combat, King of Seas doesn’t do anything new, but the many upgrades and variables do mean you can mix things up quite a bit. Your ship has three health bars, one is your basic hull heath and when it’s gone, you sink. There’s another for your sails and the more damage they get, the slower you can move. The final one is your crew and as that lowers, so does how fast your cannons can be reloaded. Those three health bars also transfer to your enemies and you have three different ammo types to deal the three different types of damage. When you start, your ship (a sloop) will be pretty basic, but earn some coin, get some upgrades and you’ll soon have a ship that can hold its own in the battles.
It’s not all about sinking ships though as you can also go fishing, seek out cartographers to help with the game’s map, find treasure, capture settlements and more. Outside of the main story, there really is a lot here to do. All of which will help you build and upgrade your ship to give you a much better fighting chance. The seas are also full of other ships, from allies to enemies and even neutrals. Of course, you being a pirate means you can turn your hand to pretty much anything you like. Attack and sink fellow pirate ships, take on larger treasure-laden ships and more. You are free to pretty much do as you wish and become the respected or feared pirate you want to be.
Now, King of Seas can be a very slow game. You get around via sailing the seas and you’ll have to put up with varying weather and wind direction, both of which can impede your progress. The randomly generated maps are pretty damn big too with multiple ports to visit and getting from one end to the other takes a good while. The ships in the game are hardly speedy either, so this is just a pre-warning that progress through the game will be a bit of a slog. Still for me personally, I quite enjoyed the much slower pace and almost serene and calming nature of the game. It’s all rather relaxing… Unless you’re being chased by pirate hunters and the like. The action in King of Seas can also get a bit samey after a few hours of play, plus many of the missions are the same basic types too. I can not deny that King of Seas does get a tad repetitive and it is probably best enjoyed in smaller two to three hour sessions over prolonged gaming periods as the game can begin to feel a bit too grindy after a while if I’m being honest.
Looks wise, King of Seas is fine. Neither outstanding nor plain. There’s slight cartoony slant to the graphics and when you zoom the camera in, they do show signs of being a bit rough. But from the default, zoomed out view, everything looks good. Theres a day/night cycle that honestly looks pretty damn nice. But all the towns you visit all end up looking the same, and you’ll soon realise there’s a lot of reusing assets, with the maps being as big as they are, King of Seas really could’ve done with more variation with its visuals.
Truth be told, I never actually finished this game before I wrote this review. I just never saw the story out to its end. Not because the game bored me or anything, quite the opposite actually, as I’ve spent the last week with King of Seas just exploring and enjoying the game outside of the story. I’ve been taking on secondary missions, upgrading my ship, treasure hunting and just generally enjoying myself being a pirate. I mentioned how Sid Meier’s Pirates! is one of my favourite games, and most certainly my favourite pirate game ever. King of Seas is very clearly inspired by the classic Pirates!, it may not quite have the same level of depth and variety of gameplay (no sword fighting, wooing women, etc), but King of Seas really is a fantastic piratical themed title and one that I’ve gotten a lot of fun gameplay out of… All without even finishing the story. With a £19.99 price tag, I can definitely recommend King of Seas as there really is a lot of game here, you just need to know that it is not all fast-paced action and thrills. This is a much slower and steady game. Making progress and upgrading your ship, while getting around the map is more of a leisurely walk than a sprint. But a very enjoyable leisurely walk nonetheless.
If only Sid Meier would make a new pirate game himself.