King of Seas Review – Pass the Rum
King of Seas25th May, 2021
The podcast where I talk about King of Seas will not be live yet when this review goes live. When the podcast is live, you'll hear me talking about Sid Meier's Pirates! and how much I enjoyed that game. I came into King of Seas hoping for a game like that of the aforementioned Clive Barker's Raiders!. While this has some similarities, such as the arcade style, there are differences. But you haven't come to this review wanting to read about Tom Clancy's Marauders!, you're hopefully here to find out about King of Seas and if it's the pirate game that you want to play.
Well, I'm going to say that I've had fun with King of Seas, for what that's worth. However, I have to admit that such a statement comes with a big asterisk. It's an asterisk the size of Japanese censorship in pornography made for a giant. So, it's big. King of Seas is like a rollercoaster in the sense that the fun and general quality of the game fluctuates all too frequently. One moment you're on the high seas, in the thick of the action and progressing quickly; the next, you're plodding through repetitive side quests to earn enough gold to buy every ship ever made.
100,000 gold. That's how much I had to have in my wallet for a quest, to which I would give it all to some carpenter so that he could sneak me into the capital city of the Empire of the Seas. Gold isn't that hard to come by, but if you're anything like me, you're going to find yourself dropping anywhere between 30 to 50k on a ship, getting sunk in a fight and then having to spend another 30 to 50k on a new ship. Earning an arbitrary and large sum of money for the main questline was my first worry. The second wasn't much further away; get to level 35.
The primary problem is that levelling between these quests is done in a very Ubisoft way; there are far too many meaningless busy quests. There's only so many times I can pick up a quest that has me deliver rum, sweets, pelican eggs, or more to the same NPC repeatedly. The result is always the same piece of dialogue too. Same with the woman who hates tourists, so she wants me to sink a tourist ship. Or somebody who hates the empire and wants me to sink a navy commander ship.
These quests are okay the first time or two. Still, suddenly my interest is lost, it's not that fun, and I'm doing it "just because". Why? Just because I need to get gold to meet that questline, just because I need the experience, just because the futility of life is creeping in, and I need something flashy to eek away the thoughts of death and decay. At least they help you level up, which gives you extra talent points for your exploration of the world and the combat - also more equipment.
It's just a shame so much of the story is bookended by so much grind. It's not that it doesn't pay off; levelling up is a fairly deep system. Every part of the character and ship customisation is surprisingly deep. It's just that the grind isn't varied anywhere near enough due to the limited quest types thrown in by the procedural generation gods. This is also driven by the fact that the world is procedurally generated in a limited sense. The map is divided into a grid, and it seems the game populates each grid space with one of these islands, with certain ones being in every new game.
Let's talk progression and development. At first, your progression will be the talent points you put into boosts like various damage increases, health increases, boosts to gold and item drop rates, and more. In addition to talents, the ships you buy and swap between have multiple slots for upgrades. Eleven, to be precise, improving the crew, the hull, sails, and four slots that give you unique moves to use on your travels. My personal choice of boat is the Brig, giving you a slight increase in damage-dealing potential while retaining speed.
The reason for this is simple. It can be damn boring travelling across the map. One of the special abilities exclusive to the Brig doubles your speed for a period of time, designed to be used to ram an enemy ship in combat. For me, it cuts down travel time a good amount because while there are random encounters to be had within the world, such as ghost ships and a rare form of treasure ship that doesn't belong to one of the two factions, it becomes a bit dull and samey fighting the same ships, avoiding the same oceanic tentacles, and collecting the same flotsam.
Want to know my main problem with King of Seas? Exploration. It's not that there is none; it's that the progress isn't actually logged. You can sail to the other end of the world and back, visiting port after port, visiting a temple with a mystical shaman who can reset your skills in exchange for the soul of a ghost pirate, picking up masses of loot on the way, helping a floating restaurant gather all the fish they require, and still not have anything unlocked on the map.
The only way to see where you've gone and are going? Pay for a piece of map from a cartographer building, one in each grid, which can be a complete and utter pain in the arse to find. Keep the cartographer, feel free, but unlock parts of the map as you sail through them, creating lovely lines on your map, showing where you've been.
The more I write, the more this sounds like I don't like King of Seas. I seem to be pretty negative, even the positives are sounding negative, and the combat will come across the same. So, the combat. While there are tactical aspects, such as the special moves you can use - I like summoning a large tentacle to smash the enemy hull, as well as dropping a large explosive barrel in the water and luring them into it - it does become a bit like a Benny Hill sketch, circling each other like two dogs chasing each other's tails.
That's if you don't want to be a little smarter. I have found that once I got used to raising and lowering sails, adjusting my speed and turning angle, and using islands, other ships, and more to my advantage, combat became a more engaging fare. This was on Captain mode, the earlier two sounding far too easy for me to bother trying. I can't say it's too easy, I've been sunk more times than I care to admit, either due to lapse judgement or being outmanoeuvred by the AI, who has wrecked my speed by targeting my sails - you can primarily target sails, hull or people, using three different ammo types - or through the use of special abilities. So combat is good if you actually play it as you should, rather than just circling the waters and hoping for the best.
This is especially essential when you get later in the game, and you can start conquering ports, bringing them into your pirate empire. The forts with a port are stationary; you need to be on the move to avoid their attacks, which will absolutely wreck your boat. It does unlock another aspect of the game as you start managing your settlements, spread across the open water.
Speaking of water, in a horrible segway, I want to say that the water in King of Seas is pretty damn lovely. In fact, the game is a very aesthetically pleasing fare, offering a colourful and well-designed approach, offering variety in the cities and ports you visit, to ancient ruins, the ships and how they change as their equipment changes, and even the colourful and extravagant character designs.
I'm back now to where I started. I like King of Seas, but I like pirate games. I've had fun with King of Seas, but I've also found myself a little bored of the grind, occupying myself with a second screen and Netflix or some other medium of entertainment. This is an entertaining enough game, one good for dropping in and out in small doses once complete. When the roadmap progresses, there will be even more reasons to come back to it, and it meets any pirate-related urge nicely.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
King of Seas is an engaging enough game, offering good ship-to-ship combat and a generally fun time to play through when it doesn't weigh you down with excessive amounts of grind. If you stick through the grind, this is the sort of game that is more than good enough to drop in and out of, giving you a good outlet to meet your pirate-related urges.
- Naval combat can be very engaging.
- Good role-playing and customisation mechanics.
- Good aesthetic presentation, colourful and vibrant, with audio to match.
- An incredible amount of grind.
- Very little variety in side-missions, which the game forces you to do.
- Exploration is hindered due to the map system.