Nantucket Review – All Mortal Greatness Is But Disease
Nantucket is a game that I’ve been following for a not insignificant length of time. Indeed, it was mentioned or featured in my most anticipated strategy games for 2016, 2017 and now 2018. Fortunately, it won’t have to feature in yet another anticipated list as it has finally seen its release.
Much like Ahab, my long pursuit of Nantucket could result in my downfall. Will I sink, finding myself the next victim of Moby Dick? Will I become the best whaler of the seas, mastering the Atlantic and the Pacific and finally beat the white devil? Only time will tell. Until that time, let’s look at Picaresque Studios new whaling strategy-simulation game, Nantucket.
Far more than just the hunt of Moby Dick, Nantucket has a whole world of its own. You have near complete freedom to choose the path you take. Aside from the main quest that is. Will you completely ignore the hunt for the great white Whale or simply go your own way, hunting and completing other odd jobs?
As you’re sailing around the world that Nantucket offers, you’ll hire and train up other members of your crew, to a maximum of ten extra crew members. These people will have both negative and positive traits that are well worth keeping an eye on and can be extremely useful. For example, should you happen to lose a crew member in a battle with a particularly strong sea-creature, a quick replacement may be essential. Hiring a new person with the open-minded trait increases experience gained through sailing and allows them to get up to par quicker than they otherwise would.
Counter-balancing this we find the negative traits. Some of these can have a huge impact on crew morale or on the resources you carry to maintain the ship. One negative trait, as an example, doubles grog consumption making that particular drunkard a huge drain. You can, fortunately, encounter random events that give a chance to improve or worsen your crew or captain. Fortunately, these events do highlight the percentage chance of particular outcomes.
These crew members, much like the captain, gain levels as their experience rises. Where your captain can unlock skills from all four professions (Hunting, Sailing, Science or Crafting), normal crew members can only focus on one. Within each of these are three separate skill lines, each featuring three skills each – some are also required to unlock particular quarters in the ship.
This essentially means that you have to take careful consideration in the organisation and selection of certain professions for the crew. This is particularly true for later battles within the game. Passive abilities that prevent a hunting boat from being capsized or from the bleeding attribute being added to any crew in a particular hunting boat are some of the most useful in the game. What should be noted is the fact that the number of crew you can have and their levels are capped by the amount of prestige your captain has.
In reality, as is commonplace for any sort of management game, you’re going to be forced into going off-track. The progressing difficulty of the main storyline means that side-quests and hunting are far from optional. The ship you start with may as well be a bathtub, kept afloat only by the plug. Hunting for whales and selling the blubber. Searching for any news of recently lost ships. Delivering cargo from one city to another. There are just a few of the little odd-jobs that you will inevitably find yourself doing the majority of the game. All of these side-jobs are found in a surprisingly well-travelled newspaper.
I will say the commitment to accuracy of such a small thing is commendable as well. Before you look at the jobs section there are headlines that cover real events from the in-game date. For example, Captain Byron discovering the Malden islands (incorrectly called the Maiden islands in-game). These little pieces just add to the setting and atmosphere that the game strives so hard to create and maintain. This is only enhanced by a few sailor songs that seem to play randomly following either an event or battle. Not to mention the song during the end credits.
Nantucket is effectively a game of two parts. The first is the logistical, or management side. Your starting ship is, frankly, abysmal. As are the crew you will be forced to hire at the very beginning. You, as Ishmael, are also woefully unprepared for the adventure ahead of you. The way to remedy this is through the completion of the aforementioned jobs, hunting and other random quests that you find along the way. These reward invaluable experience points and some even reward you with special items that increase your effectiveness either in or out of battle.
Fortunately, a number of side quests follow a story of their own, such as searching for lost treasure or retracing famous expeditions like that of Captain Cook. Reading the story and dialogue does help draw you into the story a little. This is particularly essential as every single quest revolves around one of a handful of things. Either you’re hunting a particular enemy, discovering a new location, finding out what happened to a missing ship (pirates, natives or weather) or delivering cargo.
These quests can end up rewarding you with less than the effort you put into them. Essentially, the best way to earn money is by whaling. At least until you’ve upgraded your ship components and got an even larger ship. This lets you tackle some truly fearsome prey. This brings me to the more compelling but also most infuriating part of the game, combat.
Whenever you enter combat, you’ll have a limited space to select your combatants. On the water, once you’ve got a large enough ship you can have a maximum of three whaling boats with three people each. Land combat or where you’ve been boarded by pirates is a simple three vs three scenario. Your actions in combat, however, are based primarily on the luck of the dice.
At the start of each turn, you effectively roll a dice for each character to see what action they are able to take that turn. Normal moves for the profession that character has taken up a number of spaces with others filled by unlocked abilities or those made available from an equipped item. I’d love to see how the game decides behind the scenes because against overwhelming odds, I seem to drop on blank spots which means my character can’t do anything. Despite this, I can’t help but find it incredibly compelling.
Battles are given an extra layer through weather effects that can aid or hinder you in equal measure. One battle against an incredibly tough group of Whales was made much easier with the weather, for two rounds, negating their special abilities. It can, of course, go against you when one of your crew gets stunned. It adds a level of unpredictability on top of that gained through the way moves are selected.
What also helps is just how proficient the AI seems to be. Calculated attacks can be noted, where an enemy will clearly go for the most effective attack. Nothing feels random about that side of things and makes for some of some intense and challenging battles. These can be incredibly protracted as well, as you use and enemies both use healing abilities to carry on with the fight.
One thing that should be mentioned is that Nantucket is a visually appealing game. On top of the aforementioned songs, everything about the aesthetic design is made to draw you into the world. The hand-drawn style map that you sail on is lovely to behold, particularly when you enable whaling spots and tides. The artwork that comes with cutscenes and multiple choice events are second to none and in a style of their own.
Nantucket is, without a doubt, a strangely compelling game. Sure, the core mechanics are simply grinding to get that next ability or the money for a ship upgrade. It’s a quiet and relaxing game that has moments that can cause you some tension. Nantucket is, simply put, an interesting and fairly unique game. It will, given the opportunity, sink its harpoon into you.
Copy provided by developer. You can purchase the game via Fanatical.
Nantucket is a strangely compelling and addictive game that acts as a follow up to Herman Melville's Moby Dick. While it can be quite repetitive, it's this loop as you develop your ship and crew that lets the game sink its harpoon into you. With a great visual design and some songs made just for the game, alongside the in-game newspaper that sticks true to the in-game date, Nantucket has buckets of atmosphere. I doubt it's a game for everybody, but Moby Dick, Strategy and Simulation fans (you don't have to be all three) will find this a charming game.
- Very interesting story that acts as a fan-made sequel to Moby Dick
- Outstanding aesthetic design with developer-made songs that enhance the atmosphere greatly
- Challenging battles that, while rely on some luck, also reward intelligent choices
- Core gameplay loop is addictive and engrossing as you develop your ship and crew
- The same core gameplay is repetitive and could become tedious for some players
- World feels somewhat empty, with only a handful of ports to enter
- Very limited number of job types to perform