It seems games about boat traversal are fairly rare nowadays. Ubisoft tend to touch on it with their yearly releases (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla being the latest) and most big games have some form of nautical movement, but they rarely serve as a selling point of the game itself. King of Seas is one such project that aims to change this. In my short time with it, there were certainly some interesting ideas, but it doesn’t feel quite cohesive just yet. It seems it’ll likely be all hands on deck for a while or we could end up with a sinking ship.
After picking your difficulty and character, you are shown snippets of a story. The tale in King of Seas is pretty mediocre. It certainly feels more like a means to an end to get to the game than a focus itself. The world feels rather dry and the books and characters you stumble upon don’t feel developed. “The story began in the middle of the ocean many years ago, within the crystal clear waters and green archipelagos”. This line greets you first in the game and just feels bog-standard. It tells a tale of lawless pirates, shamans and other magical entities and their battles with Navy sailors. Eventually, the Navy prevailed, eliminating pirates and magic from the seas. The Navy erected a fortress strong enough to keep themselves protected and the remaining pirates fled to the rest of the seas.
You play the descendant of a royal Navy bloodline after taking control of their very first ship. You take the ship and complete your first quest by moving from the fortress to a nearby port with a shipment of gunpowder. After doing so, this will be considered your coming of age ceremony and you can become a real man, or whatever the Navy do in this world. Movement controls work reasonably fine with forward making you go quicker, back making you go slower, and the two sides allowing you to make turns. There’s not much more nuance to movement: although there is an arrow showing the winds and this can make you go quicker, it went mostly unnoticed in my time with it. There isn’t an on-screen map to show your way but there is one you can open up, effectively pausing the game. There seems to be little to master in general movement and my first 30 seconds felt rather similar to my first hour.
As you arrive at your location, your Royal fortress is ambushed with voodoo magic and you are blamed for causing it. You are attacked, left stranded and picked up by pirates – this signals the start of your new life. The story moves forward fine but feels a little forced. You just so happen to get rescued and you are caught on the seas despite having no real way of communicating where you could be. It sets up the sea as some unruly and deadly force controlled by pirates yet it doesn’t really back this up. It feels like King of Seas tells you the stakes are high but doesn’t actually raise them itself.
Your role as a pirate itself is actually very intriguing, and could do with expanding to make a real impression. You acquire the ability to shoot out from the sides of your hull and this can be used on any ship or town. Doing so with witnesses will flag you as the devious pirate you are – doing so without witnesses gives you plenty of rewards. I like this system of really being a scoundrel, fighting tooth and claw to clear your name and piece together what has happened. Unfortunately, not all of its systems are all that interesting. For instance, King of Seas has a trading system that doesn’t feel very deep; one place sells for X amount, another might not – move back and forth and repeat. This is mostly unneeded as you can find materials floating in the ocean at random intervals that often reward you more than trading will.
This level of reward is heightened with how easy combat is. Boats often get stuck pathfinding and turn around to go a much longer route to you. You can plan this out to hit them once, wait for them to come back and then hit them again. It also has a rudimentary levelling system where doing most things grants you exp, but this too can be exploited – just wander around collecting floating pieces in the ocean to boost those levels up. Unfortunately, King of Seas just feels a little barebones though it is still just a preview title, so this is something that can certainly be fixed. The idea of what it is trying to achieve is great, but currently the payoff is not.
It seems gamers have been clamouring for decent pirate games for a very long time – This was amplified with the likes of the pretty great Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag and the ever-growing Sea of Thieves. With Black Flag successor Skull and Bones seemingly entirely absent, something has to step in. Taking more than a little inspiration from the classic Sid Meier’s Pirates!, King of Seas currently feels just a little underwhelming. Hopefully, with plenty of time ahead of the development team, this will be a worthy treasure to hunt down.
Huge thanks go out to 3DClouds for giving us access to King of Seas on PC via Steam for preview purposes. You’ll find the game eventually releasing on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch in 2021. We’ll follow this with a full review on Xbox as soon as that launch occurs.