Piracy has been a huge thing in the gaming industry ever since the creation of the floppy drive; however this particular Age of Pirates takes place long before the piracy we know of today. In this day and age of 3D engines and high resolution textures, actual pirate games are not that common. The first real taste of life on the high seas was with Sid Meier’s Pirates! which turned out to be a Game of the Year candidate for it’s solid gameplay and uncommon charm. Though Pirates! was a lot of fun, you never got that close to the battle, or it got too close and didn’t capture the entire spectrum of the battle. You never really saw groups of war ships battling, and boarding an enemy ship consisted of ramming at full speed and dueling with the captain, not a full battle or a realistic boarding. Age of Pirates expands on this by bringing your view closer to your very detailed ships, having multiple ship battles, a full boarding party with you trying to take an enemy ship, or ports and cities where you can run around in third person view. It attempts to involve you in a more hands-on role, bringing you closer to the age of pirates.
Graphically the game is decidedly average. Ports and towns seem pretty lifeless; though they are populated by a variety of NPCs, the NPCs are completely static in how they act. All the towns feel at least somewhat unique, the buildings and environment being detailed to a certain degree. However, you’ll never stop at any time to enjoy the busy city life, because there is none. But if even if the ports and towns were bustling with activity, the average models and poor animation of the NPCs isn’t much to look at. Once you get on the ship’s deck (which is only during battles), things are a bit better, however the character models are fairly bland and character animation is even worse. Walking around (or doing battle) with your character really doesn’t offer very good visuals, from any perspective.
Once you get out to sea, things start sailing smoother. A journey through the sea, especially in the zoomed in camera, is graphically far superior than your on land experience. Right off the bat you’ll notice that the water looks great, and the sea acts like you’d expect it to. The ships themselves look great and they seem both detailed and realistic. During the day, you can really appreciate how authentic your ship is looking, when your sails get caught in the wind, with the pleasant colors of the Caribbean surrounding you. During the night, the lanterns decked across the ship provide a calm ambiance that is actually pretty exceptional. During storms, however, the sea is turns wicked, tossing and turning like you’ve only seen in movies, with lightning coming down and the waves tossing your ship around like a child splashing with his toys in the bathtub. However, the moment is kind of ruined when you end up dodging these ugly tornadoes, which apparently are quite common and are included with every big storm in the Caribbean.
The sound quality isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty good. What it lacks is variety, but more importantly it lacks voice overs. The in-game dialog is fairly limited, and when talking to NPCs on ports you get a lot of the same text, even though they don’t speak. This is fairly annoying, as for example with Morrowind it never peeved me there wasn’t unique dialog for everything, because of the sheer amount of text conversations. However, in this case that is not so, as you quickly see repetition in the NPC’s “text”, and thus the lack of voice becomes ever more apparent. The in-town ambiance is also fairly bad, as you don’t hear what you expect to hear. Once you get to the sea, however, things sail a little smoother. You don’t hear a lot of sounds, but out in the sea it’s realistic and not distracting. Sound isn’t bad, there just isn’t a whole lot of it.
So I need to figure out how to the open this door in front of me. But wait – what button do I press? Finding the action key is a trick it itself, and quickly you come to realize there is in fact 3 separate keys for actions – F3, Spacebar, and Enter. F3 is “Quick Action”, Enter is “Action Menu”, and Spacebar is generally “Default Action”. To walk around, you use the WASD keys, whereas to navigate menus you generally use the arrow keys. Yes, it’s confusing to me as well. You battle with the controls for a bit, but eventually get used to them. But in my mind, any game that requires you to “get used to the controls” has a bad scheme. That being said, you can customize the controls, so you can try to think of a more logical presentation of the keys for yourself.
The actual control of the camera and the movement of your ship on the sea is pretty good, and you don’t get any problems trying to navigate or use the Global Map or the zoomed-in version of your ship’s movement. Where the camera and movement do get sketchy is using your in-game character to navigate towns or in battle, the camera acts a lot more wonky and it is a bit harder to control. What is especially goofy is when you are walking around, though there is a strafe key you cannot strafe unless you are running forwards, in which case you run in a sort of diagonal. This sort of thing blunder controlling your character somewhat of a pain.
The first thing the game does when you press on “New Game” is welcome you with a huge, comprehensive configuration screen on how to setup your first game – you’ve got customizations on difficulty, encounters, battle length, and many other features. While it may seem nice to be allowed to tweak and customize your game to a large extent, you’ve never actually played the game at that point, so you have no idea what to select. Oh well, you can’t mess up too badly, right? It’d be nice to go back in and change those settings later on, but unfortunately once you start you’re stuck with what you have. This is the first of many confusing steps you start out with in this game, as learning curve seems to be something that was overlooked. When you’re sailing on the high seas, apparently a comprehensive tutorial is for those land lubbers.
Once you get your sea legs, things start making more sense and you start earning a pretty penny off trade, transport, piracy, and other means in the Caribbean. You soon start making a good profit and learn the landscape of the islands, but never do you get a sense of exploration. Though the towns and ports look different, they all function the same, so you never really find anything new or of interest once you start off. You’ll quickly find out earn a profit from a variety of things from piracy, to trading goods from ports, transporting cargo or people, escorting merchants, or even capturing slaves. You end up doing a lot of these missions, gaining experience and money to upgrade your own ship, get a larger crew, and maybe start investing in a whole fleet. After you run a few missions and the gold starts mounting up, you begin to itch for a bit more excitement. Early on you can’t really battle much, but eventually you will earn enough money to start investing more in battle.
You soon come to realize that a sea battle just isn’t that exciting. You can lob cannon fire at each other for 5 minutes and still have no idea when it will end. So taking out an enemy ship with your cannons is pretty much a waste of time, but boarding a ship isn’t. If you’ve trained up a decent crew, and have a few fighters along side you, capturing ships by boarding is actually fairly fun. Ship battles turn more into “chase down an enemy ship so I can board him” battles, but don’t be fooled into thinking that doesn’t provide a challenge. Once you get on their ship, it’s fairly straight forward. There’s a bunch of guys on your side, and a bunch of guys on their side. Kill them, and then you proceed to take out their captain. Nothing innovative or exciting with the swordplay, it’s all very straightforward; you get a few different types of melee attacks, you can use a pistol, and you can block and dodge. It’s far more rewarding then any ship-to-ship battle, due to the fact that that you get to the ship, which you can use to plunder it’s goods, swap out ships, or under the right circumstances add the ship to your fleet.
Soon you give up on trying to battle ships with cannons, and instead just try to close ground between your ships as quickly as possible. Balance that off with a variety of missions and your crew constantly demanding a paycheck, you end up being pretty busy. You can set your own goals; you may want a lot of cash, or you may want a really good fighter crew, or you may want to get a giant fleet. As you set your goals and accomplish them, the somewhat open-ended nature of the game makes doing this a solid experience. You earn money, you get experience, you assign skills and special abilities, you buy items, and you get a fair amount of ways to customize and expand on your ships, on your crew, and the overall gameplay is impacted by your decisions, which I enjoy in a game. As you continue on, you start to get rewarded more and more for your efforts: a larger fleet, a better crew, more experience, more money, a bigger ship, and eventually you can even start capturing towns. To gain a stronger presence in the game is rewarding, and it does make it worth it.
The game is quite customizable and offers a fair bit of variety. Its unique combination of Action and RPG content makes it fairly unique, and it has a pretty interesting level system. The level system is straight-forward – every level you can assign yourself another skill point; what makes it different is the fact you have multiple officers that also have the same leveling system, and your skill is as strong as the best officers skill – so having a diverse crew is a must for being totally efficient. Also, there are a lot of features in the game, almost getting close to GTA or Oblivion with side “tasks”. You can capture slaves from enemy ships, raid ports, capture towns, raid ships, destroy forts, create a fleet of your own ships, trade for maximum profit, pick on convoys for cash, complete government missions, escort trade ships, provide transportation for a fee, work for traders carrying cargo around, and more. The thing is, it gets to the point where you can do a lot of things, but not many of them are really that rewarding or creative.
Where it may be lacking is initial value. It contains StarForce protection, which takes off immediate points on any GamingTrend review. It also contains a few unforgivable bugs that prevent the game from finishing, and also crashes to desktop fairly frequently, which is a constant source of frustration. The documentation included with the game does seem to gloss over some items. Take slaves for example, I scoured the manual with no mention of slavery, and yet I have 2 missions in my logbook looking for 100’s of slaves. Even though I found out how to take them by searching online, I was unable ever to get any ships to surrender to me, again because it wasn’t documented on how to do that. That said, despite them missing a few things in documentation, it was pretty comprehensive, but perhaps just not comprehensive enough, as there is an awful lot of different things to do.
Multiplayer is a painful and completely frustrating experience. Just stick to single player swash-buckling unless you really feel the need to go online with a ship… but the ship battles are so long, dragged out, and uneventful. Ship-to-ship battles are really what this game is all about, but sadly it’s also the worst part of the game.
The game has it ups and downs. The game itself is a fairly rewarding experience, as you continue in your various quests and missions you gain money, experience, and other things that directly relate your crew, ships, and more. As you progress, the game becomes rewarding as you do a better job. However, the gameplay itself is lacking, whether you walking on land, sailing a ship, or battling in any form, you aren’t really battling because the gameplay itself is fun or interesting, you’re playing to continue the experience of expanding your goals and reaping the rewards after it. Technically, Age of Pirates has very average sound and graphics; as such it is hard to become immersed in the game. If you’re looking for a fairly open-ended gameplay experience, with good rewards and a lot of customizations, this game could be right for you. However, the gameplay is very shallow, you run into a plethora of bugs and/or crashes, and you become frustrated a lot of the time. That said, if you’re able to ride out the rough seas, there is treasure to be had, even if it’s just a little.