Remember Skull and Bones, that pirate ship action game unveiled at E3 2017? I do, barely. It was supposed to take everything we love about Assassin’s Creed ship battles and build an entire game around it. Whilst Ubisoft has gone pretty quiet on when and where it currently sits in the development spectrum, 3DClouds has swooped in and made King of Seas, a procedurally generated RPG where you sail the seas in search of treasure, warfare, and the mystery surrounding your father’s death.
I had the chance to play an early build of the game ahead of launch next year, and whilst it feels a tad empty, there’s plenty of room for your adventure to grow. After your father, King Alexander, is murdered, the blame of his death is put squarely on you. The Navy sinks your ship and leaves you for dead. Luckily, a pirate named Captain Morgen rescues you and recruits you to join his buccaneering forces. From there, you are given free reign to fight, trade, and explore as you search for answers.
Although it was limited in what I could play, I got a good feel for what King of Seas has to offer. You are free to select from five different kinds of ship: sloop, brig, flute, frigate, and galleon. Each one has varying degrees of benefits, from additional canons to more agility in the waters, and they all feel different when you’re at the helm. You can customise them through purchases made at the trading ports or treasure you find in the open waters, and new upgrades to your firepower can also be switched in and out to help you on your way.
You have a set number of canons which can be fired from either the left or right side of your ship. There’s a cooldown which means you can’t just fire constantly at enemy ships. You can also equip new weapons such as a flamethrower, and missile engulfed in fire. Having this additional weight in your arsenal makes battles a lot less daunting than when you first start tussling with the Merchant Navy. What makes the gameplay so good when engaging in naval warfare is the tactical elements to how you attack.
You can move through the water faster or slower depending on how many of your sails are up. The more sails, the faster you travel, but it’ll mean your turns won’t be as sharp. The wind direction will also affect your movement, so taking all this into account whilst trying to attack plays into the bigger picture. There are large rocks, dilapidated bridges, and other environmental shielding you can use to hide behind or use to blindside a rival ship.
With canons only being fired from the left and right, staying in front of enemies and turning at the right time is a skill that isn’t easy to master. Some ships may have a higher level than you, and making use of your surroundings and positioning in battle improves the combat in King of Seas tenfold. You also have three gauges that represent your ship’s integrity: the hull, the sails, and the crew. When attacking, you have three different types of cannonball that does damage to each of these gauges, and by damaging each one, you’ll gain additional benefits. For example, if the sails are damaged, it’s harder for your enemies to turn away or sail away, and if the crew is lacking, there’s no-one to fire the canons.
When you’re not escorting ships or hunting down the Merchant Navy in the quests, there’s other things to keep you busy. Sunken ships can be ransacked for treasure and repair kits which rebuild your hull and sails; trading posts can be visited where you can go to the tavern to recruit new crewmates, shop at markets for food and materials, or repair and upgrade your ships. You can visit cartographers who are spread out across the ocean to uncover the map (for a price), and visit islands that have red crosses on them that mark out treasure.
Whilst each playthrough is different, there are times when you are sailing across the ocean and it feels bare. If you don’t take advantage of the cartographer, your map will only show places you’ve visited. Whilst this does allow you to explore secret islands and unmarked locations, there’s still an element of familiarity with each one. Due to my playtime being restricted, I’m sure the full game will feel more engaging, but currently there’s an air of repetition that I wasn’t too fond of. There’s still time before King of Seas comes out, so I hope some of the smaller issues are sorted by then.
You can’t fast travel (as far as I can tell), so some trips take far too long. If an enemy sinks your ship, you have to start from the beginning, which started to grate on me after the third time of losing a fight. I’m looking forward to exploring the trading elements more, as some traders sell items at a lower cost than others, so there are plenty of opportunities for a profit to be made depending on where you visit. Enemy ships seem to be few and far between, and there’s no indication on the map as to where they are. One mission had me searching for Merchant Ships I had to take out, and I spend a long time trying to find any in the vast oceans.
King of Seas has a lot of promise. The battles are filled with plenty of tense moments, and the range of weaponry and tactics involved make them well worth getting involved in. It looks lovely as well, with some great hand drawn animations in the dialogue sections. The music is also impressive, giving off a Game of Thrones vibe as you’re out in the mysterious depths of the seven seas. I’ll definitely revisit it once it comes out next year, as I feel there could be a solid RPG amongst some of the game’s explorative drawbacks.