KING OF SEAS
By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on May 26, 2021
Back in December of 2020, I unleashed my inner pirate and took to the seven seas in the Alpha version of a then upcoming game called King of Seas. Now, I wasn't the best sailor around (must have been all that rum), but I did actually enjoy my time aboard my pirate vessel, scouring the waterways and decimating my enemies as I went along. So, fast forward a couple of months and it is finally time for the game's full release. So I once again donned my captain's hat, hoisted my pirate flag and set out to see if it really is the pirate life for me!
You can read my preview for the Alpha version of King of the Seas here. I was only allowed to play for 45 minutes back then, but what I saw was nice. I previewed it on Steam, and had fun. The difficulty was super hard, it showed some funny random encounters and skills and my overall conclusion was that the game peaked my interest in a positive way. King of the seas was supposed to launch in February but got pushed back to May. This mainly because, but also thanks to, a new publishing/ cooperation effort with the British Team17 (still best known for their Worms videogames). After my preview 3DClouds contacted Dumeegamer for my home address, since they wanted to send me a gift package, as a thank you for some feedback. Let's just say the gift package from Italy arrived right before we wanted to publish our review, so this review was not altered in any way, we can't be bribed, har har. well okay, maybe we can be just a little bit, because it's an awesome box. There it was; an amazing 'King of the seas' box, which uses the 'storytelling' artwork which I loved (a lot of Zelda Wind Waker vibes), there is a huge pirate flag with the King of the seas logo and icon on it, a cool letter from Frencesco Bruschi (founder of 3DClouds) and, last but not least, an actual talking parrot, who my kids absolutely love. We called him captain Flint and he is now part of our family!
But, all pirate goodies aside, let' see if I am still the worst pirate to ever sail the seven seas, shall we? Aye Aye! The beginning of the game is still pretty much like I remembered. You pick one of two royal siblings (boy or girl) and start your sea-faring adventure. Some awful stuff happens involving pirates, voodoo magic and the proverbial sleeping with the fishes. You end up in the care of the renowned pirate captain D. Morgen. The rest of the story is hard to explain without spoiling everything. So, I am going to try and write a spoiler free story summary: 'pirate har har, boat whoosh whoosh, cannons boom boom, ghost ships oeoeoeoeoe, voodoo magic whoosh whoosh, betrayal, pillaging and conquering ports, defeating pirate captains of old and finding treasure, lots of treasure or, like what we call it in action RPGs, loot! See, you can tell a story without spoiling everything!
Instead of focusing on story, it may be best if I go directly to the technical review of my Nintendo Switch playthrough, before explaining all the different gameplay elements the game throws at you. The Nintendo Switch game looks similar like I remembered from my alpha playthrough on PC. I previewed the game on an old gaming PC. But what I have seen from high-end rigs or PS4 screenshots, the graphics on the Nintendo Switch are somewhat less detailed. Now, this did not hinder me being a pirate for even the tiniest bit, me hearties! Also, the Switch version does "suffer" from a bit of lagging from time to time, which doesn't care if you play handheld or docked. I mostly noticed it happening when a lot of effects, like fire, are happening together on the screen. Again, to me it wasn't too big of a nuisance but if you are a tech freak and hate even the slightest bit of stutter or less-than-perfect quality graphics, maybe it is best to buy the game on a high-end PC, PS4 or Xbox. Now, with that out of the way, I can highly recommend everyone else buying King of Seas on the Switch, since the Switch's portability suits this game like a glove. Playing in short bursts, anywhere you like (weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen!), as well as being able to put the console in sleep mode and pick up right where you left off later on, are great extras on the Switch.
The sound effects are good and complement the look and feel of the game. When you operate a bigger ship with lots of cannons and you attack another vessel, the most satisfying sound is of all your cannons 'fire in the hole' at the same time! The music is great, the storms sound great; I only wish there was a bit more variety in music. There are like 4 different tunes and that is it, one for fighting, one for story bits, one when you leave a port for your adventure and one for storms and volcanoes. The soundtrack is good; style-wise, it's reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean, but I only wished they used it a bit more. This might be a design choice, since they really want you to be immersed in sailing, so most of the times you hear water (waves and stuff) and your surroundings. The story skits, where you see avatars talking to each other looked better than I remembered. I am still not the biggest fan of the art direction for the avatars. Some of them do look great, like captain Bushybeard. There is no voice acting, except for a few story bits during which a narrator reads the story.
King of Seas is a single-player action RPG. You can choose between four difficulties this time (please, for the love of god, do not be a try-hard and start with the higher difficulties. The game itself is still hard, and can be ruthless to newcomers). I started with the second one, normal. And I believe they listened to my feedback for the alpha since the start is a lot easier. It is near impossible to die now in the tutorial, the forts' cannons at the pirate kingdom destroyed the tutorial enemy before I could reach it. What did you expect, soldier ship? That pirates would play fair? Haha! During my playthrough I had numerous sleepovers with the fishes, if you know what I mean, so normal difficulty is still a bit challenging. If you don't like to die so much, maybe use the lowest difficulty. The higher difficulties mean you must return to your wreckage if you die, in order to reclaim all your stuff. Since there is no fast travel option in this game (you restart at the last visited 'pirate-port', more about this later), if you die on the other side of the map, prepare to navigate the world a lot. Luckily, there are skills to help you get around the map a bit quicker, all neatly tucked away in a cool skill tree.
The skill tree is awesome, it adds a lot of choice in how you play. If you just want to explore, you stick to Navigation skills, if you want to use only cannons stick to Battle, and if you like to use Voodoo magic (like I did) you dump every skill point you get in Voodoo tier. I put a few points in navigation for some crucial extra speed and steering speed, which is essential if you want to stay alive. But the majority I spend on self-healing, cooldown reduction and stuff like that. This brings me to spells, yes, the 'shark attack' voodoo spell is still there, and they tuned it in a way it is much easier to connect to a target. You launch a shark from your boat, and it rushes forward like a homing torpedo until it hits the enemy ship. The enemy ship is than engulfed in shark-infested-waters and takes continuous damage. This attack can be blocked by obstacles or if you are in a quick boat, dodged. Still, like in real life, boats do not accelerate like a Porsche, so if a boat is stuck or steering, it is an easy target for spells like these. I say 'like these' because boy, are you in for a treat! There are so many spells for you to collect. You can get a 'flammenwerfer', a fireball from hell, sharks, nitro boost, ghostly powers, voodoo beams (like Kamehameha), poison cloud, soul eater miasma, do I need to continue, or do you get my point?! You can equip 4 spells at a time, three general ones and one exclusive to the type of boat you are using. There are five boats to choose from. You start with the smallest and must spend your hard earned gold to unlock the bigger ones.
You earn this gold by pirating or trading resources. And the bigger the boat, the better things get. True, it does become slower, but it has more space (to carry goods) and more cannons! Like the huge Galleon, which was my favourite (most guns and awesome exclusive spells). Equipment and loot are important in this game. You can equip a new deck, cabin, sails, bow, crew, cannons, cannonballs and, like I said, 4 different spells. Each spell or equipment can level up and goes up in rarity from grey to green to blue to purple to gold. The same goes for loot, which scales with your own level. The rare loot is worth quite a lot of gold, so do not hang on to it, sell it once it gets old. But also remember each boat has its own equipment. So, if you want to keep every boat ready, you will need five of each. Better spells most of the times deal more damage, cooldown, or duration. Your ship also has stats, there is diplomacy (trading) sail, boat and crew life, cargo, and crew space. A bit of criticism is that you cannot really get an explanation when browsing your boat of what a certain statistic does, like additional crit or diplomacy.
Gameplay consists of exploring the ocean and expanding your map. You need to find weather stations to visit cartographers to buy additional maps. This awakened the completist in me and it took me quite some time to find them all, but once you have the entire map it gives a lot of satisfaction and of course a nice trophy (the switch game also has trophy's in-game!). Each map tile is different and most have a port. This port can be one of three factions (pirates, commerce, or navy). You start your game from the only pirate port: the Eagle's Den with Captain D. Morgen. From here you try to find out what happened at the beginning, uncover a sinister plot, which eventually leads to you expanding your pirate kingdom. The story starts slow, but really opens up in the end. I am in the endgame now, during which I can challenge the final boss, but I am still busy conquering ports and (tiny spoiler) defeating pirate captains of old in order to enlist them in my crew. You conquer ports by defeating its fort. Once it is down, the port changes to 'the pirate flag'. Now you can upgrade the port, expanding its military strength, commerce (better store inventory and more gold per month), or population (recruit more pirates to your crew). Enemy navy ships might attack your ports, and your pirate ships attack enemy ports. You even get a signal when this happens, and you could go there to help out or easily conquer a new port. If you ignore these signals, not too much can go wrong, eventually I guess you could lose ports again. But since you will be swimming in gold by the time you unlock this, just upgrade the military strength of each port you conquer. There is so much to do once you reach the endgame. The slow pace and start of the game might be a downside for some people, but I liked it. My advice is to stick with it since the end is really rewarding.
The main quest has a good length, the side-quests can get a bit repetitive (fetch x, escort ship to y, destroy ship z), but do reward nicely. There is also a floating ship restaurant where you can get side-quests to get fishing rods. The fish that can be caught can also be sold. Everywhere you sail, you'll come across tiny islands. If you see something shiny, its treasure! You will also find rubies, medicine, wood, and other stuff which you can trade in ports for golds. Every port has different things they value, if you become a pro trader you could earn a lot of gold. I tend to shoot my cannons more than trade stuff. There are also treasure maps for you to find and once you decipher where the treasure is, go get it. Of course, a red X marks the spot. And even though a pirate game might not be the best game to get rated, it amazed me how kid friendly the game was. Since violence is only ship to ship, my kids loved watching me play. Even though my daughter was only screaming fireworks, fireworks daddy! (there is a fireworks spell which damages enemy sails all around you). My son loves Bowser and lava, so once I found an actual volcano, he wanted me to sail in circles around it, watching it erupt. As cool as this was, it loses some awesomeness after 30 minutes sailing around it. But anything for those extra daddy points I guess, haha. Just don't let mommy find out I let you watch my pirate-game right, or else it's time for me to walk the plank! Or maybe there won't be time for that since dead men tell no tales (yes, my wife can be scary at times).
I was not a direct fan after playing the alpha, but it did show me a glimpse of what could be a good action RPG. But blimey! I must say they managed to fix every single "complaint" I had with the game. The game is priced at only €25,- on the Nintendo e-shop, and for this price I must say it is a lot of bang for your doubloons. After 30+ hours sailing the seven seas, I have completed the entire map, beat almost all pirate captains, got a well-equipped boat, and could finish the game if I wanted to. But I do not want the game to end, so I am going to keep sailing for a bit, conquering ports, battling enemy ships, and earning me some more gold! So, all hands on deck! Ahoy matey! Time for me to prepare for a challenge on the higher difficulty settings.