Everywhere we look nowadays, we’re surrounded by MOBAs. Whether on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or console, there’s a growing selection, all gunning for just a thin slice of what has become an incredibly lucrative market. However, given how established the core pillars of this genre are, there’s very little room for developers to experiment while still ensuring their game catches on.
The to enter the ring is Pirates: Treasure Hunters, currently free to download and exclusively on PlayStation 4. Now, there’s no prizes for guessing what gimmick this latest game from Virtual Toys has conjured up. That’s right, the Spanish indie has kitted out its MOBA with a spread of swashbuckling heroes, tropical locales, and more gold coins than you can swing a cutlass at.
To say that MOBAs simply don’t work on consoles is, quite frankly, a lie. Although the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have yet to create massive communities surrounding these games, there has still been some success. Games like Paragon and SMITE have helped to champion the cause, though Pirates doesn’t quite boast the same pedigree.
That’s not to say the key ingredient for a successful MOBA is high-budget, AAA development. On the contrary, we’ve seen plenty of expensive MOBAs fizzle and go under, sometimes dragging studios down with them. No, whether or not a game can thrive and survive in this highly competitive genre hinges on a sound translation of its design cornerstones, fair monetisation, and an alluring bag of gimmicks.
At a glance, Pirates manages to tick most of these boxes and although its angled camera gives it the appearance of a traditional MOBA (think League of Legends, Dota 2), Treasure Hunters boasts some surprisingly bold changes to the core formula.
Before we get into those, it’s worth going over a few fundamentals. As a free-to-play title, you can expect a fairly standardised approach to microtransactions here with real money being exchanged for premium currency. In turn, this is spent on permanently unlocking heroes alongside skins and other, largely cosmetic add-ons. One undesirable comparison that can be made with the top end of the market here is pricing. Buying credits in bulk will yield a nice discount, but pricing characters at more than a fiver each is a bit much.
Of course, the most important overlap with other MOBAs stems from map design. Although more arenas are promised in future content updates, the current stock adheres to principles found throughout the genre. Strictly speaking, there are no lanes in Pirates, but maps are still focused around a handful of tower-like structures. With no AI-controlled minions to shepherd, players must team up and knock down these defences, eventually opening a path to the enemy base. However, even here, Virtual Toys demonstrates some nuance in its design. For players to even get within range of their opponent’s final fortress, one or two of them will need to operate a winch elsewhere on the map, allowing their teammates to avoid the surrounding lava pit.
Casting an eye over the game’s ragtag crew of outlaws and privateers, there’s some diversity at play, despite many borrowing traits from long-established MOBA archetypes. Each one comes tagged with four unique abilities alongside two primary attacks – one ranged, one melee. Together, they afford every Hunter a decent amount of versatility on the battlefield.
As matches progress and experience meters begin to fill, upgrade points can be spent to change core attributes such as health, defence, and the rank of individual powers. Some builds will no doubt work better than others, but at least players don’t have to agonise over an item shop as is common in most MOBAs.
Another element missing from Pirates: Treasure Hunters is the jungle, which is quite surprising given the game’s exotic backdrops. Usually, this no man’s land provides players with a risky but tempting source of experience for cutting down powerful neutral mobs. However, Virtual Toys has geared the action more towards player-versus-player team fights, emphasising this approach with some rather unconventional design choices.
These are mostly centred around traversal. For instance, the game currently has three flavours of vehicle, suited for both land and sea, allowing players to quickly navigate from point to point. What’s more, these are equipped with mounted miniguns and cannons, creating a variety of drive-by opportunities. A galleon will also appear from time to time and, if used effectively, can wreak havoc upon the opposing team. Another traversal technique also worth pointing out is the grappling hook. There are a handful of grapple points strewn across each map, enabling convenient ways to either escape or pursue your foes.
It may have some well-implemented ideas though, in practice, they don’t make for a particularly enjoyable MOBA experience. If played at higher level with users who understand its various systems and mechanics, there’s definitely some fun to be had, but when locking horns with randoms in public games, it can become a chaotic, frustrating mess.
Most of these issues can be levelled against the entire genre and not just Pirates, mind you. Having your team crippled by disconnected heroes and rage quitters can straight up ruin an entire match, as can playing alongside those who simply can’t grasp the complexities of a MOBA.
It’s still early days for Pirates: Treasure Hunters. Getting off the ground and building a community is hardest stage for any MOBA, but while there’s a number of ways in which it tries to break the mold, a pattern of common missteps overcloud the game’s prospects of a bright future.
Version Tested: PS4