King of Seas is a game that lets you be a pirate, and not in the modern digital piracy sense of the term. No, this game hands you a ship, a crew, and a horizon to sail at, stopping off to plunder a few ships on the way. It’s a lot like Sid Meier’s Pirates!, but without all the slightly weird mini-games about dancing with governor’s daughters. Instead, it gives you a procedural caribbean paradise to have your way with, a loot system to improve your ships with, and also voodoo magic. Yes, voodoo.
In fairness, given the chance, you might look down on dancing with a governor’s daughter, since your character is either the son or daughter of a king at the start of the game. You head off on your first voyage, but are framed for a heinous crime while you are away, some royal ships sending you to a watery grave. At least, that’s their intention. Some passing pirates save you and generously give you a ship so you can find out what happened. Also, you’ll do some piracy. The story isn’t exactly captivating, not least because of the basic presentation, but the writing can be mildly amusing. I still found myself skipping through the dialogue after a while.
Thankfully the actual seafaring is better. There’s a selection of ships available to buy once you’ve earned enough gold, plenty of towns to trade with if you want something a little less risky to do, and you can even do some fishing if you’re after something with basically no risk.
Combat is pretty fun once you’ve improved your ship a little. You have to carefully manoeuvre your ship to avoid incoming fire, shifting between the three speeds that open and close your sails to position yourself and unleash a broadside of your own cannons. You’ll have to watch your trio of health bars – one for your sails, crew, and hull, which affect your manoeuvrability and speed, cannon and ability cooldowns and whether or not you’ve already sunk. Each of these can be attacked directly with different ammo types.
Thankfully, you have more than just your skill and cannons to defend yourself (or attack innocent merchants), as you also have a bunch of abilities to use. There are four slots to fill up with magical abilities that range from what is basically a flamethrower, through to shooting a big voodoo laser (yes, really), to releasing a kraken tentacle to hit an enemy ship. Defence-minded players can summon seagulls to surround your ship and reduce damage, briefly turn ethereal so attacks pass through you and you speed up, or shroud an enemy in darkness so they can’t see you. Then there’s things like “pee on those cannons” which reduces the cooldown on your cannons. These are a lot of fun, adding some complexity to the combat.
The loot system lets you customise different parts of your ship with items that you find or buy, and while it works, it’s not terribly exciting when you’re not finding new abilities. You’ll flog a lot of what you find, to turn a quick buck.
Speaking of which, the trading in King of Seas is similarly unexciting. Each town has a single item in surplus that’s sold on the cheap, and a deficit of another with a ramped up price. It’s standard stuff, and just a little too simplistic. It’s not helped by the game’s UI, which takes too long to let you sell your cargo (10 seconds for a full 100 tonnes, to be exact).
Other parts of the game are also quick clunky. The control for the map are fiddly, you need to zoom in to find towns, but it seems to stop making things bigger about half way, and your map viewpoint doesn’t automatically centre to you when opening it. More tedious is that filling in the map needs you to find cartographers in each section and buy a section from them. The islands lack distinctive landmarks and seem quite samey after an hour or gameplay.
That said, King of Seas’ biggest issue is that it locks content behind a story that really isn’t interesting. It takes an hour or two to be able to buy a better ship, and the ship the mission mandates you purchase is a flute, which has six cannons and is ideal for the very ordinary trading. It felt like a punishment to have to start saving up all over again to buy a ship I actually wanted. In fact, you spend a lot of time raising obscene amounts of money before you can progress in the story, and in turn unlock new features like fishing and capturing settlements. Prepare for the grind.
There will be a lot of travelling to objectives that are needlessly far apart, so you can have a six line conversation and do it all again. It’s feels like too little content being stretched out across the sea’s islands. Engaging in piracy on the way helps lift some boredom, but when it’s basically all you can do the combat gets stale as well. Strangely, the quickest way to get back to your base is by letting yourself die, as you’re returned to your base on respawn with no apparent punishment.
What does help with these long commutes is that the game is at least very pretty (so long as you don’t zoom all the way in). It’s colourful and bright and the reflections on the water when your boat is docked in a settlement are oddly high quality. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s pleasant to look out outside of menus and cutscenes, and feels like it could have been more ambitious and gone full 3D instead of retaining a top-down camera angle.