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King of Seas brings back old-school tropes in both good and bad
★★★ | It's arr-right
(KING OF SEAS is out now. Distributor provided review code.)
I’ve played KING OF SEAS now twice. The first time just before release and the second after the first big PC tech update in late June. With some major improvements finally available, it’s time to dive into developer 3DClouds’ pirate adventure and see if it sinks or swims.
Good sea legs
The first thing that strikes me about KING OF SEAS is how much it reminds me of OVERBOARD! For those too young to remember, OVERBOARD! is a PlayStation 1 classic isometric pirate game where you took to the high seas to reclaim glory and fight epic battles with your nautical home.
KING OF SEAS isn’t a direct continuation of that inspired bit of madness, and it shares more DNA with Sid Meyer’s PIRATES, also an aging classic. But if you’re going to crib from someone, better do it from the best. And KING OF SEAS uses the familiar elements well.
You play as the offspring of a wealthy mayor somewhere in the Caribbean. As the story begins, you celebrate your birthday by taking control of your very first vessel on a routine run to a local port. Naturally, tragedy unfolds, and you quickly find yourself embroiled in a dastardly plot, where the stakes are nothing less than liberty itself.
While an action RPG in theory, I found KING OF SEAS surprisingly light on the story, even if the characters themselves are fantastic across the board. Most of it is summarized in a single cutscene, and I never felt the burning desire to see anything to the end for the plot alone. In addition, much of the dynamic and procedurally generated world feels surprisingly, ahem, shallow. Ports are just menus; most encounters are nothing more than cutout characters with a few lines of dialog. There’s lots to explore, but not much to do.
Luckily the navigation system, combat, and open seas are a saving grace. They’re not new or innovative, and if you’ve played SEA OF THIEVES, you’ll get a pretty good grasp of the particulars within minutes. But KING OF SEAS is fun, and that’s what counts.
You start with a small skiff, which is easily bullied around by larger vessels in the waters, but it’s not too long before you can upgrade to bigger and better ships. The compass lets you know which way the wind is blowing, and depending on how many sails you open, the faster your boat soars along the waves.
Swashing the buckle
Combat comes equipped with a skills system with around twenty different feats to choose from. These affect everything from speed to damage, which may require some tinkering to find combos that work for you. More experienced players will find ways to take down larger vessels right from the start with some sneaky min-maxing.
Even better, the dynamic world can play to both your advantage and disadvantage, depending on the situation. The sea battles are terrific fun, made even more so by an approaching storm, where you can try to lose your opponent’s boat or sink them entirely if you’re brave enough. An early encounter with some brigands turned epic very quickly when I found myself fighting three ships in a colossal storm, surrounded by shallows. It’s moments like those that make KING OF SEAS such unexpected fun.
There’s also a difficulty selection, which promises better loot and multipliers the higher the challenge. But I found myself enjoying the lower levels simply for the wish-fulfillment they provide. It’s always a thrill to play a badass pirate, and on that front, KING OF SEAS delivers in spades.
Now, the reason I played KING OF SEAS twice is that some annoying technical difficulties marred my first time in early June. Before the latest patch, which arrived just days ago, the PC version didn’t allow for full keybinding, was locked to 60fps, and experienced numerous crashes right from the start. This is why I’m so happy that the latest Tech Update fixed most, if not all, of my issues. Unfortunately, keyboard and mouse players are still going to have a bad time, as support for it is limited, but 3DClouds says full support is on the way.
But in a marketplace where there’s suddenly an overabundance of pirate games, is KING OF SEAS worth your time? I’d argue that yes, it is. Mostly because it’s not trying to compete with the high-budget fare of SEA OF THIEVES or whatever Ubisoft has delayed by another year. Instead, KING OF SEAS is a budget title, and that comes with the same caveats all others like it do.
It’s also a beautiful title, one that deserves a closer look simply for the aesthetics. I enjoyed my time exploring the world because KING OF SEAS is so pleasant to spend time with. The folksy music combined with the gentle lull of waves and seagull cries is drenched with atmosphere. Even if the content is somewhat disappointing, the presentation is brilliant.
So if you’re willing to overlook some technical issues and don’t mind a game with more ambition than it can deliver, KING OF SEAS offers a rollicking good time for a few hours. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to finish all the sidequests, but I don’t look back on my weeks with the game as a negative. It serves a very particular purpose – letting you play out your pirate fantasies – and, for the most part, does it perfectly well.