After 4 hours with Pirates of Black Cove, I have a solid idea of what to expect from the sandbox high seas tale. The recent Paradox release combines elements of both RTS and RPGs with a lighthearted pirate world, an attractive concept. The story and world present a cartoon-styled, comedic take on the 18th century pirate setting. You play the role of a pirate captain in command of your own vessel and crew. The humor is surprisingly good, and I'm rather fond of some of the NPC and unit art design. It remains to be seen, but Pirates of Black Cove might lack depth. The world seems a bit sparse of things to do.
The game revolves around the RPG-like quest system, where you find missions then return to a stronghold to regroup and upgrade. Venturing out to sea involves navigating towards mission locations or just exploring the oceans and picking fights with other ships. Sinking another ship results in gold, items, or ship blueprints for building new ships. It will also play into your relationship with the colonial nations or other factions you've ticked off. The world map is made up of colonies, small port towns, and your pirate stronghold. The map is a fair size, but it is large enough to do some exploring.
However, the game isn't quite as non-linear exploration-wise as I had hoped. Sailing around picking up items becomes redundant, quickly. Landing at other ports will simply get you attacked, not much more--unless you're doing a quest. It would be interesting if you could take control of the other colonies after killing off their troops.
Inside the Pirate Stronghold are various buildings that you can right click on. The shipbuilder will build you a new ships from blueprints you get by defeating enemy ships at sea or by exploring. He can also repair your existing ship, or upgrade it with new weapons. Each ship has its own unique attributes made up of Power, Speed, Dexterity, and Hitpoints.
Combat takes place both at sea and on land. Players can hire different classes of classic pirate scum to fight for you on solid ground, such as Scallywags (mellee unit armed with swords), or construct a new building to gain access to a new unit, for example the Scoundrels (ranged unit that carries around flintlock pistols). It was a good idea to have the crew fight on land, instead of hiding them with little purpose in the ship. Your captain can join in battles using different abilities earned by leveling up or earning "Badges". The captain and the crew have attributes as well: Damage, Speed, and Toughness. The captain's stats will improve by killing enemies, or by completing missions.
Combat is somewhat simplistic when it comes to strategy. It's classic RTS on land--click the unit, then move or attack. Despite a Paradox label, don't expect a deep wargame--you'll be vastly disappointing. Pirates of the Black Cove is a game for pirate lovers, such as myself. But even fans of eye patches and the skull and crossbones might be unsatisfied. Limited fun can certainly be had in combat if you enjoy the setting and characters. However, the lack of difficulty settings will make the game too easy for experienced gamers.
Most of the fun is in choosing how to spend your hard earned gold. Deciding whether you want to hire units, upgrade your ship, construct a whole new ship, buy items such as ship repair kits, or to build new buildings for new unit access is entertaining. I'm just hoping there will be enough here to keep me coming back.
The graphics out at sea are much more pleasing than inside a town. In fact, the water is pretty damn amazing, which is surprising compared to the rest of the visuals. The voice acting is hit or miss. Some are hilarious, others, like Jack Longshot are pretty disappointing. I've experienced some crashing, although I've only played on one machine. Other players seem to be experiencing problems also.
Whether there is enough depth here to warrant a purchase on an interesting "concept" remains to be seen, but it looks like it might have been executed poorly. For pirate fans in need of a lovable quick-fix to quell your scurvy needs, think about giving Pirates of The Black Cove a go.