After spending many years out of vogue, pirate adventures returned to the forefront of pop culture thanks to Disney and a charismatic Keith Richards impression from Johnny Depp. There have been several attempts to build video games around the concept in the years since and Team 17 of Worms fame is now throwing their hat into the ring with King of Seas. This interpretation of the pirate fantasy features a familiar top-down view and a procedurally generated map to keep things varied. It successfully brings some older pirate game mechanics into the current gaming era while failing at many of the details that those classics built their legacies on.
Betrayal on the high seas
The narrative in King of Seas opens with players being unjustly accused of treason. As an heir to the throne, you have a bullseye placed on your back by the Royal Navy leadership that blames you for the demise of the King. You are defeated and left for dead on the open water before being rescued by a friendly pirate crew. These circumstances put you on the path to redemption and infamy as you master the art of piracy and wage war on the Royal Navy.
The action is seen from a top-down viewpoint and you must navigate procedurally-generated waters and islands. You may engage in ship-to-ship combat, the trading of loose goods, and interactions with denizens of the various ports. At first glance, much of King of Seas bears a striking resemblance to the 2004 remake of Sid Meir’s Pirates!. The basic mechanics of play are largely similar between the two games, though King of Seas is decidedly a more casual experience.
You can collect loot, crewmates, and items from downed enemy ships. You will use these to bolster your own ship, which starts as a simple sloop. After several hours of play, you will progress through bigger ship classes capable of holding more gear, tradable goods, and crew members. More types of firepower also become available as you advance, with grapeshot, flamethrowers, and more at your fingertips when Royal Navy vessels engage you. The minute-to-minute ship combat works well enough, though the enemy AI leaves a bit to be desired for sailors in search of a challenge. Unless you engage with multiple vessels above your own level, these battles can easily be cheesed.
There is no onboarding during ship battles, no way to capture another ship, and the crew members you do have don’t seem to make much of a difference. Even on larger vessels when your crew numbers look bleak, your ship will have no issue reloading and firing its payload at full speed. There are no sequences of on-land action or territory control. Most NPC interactions at ports are limited to accepting quests.
The only factions at play are pirates and the Royal Navy. Unlike Sid Meir’s Pirates!, which offered multiple nations with their own interests and geographic holdings, King of Seas plays out across a map that feels generic in comparison. So many of the interactions and flourishes from classic pirate games are missing here.
Even some of the advancements over preceding games feel slightly underdeveloped. An RPG-esque progression system is present and you will level up over the course of the game, but it feels unbalanced in practice. Large amounts of the items you pick up or are awarded for completing quests are useless due to being under-leveled. You must visit cartographers to get up-to-date maps of where you are rather than mapping what you see as you sail. The lack of a minimap is disappointing, but not terrible since the large map is nearly devoid of useful information and a mini version of it would be just that.
PC players will have to bring along a gamepad for this adventure. Keyboard input is supported but feels half-baked. Your mouse will be a paperweight as it is not used at all (though the developer has pledged to offer better mouse/keyboard support with a future update). The lack of mouse support draws further attention to the attractive, but clunky UI.
The procedurally-generated world looks pretty sharp, if generic. Everything has a cartoonish sheen that works well enough with the decidedly wacky character art. Day/night progression and inclement weather look good and help to build immersion. The game is also easy on your hardware, so even the most modest of PCs will get good performance while skirting the Royal Navy.
Walking the plank
King of Seas does lots of things well, from its visual presentation to the simplicity of its sailing mechanics. It touches base with many of the things that made classics out of the games that came prior while streamlining the experience into something that feels like a store-brand version of the thing I actually wanted. The lack of real keyboard and mouse support is a black eye on the PC version, though the foundation here is stable enough that King of Seas can have a brighter future through updates. 6/10 bottles of rum
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. King of Seas is available now for Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
King of Seas
- Solid visual presentation
- Simple, intuitive sailing mechanics
- Lots of items to upgrade ships
- Lacking depth and features of preceding pirate titles
- Poor mouse and keyboard support
- The procedurally-generated map feels boring
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, King of Seas review: Yo ho-hum