By Christopher Livingston on May 12th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, sailing the low-res seas in sandbox RPG Caribbean!
I race across the open sea, bearing down on an English convoy. I have twice as many ships and nearly three times their crew, so this will be an easy kill, another feather in my tricorn hat. Or it would be, if my crew didn’t pick that precise moment to mutiny, seize control of one of my ships, turn and attack me instead of the English, board me, and pummel me into unconsciousness on my own deck. Pirates. If you can’t trust them, who can you trust?
If you’ve played a Mount & Blade game, you’ll feel right at home in Caribbean! This game is built on M&B’s engine, and is essentially Mount & Blade with pirate stuff added. That’s not a complaint, by the way. I have a massive amount of affection for Mount & Blade despite it being as ugly as butt, despite the expansion that didn’t expand much, despite the sequel that felt more or less the same as the original. I love those damn games, and I love pirate stuff, so all Caribbean! really needs to do to win me over is not piss me off.
Speaking of pirate stuff: ahoy! I am a pirate. Like all great pirates, I am known for my beard.
Refreshingly, Chinstrap doesn’t begin the game completely alone at the bottom rung of the pirate ladder. I’ve got some starter gear: clothing, a pistol and sword, some cash, a horse, and a dozen loyal Spanish rodeleros. Wanting to get right into some hot pirate action, we attack a small French town simply because it happens to be nearby. The town contains only simple farmers, easy pickings for an armed force, except for the fact that there are a guh-jillion farmers and they’re pretty damn vicious and quite skilled at stabbing the shit out of soldiers with their farming tools. Having thus angered the French, and having read on the menu screen that France is at war with Spain, I decide to make the Spanish my allies and France my eternal enemies. That’s just how quickly I form my life-long alliances and grudges, matey.
As it turns out, my life-long alliances and grudges can be changed rather quickly. Moments after deciding to make Spain my favorite country ever, I find myself in a Spanish prison facing a death sentence after accepting a quest from the wrong person. I meet another prisoner, a Frenchman, and together we slaughter a bunch of Spanish guards and bust out of the clink. Okay, fine: Spain will be my eternal enemy, then, and I’ll side with France. Frenchy sends me to Tortuga to accept my reward for helping him: my first pirate ship, and an invitation to attack France’s other foe (and my newest eternal enemy), England!
So far, the game’s swordplay, conversation, quests, and travel have all been more or less identical to Mount & Blade, so if Caribbean! is truly going stand apart it’ll have be with its naval system. First off, each major city has a harbor, where you can buy and sell ships and hire and train crews. You can also purchase upgrades for your ships, things like reinforced hulls, silk ropes, deck webbing, an infirmary, steering upgrades, and offensive enhancements, all which alter your ships speed, sturdiness, maneuverability, and so on.
If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, it really isn’t all that different from what you do here (apart from Black Flag being utterly gorgeous and this game being, you know, not). Steer around and try to line up some nice broadside cannon shots, bust up masts with chain balls, tear up the crew with grapeshot, and when you’re close enough, board the other ship (or get boarded by them) and try to slaughter everyone with pistols, rifles, and swords. Good chaotic fun!
Just like in Black Flag, once I get into naval combat I basically forget about doing anything other than trying to pick fights with ships I’m reasonably sure I can beat. Chinstrap begins his naval career on a high note, taking down several ships, adding them to his fleet, and selling the spares. It’s not long before I’ve got six ships in my fleet and I’m feeling like Blackbeard himself.
Then again, just as my loyalties can change in an instant, so can the loyalties of others. While trying to chase down an English convoy, my men suddenly mutiny, turning to attack me, boarding me, and leaving me bloodied and beaten on the deck of my own flagship. I don’t know why morale was so low. Sure, I never put any points into charisma, but I had some bread in my inventory. Bread is supposed to raise morale! Who doesn’t love bread? I eventually escape, though I’ve just got one ship and a single loyal Dutch sailor remaining.
Times like these really make me regret having so many different eternal enemies. Spain considers me a criminal, France hates me for trying to kill their farmers, and I’ve angered England by attacking their convoys. I head to the Brotherhood of the Coast, the game’s pirate faction, who invite me to gain their favor by attacking their enemies. Unfortunately, they currently have truces with every other country, leaving them with no enemies for me to attack. What the hell kind of pirates are friends with everyone? I head to my final option, the Republic of Netherlands. They’re at war with Spain, so once again, the Spanish become my eternal enemy. For real this time! And forever!
I slowly build Chinstrap back up to his full pirate glory, attacking lone Spanish ships and patrols, and soon I’ve got a decent crew and a creaking fleet of new ships. My new Dutch overlords have suggested I take over a town to win their affections, so we park the boats and set off across land on foot.
On the way there, however, my soldiers express their unhappiness with my continuing lack of charisma by staging a mutiny. Another mutiny! On land this time! Despite the fact I’ve got bananas in my inventory. Bananas! Who doesn’t love bananas? Suddenly I’m back in chains, stripped of my belongings, and being hauled around against my will. Looks like it doesn’t matter if you’re French, Spanish, English, or Dutch. The one thing everyone can agree on is that their eternal enemy is Chinstrap.