Premature Evaluation: Man O’ War – Corsair

Every Monday, Rob Zacny heads into the uncharted waters of Early Access in search of plunder and excitement. This week, Man O’ War: Corsair.

Warhammer is a refuge from both progress and decline. It’s a safe space where you can always enjoy a militarist’s historical highlight reel from the Late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, where things will never get much better or worse. And Empire will always stand on the brink of collapse and annihilation, the forces of chaos and barbarism will always encroach on the margins, and there will always be a place for someone with a taste for violence and a dream.

The Golden Age of Piracy lasted less than a century before buccaneers were practically extinct, and order restored to the trans-Atlantic shipping lanes. And just a century after that, the Royal Navy’s domination of the world’s oceans was so complete that another Trafalgar or Nile was unthinkable. But in Man o’ War: Corsair, the sea will always be a bloody no-man’s land, with plenty of room for a lone captain to make his fortune and change the world in the process.

Corsair may look like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag without all the cities and assassination business, but it’s much closer to the Mount & Blade series at heart. Your ship is your only means of interacting with the world, and each port of call is just a new place to get a mission or a quest, doing some commodity trading, and buying upgrades for your ship and crew. The rest of the time, you’re enjoying the view from the quarterdeck, spying strange sails on the horizon, and dodging pirate and Ork patrols.

In terms of atmosphere, it’s as overwrought and dramatic as you’d expect from anything with the Warhammer name. Coastal cliffs loom out of the darkness at night, thunder and snow storms whip the sea into a froth and send it flying across the decks. There’s almost always dense fog and rain to contend with (perhaps too much), and enemy ships can vanish into the murk at a moment’s notice, only to split it open against with a thundering broadside.

I wish the ship itself had more of a relationship to the weather. While I applaud the fact that Corsair is pretty unforgiving when it comes to sailing into the wind (I judge all sailing games by how long it takes them to explain the principles of tacking), the changing weather effects don’t translate to changing sailing. Whether the wind is roaring over high seas or you’re sailing across a glass ocean on a rare clear day, the ship always handles roughly the same, which undercuts some of those great weather effects and also makes handling the ship slightly less interesting in combat.

On the other hand, Corsair makes up for it by creating a lively and dangerous ocean. Occasionally I would run into a lone-wolf pirate and engage in a classic stern-chase or a point-blank, yardarm-to-yardarm battle. But it was far more likely that I’d be out sailing toward one destination when I’d spot a squadron of Ork warships bearing down on a squadron of Imperials, and suddenly I’d be sucked into a full-fledged naval engagement. While there’s not a ton of depth to combat, having to worry about friendly fire and shipping traffic in battle made for some unique challenges and a terrific spectacle.

The Early Access AI may need a little work, however, since I noticed enemy ships were knocking each other out on a regular basis. Occasionally, this made for some great stories, like when I got jumped by a trio of Orks. Two of their ramships raced toward me and, as I put own ship into a hard turn to catch the wind on my sails, they blundered into each other and exploded, instantly turning the odds back in my favor.

Then there are the boarding actions, which certainly feel exciting even if they don’t quite play as nicely as I’d like. When you collide with an enemy warship, your ships will grab onto each other and the crews of both ships will storm over the sides. At this point your captain draws a gun and steps away from the wheel to help shoot at intruders.

In practice, this means blazing away into dense hand-to-hand fighting until your crew are all dead and you lose, or the enemy are all dead and you win. Corsair doesn’t really work as a third-person shooter, but it’s still undeniably cool to see hulking Orks vaulting onto the back, or shooting a greenskin that seems to tower over your character. I just wish there were more to it than standing back and lining up shots at enemies who are distracted by your AI crew.

I’m having a lot of fun with Corsair, but I don’t think it’s quite at the Mount & Blade level yet. Most of the metagame / “overworld” elements are too simple and too inconsistent to be satisfying. Quests bugged routinely, so that I’d fulfill a mission, dock in a friendly port, and then somehow lose the entire mission upon departure. I got used to sailing all the way back to quest locations the moment I fulfilled my objectives, rather than risk having the assignment disappear.

Likewise, trading was a very simple matter of buy low / sell high. I didn’t need to know anything to make a fortune trading goods, because buying the cheapest things for sale always guaranteed massive profits a couple ports away. I also wonder if commanding my own ship in battle will remain interesting over the long haul, given how simple and straightforward it is. My hope is that when the Allied Captains and crew management features are added, Corsair will gain some depth as a naval wargame. Right now it’s like Mount & Blade, except without being able to control a big army.

Atmosphere alone takes it pretty far though. Being terrorized by a giant shark in the dead of night, or having your cargo of plague refugees burst out of the hold and onto the deck as zombies, is as frightening and memorable as I’d want from a Warhammer game. But outside of those moments, as I sail from one port to the next, I’m left wishing there was more to do, and that the world would let me make a mark on it. A pirate is lured to sea by the promise of freedom and adventure. Right now, Corsair has half of that equation.

Man o’ War: Corsair is available on Steam for a modest ransom of £22.99 / $29.99. My impressions are based on build 1082665 on 25 April 2016.

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  1. HefHughner says:

    Release the Kra… shark. Now. At least Battlefleet Gothic is way better than i expected.

    • Apologised says:

      You know the Kraken is ALSO a thing that exists in Man-O-War right?

      As do giant pirhana’s, seas serpents, angry Poseidon dudes, REALLY angry giant Narwhals and Giant Enemy Crabs (presumably a level of historical accuracy will be present and they will have a weakspot you can hit for massive damage)

      Also, the Dwarves are rolling about the high-seas in Ironclads and full on WW1 Battleships, the Dark Elves have tiny castles riding on the back of sea-serpents and less said about Chaos Dwarves and their overcompensation barges the better.

      Don’t even get me started on Skaven and their giant floating flamethrowers.

  2. Turkey says:

    It’s a shame that there aren’t any big publishers left willing to take a risk on something like this. This is the kind of game that would really benefit from bombastic production values and a sturdy trading system that’s been tested and reiterated on for like 4 years or something.

    • Ksempac says:

      I think it’s less a matter of risk than the inherently narrow potential userbase.

      The action crowd (read FPS) might enjoy the combat but won’t care about the trading or the minutia of ship movement.

      The trading/slow paced game crowd (read Civ players) won’t care for the real time action.

      And the simulationists (wargame players) will probably not play a fantasy-themed game especially with limited realism.

      So this game will appeal to people who are core gamers that like playing different genres of games which is a rather limited segment of the market (I’m not dismissive i happen to be one of them). You can’t throw an AAA budget to that kind of target.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        Pretty much, some people are pointing to the numbers BFG is pulling as proof it can be done, but BFG really is scratching a rather broad niche that; been neglected in recent memory, which is the small scale tactics game. The sort of thing we used to have a ton of but got pushed to the margins by being abosrbed into mostly the MOBA genre. Man of War however is sorta middling in too many things at once to acheive the sort of small scale boom BFG is enjoying.

        • Silent_Thunder says:

          To add, I’m not saying it’s a bad game, far from it, it’s actually pretty nifty, just that people need to take the context of games, well into context, before declaring how successful they think it will be. BFG:A is an anaomoly as far as sales is all.

  3. Fnord73 says:

    Oooh, just dreaming: But if they could put the Space Marine combatengine (wich I miss!) into storming cities along the bretoninan coast, AND make a tie in to Total Warhammer, wouldnt it be glorious? Stomping into cities, wielding a twohanded axe? Come on :-)

    • xyzzy frobozz says:

      Space Marine was seriously underrated.

      It was pure fun.

  4. Premium User Badge

    cpt_freakout says:

    The mere mention of Mount & Blade immediately switched on my excitement for this game. Let’s hope it fulfils such a promise!

  5. celticdr says:

    “a modest ransom of £22.99 / $29.99.” – I wouldn’t call that modest for an early access game, more like “a moderate ransom”.

  6. slerbal says:

    That actually sounds pretty interesting. I will follow its development and consider it once it leaves Early Access :)

  7. theblazeuk says:

    AI flaw or feature?

    If the Orks are crashing into each other in their mad dash to kill you, that seems like FEATURE.

    • slerbal says:

      I thought the same thing. Sounds like perfectly normal Orkish behaviour to me :D

  8. flashlight_eyes says:

    *no way to play as an ork pirate

    humanity was a mistake

  9. Ova Wolf says:

    Our history has very little to do with this game other then mythology and ship that seem similar to classic ship like the ironclad.

    The game follows Warhammer history and like most Warhammer games it looks like it will come out really good, don’t discount walk able port just yet every thing is still subject to change!

    that why it called a Premature Evaluation i expect the game to be 5x better then where it at now that how Warhammer works!

    I view this great game to be no more then a blue prints and hope to see a auto pilots system in times to come, as telling your 1st office to set sail to a port while you chill of the deck could be fun.

  10. Saul says:

    “Warhammer is a refuge from both progress and decline. It’s a safe space where you can always enjoy a militarist’s historical highlight reel from the Late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, where things will never get much better or worse. And Empire will always stand on the brink of collapse and annihilation, the forces of chaos and barbarism will always encroach on the margins, and there will always be a place for someone with a taste for violence and a dream.”

    If only. You haven’t had the misfortune of encountering Age of Sigmar yet, have you Rob?