FTL-like Abandon Ship hasn’t found its sea legs yet


FTL but on a…’ is a formula that sounds like it can just keep on giving, but it’s entirely telling that the creators of FTL have moved onto whip-smart micro-turn-based strategy instead of more ship management-based roguelitery. People keep making these things – on a train! on a post-apocalyptic battlebus! also on a spaceship! also on a post-apocalyptic battlebus! – but I can count the real successes on one hand.

Sadly, it seems I won’t be grafting an extra finger with ‘Abandon Ship‘ carved into it onto that hand – not unless this Cthulhu vs pirates take on the vehicular surviv-o-RPG format can perform some serious course-correction during its voyage through early access.

Abandon Ship hit early access today, with a full release planned for some point during the next year. It is not, to be clear, a finished game, and the dev claims that more and better stuff is due for it, but right now all I can speak to is whether or not your funbucks buy you a satisfying shore leave right now.

In terms of story, it’s about a nameless Seadog With A Destiny who escapes from a group of murderous cultists then flees across the ocean in search of safety and answers, becoming embroiled in naval battles and conflicts with oceanic horrors in the process. Strictly speaking, you’re not a pirate, but with its heavy focus on pursuit, cannons, ramming, boarding, on-deck melee scuffles with fishmen and tussles with a bloody great Kraken, Abandon Ship is pretty much Pirates of the Caribbean: The Roguelite.

It makes a few tilts towards simulation, with the likes of ordering crew to bail out water caused by hull breaches and toggling ship-to-ship range in order to make certain types of weapon more or less effective. Silent Megasquid Hunter it is most certainly not, though. In the main, it’s about the preservation of hull health and the acquisition of gold in order to buy upgraded gear and crew, with an undercurrent of permadeath and massively punitive random events. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

This borrows most of FTL’s ideas and mechanics wholesale, everything from crew specialisms to praying the hull will hold until you can find a repair station to having to make a certain number of ‘jumps’ before you can move onto the next area. But outside of theme, there’s not much fresh invention in the mix. Instead, there’s a thick layer of blubber wrapped around the tried’n’tested formula.


Let’s take those ‘jumps’ as an example. In FTL, you have no direct flight control, but instead hop between a certain number of points on the galactic map before you can move to the next system. At each step along the way therecould be a fight, a multiple choice dilemma, a freebie or a shop. To its credit, Abandon Ship strives for something more involved and freeform.

You’re not jumping from point to point – you click to steer your ship around a large and roiling ocean, prettily presented as if within a vast and animated picture frame. Each new area is occluded by a canvas-like fog of war when you enter, which you clear by slowly and painstakingly moving through it, increasingly desperately hoping you’ll uncover one of a handful of icons before you enter a fugue state. It looks very nice, but, like catching an overnight ferry from Dover to Calais, the initial excitement gives way to an abiding tedium. Some of those icons attain needle/haystack status – it desperately needs more of them, and perhaps for them to be roaming ships rather than static icons.

Once found, each icon will trigger either a fight, a handful of gold, a shopping port or a random event. Complete a certain number of these encounters and the gate to the next area will magically open. There’s little attempt made to justify this, which is sensible given that there are only so many ways one might say ‘Because reasons.’

And that’s it. That’s all there is to sailing in this boat game. You click tediously around this pretty-but-empty map, waiting to stumble across an icon that will make something happen for a brief moment, and when you’ve done this enough times you get to go and do it all again. Icon variety and frequency does amp up somewhat as things wear on, plus there’s a deathclock which results in pursuit if you’ve not moved on before it expires, but it’s still a slog. FTL has the same structure, but where that was punchy and rapid, this suffers from an inordinate amount of downtime and hollow repetition. One’s a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka, the other’s a National Express coach from Coventry to Middlesbrough.


Devs Fireblade Software seem conscious that there’s work to be done, claiming in their release notes that “while all areas of the game will be added to and improved, we expect the exploration mode to receive the most attention.” I.e. more locations, quests and events and, I hope and pray, a sense of dynamism and life rather than a dour icon-hunt.

Unfortunately, in terms of what your money gets you right now, combat is not the saving grace it needs to be. Again like FTL, it’s ship-to-ship battles in which you order the crew around rather than directly manoeuvre the craft. Your vessel is locked in place at the bottom-centre of the screen, with ‘speed’ interpreted as selecting from four buttons to affect how close or far away you are from the enemy ship, which it is forever perfectly parallel to. Where FTL got by on abstraction thanks to its simple-but-effective 2D art and use of frames and cutaways, Abandon Ship’s faintly impressive full 3D makes the ships seem as though they’re unnaturally frozen, which robs the battles of any urgency and hammers home the fact that all you’re really doing is waiting for cannon timers to expire.

Fights are real-time but dependent on cooldowns and rapidly re-assigning crew between weapons and repairs. Oxygen leaks are here replaced by flooding, which means you need to assign someone to pump the invading sea out in addition to patching up cannon-fire holes in the mist of a fight. There’s familiar and vital desperation to this element, but the broadsides suffer from the same hollow waiting that exploration does, as well as a sense of powerlessness.

You can pelt the enemy with cannonballs every thirty seconds, sure, and choose whether to target sails (to prevent escape or enable you to move close enough to board) or crew with ancillary weapons, but right now there isn’t much in terms of minimising hull damage. You just have to take your lumps, hope you don’t get killed too quickly and that you can randomly stumble across enough gold-icons to fund fixes and buy upgrades afterwards.


Clearly in this pre-technology setting we can’t have healing rays or countermeasure drones but some option to manoeuvre might make it feel less like slow death by unavoidable attrition. If you’ve got a crew member assigned to the wheel, you can choose to flee, ram (if close enough) or turn around, but the latter is only really useful if you’ve got different weapons on the other side of the ship. And all of these are on long, long timers too. Too often, death felt like a blessed release from waiting to be allowed to press a button, which is the last thing you want to feel in a game that is specifically about avoiding death.

In some respects the slowness suits the theme, but when it’s there alongside the glacial nothingness of exploration mode, it all adds up to a sense of time-wasting rather than masterful and commanding thrills. And the less said about the tragically formulaic and repetitive kraken battles the better, I’m afraid.

All that said, this is but the first volley from an early access cannon that will apparently keep firing for 9-12 months, and with every intention of addition and improvement. There is most definitely a platform for good things here, particularly in terms of the often delightful presentation, but I fear it needs a significant revamp of its desperately dull exploration mode, while the realtime combat needs to feel less like mechanical turn-taking. So don’t book passage on Abandon Ship just yet, but let’s hope its hearties will be capable of more avast further down the line.

Abandon Ship is available now, via Steam Early Access for Windows.


  1. milligna says:

    Life in general is a dour icon hunt. Definitely on Wednesdays.

  2. April March says:

    Ships always being parallel to each other is incredibly boring. I don’t even think you can call whatever it’s doing ‘ramming’ if it’s like that. Plus it basically assumes both ships are just following the wind and have no intention of stopping doing so, which is even more boring.

  3. Nihilist says:

    Uhhh regions. Somehow I hoped it would be a little bit more Pirates! than FTL. Hmmmm.

  4. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    Your review exactly matches what I thought from watching the Dev’s videos. All the parts have potential, but they currently neither zing individually nor gel into a compelling game. Looked like that weak game Tempest

  5. SBLux says:

    Steam reviews are currently at 87% and have a lot of positive things to say about it so it seems some people are enjoying it even in its current state.

  6. Premium User Badge

    wozmir says:

    I was beta-testing this game, can confirm. The only interesting moments are found within early game fights (first 1-3 zones) and when really pushed to the wall by the enemy, having to juggle healing, firing and putting out fires.

    Other than that, the game is, sadly, boring. A 2/5 at this point, really not sure how they can salvage it without a revamp (as the review says).

    • madquills says:

      Well, it’s early access, so we’ve got about a year of revamps ;)

  7. LastMaxStanding says:

    I do agree that the world exploration needs a ton more stuff, but as the article itself points out, so do the devs. Everything else about this article seems pretty off to me. Well, I do agree that most of the FTL, But… genre has been relatively mediocre. On the other hand, I played all of them, and racked up hours in all of them anyway. So there’s a reason it exists as a genre. I am apparently it. This one seems really solid in it’s execution of it’s own premise (for comparison I think postapocalypse battlebus would be my vote for next closest, but that one had more rough edges. By comparison I think Abandon Ship is already cleaner and smoother at the launch of early access. Convoy came close to fitting it’s own image of itself, more of a Autoduel FTL complete with grid map feel, but the combat itself just had a bit too much…retro?ness? too it, imo. AS delivers on it’s own premise, style, and mechanics so far for me.) From where we’re at I expect AS to be the Enter the Gungeon of Issac-a-likes of FTL, But…s. Man, that was a weird sentence to write. Not sure what I would pick for it’s equivilant among the metroidvanias, It’s no Hollow Knight and I’m not sure Dead Cells is going to go the full distance to really ring the bell, but what I’m saying is I think it’s already shown the chops to be the real contender for 2nd place. This review downplays not just all the stuff that’s early access of this early access title, but a lot of the good points of the game, too. Again, my opinion. Even if the only part of this game that someone ends up enjoying is the side story chapters like the 10 mission combat demo they originally released that they say they want to do more of I think this one should be pure hype. I ain’t gonna call hipster on this or anything, but I do think the review is leaning a little excessively to some sort of proving of fair and balanced critical chops.

  8. Universal Quitter says:

    You know, I don’t mind how you guys sort of “review” Early Access games to at least see if they’re stable-ish, if they’re any fun, etc. That’s actually pretty useful.

    What I do mind is how often you guys review something in Early Access, and then never come back for an actual WiT, or when you pass it off on a freelancer, denying us the changes as seen from that same perspective.

  9. racccoon says:

    Unfortunately, the old Steam early access thing is the basics of milking a cow, & the cow is the player who buys in.
    Quiet frankly I’m kind of tired of it, as most games In Steams early access go on & on milking that cow. It is a shame today games are doing this as the norm.
    Never finishing games has damage the gaming industry’s sincerity so much it makes the buyer look stupid.

  10. Hypocee says:

    From watching a fair bit of Let’s Play this was my impression too. Most of the elements are one-to-one with the ship fights from AssCreed Black Flag, but there are about half as many, and it’s almost all just swapping numbers. You can eke out a couple percent improvements by running guys to and fro.

    The thing about FTL’s combat is that hits and other events regularly and fundamentally changed up what you and the enemy were capable of doing, including the ability to continue or leave the combat minigame.

    Still, well wishes and there’s a long way ahead. Many a thing has come together when some addition surprisingly formed the glue it needed.