I've always wanted to see someone make a ship-themed (as in ships that travel by sea) Real-Time Strategy game because most of the time, ships have been just part of the available vehicles one can create. It would be a difficult one, no doubt, as there is so much material one can use in doing such a game.
Lo and behold Battle Pirates, a free-to-play, Real-Time Strategy MMO browser game developed by Kixeye (formerly known as Casual Collective), a gaming company based in San Francisco who have been creating games aimed for the more hardcore and competitive gamers. It was launched last May 2011, and thrusts players into the briny depths and promises an action-packed naval battle experience. Does the game live up to its promise? Let's take a look at my Battle Pirates review!
Going Where the Current Takes You
Battle Pirates takes place in the year 2067, where most of the world has been submerged in water because of a terrorist-led world war. The remaining population has been divided into two factions: the Forsaken and the Draconian Empire. The Forsaken are a group of survivors who rely on their cunning, tactics and acts of piracy such as stealing cargo from wayward vessels and bases in order to continue their struggle against the Draconian Empire; the Draconian Empire is composed of mostly affluent citizens who have banded together to form a right-wing, military-led organization bent on taking control of what is left of the world, resources and people alike. Players are aligned with the Forsaken, and it is their goal is to thwart the Draconian Empire's ambition of world domination, failure to do so would end with a world subjugated under an authoritarian rule.
The story of Battle Pirates is nothing new - it is essentially the "impoverished against the system" storyline set in a dystopian world; one can't help but see the resemblance to the movie Waterworld (I'm still waiting for Kevin Costner to show up, but I think that's pushing it). But the story feels like more of a theme than anything else, as the game does not seem to be wholly story-driven, instead focusing on the premise of naval warfare and base and resource management.
Players are automatically aligned with the Forsaken, which is okay, but it would have been nice if players can choose which faction they want to be in allegiance with in terms the play styles - the cunning and resourcefulness of the Forsaken marauders or the wealth and firepower of the Draconian Empire.
No Man is an Island
Battle Pirates indeed plays like an authentic Real-Time Strategy game. Players start off with their own piece of land mass that serves as the headquarters for their fleet. A tutorial begins and briefs the players on what there is to do in their own bases. Mainly, the players' base is where resources are gathered, and there are a lot of resources in this game: oil, energy, metal, and Zynthium are harvested via oil rigs, wind turbines, metal foundries and refineries. These are then used to create additional infrastructure such as a shipyard, where the players' fleets are made, a dock, where the completed naval vessels are stored and repaired after a battle; there are structures such as the Weapons Lab and the Naval Lab that players can build in order to gain access to more powerful offensive and defensive arsenal.
One unique option available for players is that their bases has a Base Planner mode, where they can create and organize their base to their liking, even up to the island terrains where their buildings are plotted. This is a neat feature, as it offers a level of customization in-game: players are given the chance to mold their very own headquarters that would stand out among the rest.
Having players start off with a patch of their own land to develop and spruce up really makes the game feel like one of the older RTS games, which is a nice touch, as it pays homage to that genre quite nicely. The concept of having your own resources within your base is an interesting one at that, considering you can play this game without leaving your island, and waiting for your harvesting buildings to accumulate the necessary volume of resources you need, but that is just one facet of the game.
Batten Down the Hatches!
Amassing your fleet and defeating the opposing Draconian Empire is where the action is in Battle Pirates. Naval vessels are available once players build the necessary buildings and gather the required amount of resources; the vessels available for players to create are varied, starting with light-armored gunboats, skirmishers, to hulking carriers and even submarines. Each ship has its strengths and weaknesses - lightweight ships have the best mobility but can be taken down easily, skirmishers can pack quite a bit of firepower but are not as durable, dreadnaughts can dish out tons of damage and soak enemy fire, but are sluggish and hard to maneuver. Getting the right mix of speed and power is key in defeating opposing fleets during skirmishes.
Upon creating a sizeable fleet, players can opt to launch their vessels outside their headquarters, which will place them in a world map that indicates where Draconian vessels, outposts and strongholds are located, as well as other players' bases. After the player chooses a fleet or base to attack, a battle screen loads and this is where the players can maneuver their fleet towards their enemy. Skirmishes are completed once all of the opposing enemy ships, or one's own ships, are destroyed.
The Draconian Empire is considered to be the PvE aspect of the game; players can also attack another player's fleet or base, as this is Battle Pirate's PvP. Invading someone else's base is very interesting in this game, as it will test how well players have designed their fortresses against occupation: players are to set defenses within their territory such as turrets, cannons and walls, so that the invading enemy fleet cannot decimate their headquarters. This nifty add-on plays like a tower defense game, and it surprisingly does not feel out of place; it gives the game something else for players to keep them interested.
Another thing worth noting is that Battle Pirates have a 24/7 rule when it comes to who can raid a player's base. Anyone can attack your base at any given time, be it the computer AI or another player, and when that happens, the game gives out a signal to the user via email that their headquarters is under attack; to prevent this, players need to constantly have a watchful eye on their bases or buy an immunity shield in the in-game store that gives protection to one's fortress for a given duration.
A Couple of Red Flags
Battle Pirates, is not without some small flaws, though. There are some aspects of the game that felt needed some slight tweaking as they hampered the enjoyment of the game somewhat.
In relation to the game's narrative, Battle Pirates did not seem to develop the story surrounding the Draconian Empire and the Forsaken that much. I found it rather odd that since essentially every player in the game is under the Forsaken faction, it doesn't make sense that we could go about and ransack each others' bases and fleets; in the introduction, the game states that while the Forsaken, as a whole, want to overthrow the Draconian Empire, not everyone within the Forsaken agrees on what strategy to take, and it is this friction within the ranks makes it allowable to engage in players combating other players. The lack of a workable story is a bit disappointing, as it leaves the naval battles as mere skirmishes that do not have any meaning but just good clean fun. In other words, it would have been nice if the narrative is woven in between missions for a more immersive experience, much like the more popular RTS games out there.
The random Draconian fleets available in the overview map for grinding seem to fluctuate in levels, usually higher than starting players' levels, which prove to be troublesome for gathering resources and experience points as they are more than capable of routing your fleet easily.
Battle Pirates will test your patience as the game progresses. Players can only research for weapons and defensive upgrades one at a time, which slows down the pace of the game a quite a bit down the stretch; speed boosts serve as the game's freemium item and can be purchased using gold. The prices for gold depends on your geographic location, or just simply wait for the upgrades to finish (and it does take quite a long time).
Battle Pirate's social elements are also lacking to some extent. Players can contact others via chat and the PvP system revolves around raiding their bases for resources or providing some assistance when their friends' bases are under attack. But Battle Pirates handles more like a stand-alone single player game as the multiplayer aspect can be vetoed; players can just focus on building, upgrading and creating their own headquarters and armada. Teaming up with other people to combat the Draconian Empire or going 2-on2 against two other players would have given this game another positive multiplayer element.
As a Free-to-Play game, Battle Pirates handles real well and looks very polished and well-produced. While it does have some slight issues such as an engaging story and some multiplayer elements, the game still makes up for it with its naval battle simulations and a clever take on customizable fortresses. Battle Pirates is a good title to add for those who are into to the Real-Time Strategy genre.