Open World Swashbuckling Done Oh-So Very Wrong
I would like to start off this review by saying that I am a big fan of the RPG. I am also a fan of pirates, more so in games; as thinly served a setting as piracy may be in today's market; whatever the reason for that. It's suffice to say that I was eagerly awaiting the release of Raven's Cry.
It's been a long time coming.
The constant delays of the title, the minute release of information regarding it . . . it all served just to push that want of the title to see the light of day. At the same time, those also served as warning signs of a faulty development cycle – and this holds true. While there is a spark of life to be found here, almost everything from the art assets, to performance, to the under developed mechanics, and even the obviously cut content. Everything about this title screams “I'm not a finished product”, though we see it for digital download all the same, and at full retail price at that. Long story short, this game is not fit for purchase.
Don't consider this a review . . . this is a PSA.
Don't buy Raven's Cry.
Don't support these sort of decisions.
The game starts off tasking the player with topping off a mighty Galleon ship, helmed by a captain of the Spanish navy. This short encounter serves to teach players the basics of ship to ship combat – an element featured heavily throughout the game. You are given cannonballs to damage the hull, chains to damage the sails, and grapeshot to take out the crew; allowing you to then board and plunder ships. Once you get those basics out of the way, the ship combat proves itself rather simple.
While there is more going on in the background such as buying larger ships, upgrading said ships, bringing on new crew members, and even transporting goods, it's all rendered mostly pointless, being that it doesn't seem the game was really built with the idea of all that being necessary. Most of the money to be made in the game will be through the attacking and looting of ships, as well as the selling of cargo from port to port.
Likewise, the most expensive things for money to be spent on revolve around the upgrades and overall maintaining of whatever ship you may be captaining at the moment. So with the worry of the cost of your piracy out of the way, that leaves only the issue of piracy upon you. The game is a pseudo-open world sort of deal, comprised of multiple islands that can be traveled to at any time (story permitting) through sailing, via the map. First off, yes, it is yet another pirate rpg that opted out of open sea adventuring and plundering, offering instead a simple fast-travel sort of mechanic, where your trip is plotted out on the world map. May we please stand and lower our heads, taking a moment to remember this great loss.
And now back to the review.
During these instances, pseudo-random encounters (I am using “pseudo” a lot. I know), can pop up around your ship. If you run along them, a battle ensues. The system makes sense, but the lack of function doesn't. While the game gives you the chance to see these events coming, and even the ability to pause during the trip, it doesn't allow you to set a new course unless it is one of the dozen or so ports at your disposal. It all just seems a bit finicky. Unneeded. Again . . . underdeveloped.
Back to the story, however. You are thrust into the boots of Captain Christophere Raven; a generally unlikable, gravel voiced (think a two-bit Clint Eastwood), stereotyped pirate badass . . . Probably just what you were hoping for in your general pirate title. If that's the case, then great.
If not, well, this isn't exactly the game you want to be playing in the first place so, please, feel free to just continue on.
Upon successfully sending off the Spaniard, his crew, and his ship to Davey Jones' Locker, you dock at a nearby port and proceed to the tavern to receive your payment. Upon entering you are greeted by your employer - and the Spaniard's comrade. It turns out that you were tricked into knocking off the officer, and are now set to take the fall.
After a hilarious, and just as awkwardly animated, first taste of the melee combat; playing out like any other basic swing and dodge experience (only with far worse animations and a tendency to not register your moves), you escape the tavern as you make your way to your ship. Problem is, your ship has been set ablaze by the Spanish army. Your new course is now the other side of the docks and to a new boat, preferably with as little attention brought to yourself as possible.
This is where the stealth is first introduced and, well, it fairs no better than the other elements of the game, sadly. A simple click of the stick switches the fair captain into sneak mode, allowing you to get up behind an enemy and dispose of them via your hook for a hand. This was always a little awkward, requiring a full stop before accessing the kill animation. As for the stealth itself, it is rather muddled, and never fully explained – an issue with the game in general; the lack of instruction in just about everything.
It was always a struggle to gauge the exact cone of sight of enemies. Often times it felt rather random, with similar tactics being rewarded with different results for no apparent reason. Even dispatching a single isolated enemy would, at times, result in the entire area becoming aware of my presence. Stealth, for all intents and purposes, is broken. Luckily the game almost never requires it. I settled for using it to quickly take down an enemy or two before going full force. Worked for me, anyway.
There are certain skills and items to be had later that alleviate some of the issues to be had here, but that isn't enough to push a stealth system broken from the base. If you notice I keep trailing off from the story itself, it's because there's really nothing there to warrant your attention and, much like in the game, it's easier just to throw bits at you throughout instead of focusing on it to any real degree. It is nothing of note, and not something you will remember long after leaving the game behind. Long story short, you commandeer a new, smaller vessel and what initially seems like your typical story of revenge is thrown out for a different story of revenge and just as typical, quickly forgetting your issues with your would-be employer, and even the trouble you found yourself in with the Spanish army itself.
The adventure will take you to many different islands as you search out the killer of your family – believed dead up until then, though is re-introduced early on. It's nothing engrossing, features many an uninteresting or simply forgettable character and, honestly, there were some parts that were so dull I can say here that there are things I already forget as I write this review. Coupled with blatant plot holes - my biggest point on the idea that there's a lot of content that simply didn't make it to the final release – it's easy to say you can give this one a pass for the story as well.
Does anything in this one hold up? Well, not really.
There's a rather diverse skill tree, offering a lot of interesting perks to the player as they level up. At the same time, many of the more interesting ones are to be had in the higher tiers, though that would require much in the way of the player partaking in the bland and drawn-out ship battles in order to make up the experience needed. Not exactly something I recommend. Hell, there's even a skill that makes it easier to spot and avoid enemy ships as you travel – another point that feeds into that game of two halves argument of mine.
Melee combat is dodgy, often times not registering my moves, which rewarded me with an unjust death or two while playing. It's another thing that can be upgraded through the skill tree, but they only serve to make the combat easier, not necessarily better. Though kicking an enemy to the ground and thrusting a sword into their chest never stopped being entertaining, I must say.
There's virtually no real sense of exploration on offer either. Many of the locations, while large, are rather constricting and offer little in the way of interesting secrets to find. While the maps feature long, sprawling land masses seemingly there to be explored, it doesn't take long for a trip outside of the port town to be halted by the dreaded “You can go no further. Please turn around” invisible wall. And that doesn't cover the biggest issue to be found with the title, which would be the performance, bugs and just blatant shoddiness that is the overall quality on display here.
While playing I've encountered everything from broken ai that refuses to fight, to my ship's hull becoming invincible throughout a large portion of the game. From a glitch that did away with all of my equipped items, to quests that simply refuse to trigger. Not to mention the amount of times my character got stuck on the terrain with no fix other than to reload my last save. Hell, even large portions of the voice acting skips out, reverting to simple text on the fly and making for that much more of an awkward conversation. The list goes on.
And in terms of performance, my combo of an i5 3570k, tied with a highly overclocked 680, saw constant fluctuations in FPS, ranging from 20 - 60 on the fly. I opted out of ever trying to hold a solid 60fps, as should anyone with even the most up-to-date of rigs, and just prettied up the game as much as possible while locking it at 30fps for a smooth, if bare minimum gaming experience. Even then, I needed to knock the graphics and details options down to the second of three presets, as I was still often times getting dips below thirty.
While the game is a looker - probably the only positive thing I have to say about the title - it has more to do with the art design and its believable locales than the game being a technical showpiece itself. While it's not poor on visuals, there is nothing here that would warrant such massive performance issues, that seem to be universal. Optimization, suffice to say, was not a priority here. Then again, it doesn't seem like much was.
The game is not finished and, honestly, is really one of the most broken experiences I've had the disservice to play. The fact that this is for purchase, and at a premium price at that, is disgusting and something that should be called out. This game requires a lot more work to be considered fit for purpose. Hell, I had to handle the review having not completed the game due to a combination of the bugs listed above essentially barring me from continuing in any reasonable sense. I don't feel like I missed out on much, though it did make the struggle of almost completing that much more an empty one.
These are the sort of things you could give a game a pass on if it was still in alpha. For all intents and purposes, the game still is in alpha. All of this blatant overlooks are not what anyone should expect out of a "finished" product. Adding a $50 price tag to it all is just a slap in the face to anyone who may have been interested in the title.What's more, despite all of the issues and the obvious lack of time to finish the game proper, consumers should be happy to know that there is cut content on offer for anyone silly enough to pre-order. Just keep piling it on, Topware.
The funny thing is, they could have just as easily placed this into the Early Access program. Chances are they would have received far less negativity from the community, probably sold a fair few more copies and, in the end, consumers may have been rewarded with an actual quality product.
As it stands, we are left with what may just end up being one of the worst releases of the year. And one with so much potential all the same. While I went in hopeful, knowing the troubled development of the title, it turned out worse than I would have though. Topware, the publisher, and Reality Pump, the developer, should take a good hard look at what they put out here. This is the exact opposite of what responsible game makers should be doing.
If you have a craving for a pirate RPG, please look your way to the recent Risen releases. While far from perfect, they have a lot more going on for them, and are of a much higher quality than what is seen here. Hopefully they can serve to scratch that pirate RPG itch that is almost never addressed. Until then, we just sit and wait for someone to handle it in a truly proper fashion.