by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
At long last it is here: Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales must be one of the most expected games for all those who love the age of sail, sea battles and pirates. Seen through the eyes of two possible main characters, the game provides completely open gameplay, high adventure, four 'nations' to serve or fight against, colonies to govern and many, many ships to plunder.
The bit about the plot
Upon starting the game, you can choose between two characters: Reckless fortune-hunter Blaze or the redheaded daredevil Beatrice, both of whom are successors to Nicholas Sharpe, the hero of Sea Dogs and founder of pirate republic Libertalia. During the past 20 years the major powers of the Caribbean; England, Spain, France and Holland, have all but destroyed this promising young republic and it is now time for new heroes to take a stand and finish the work that Nicholas Sharpe began - or - to seek their own fortunes.
The game provides an endless fountain of random quests, including escort missions, cargo runs, passenger transfers and orders for slaves. You can take these missions, or ignore them as you like, finding your own battles to fight and trade ships to plunder. However, the completed quests provide some experience that will become useful when you are developing your main character and officers.
Career and character development
Similarly to the original Sea Dogs, Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales lets you develop your character in a RPG-like fashion as you collect experience. At each level-up you are presented with points that you can spend on honing your skills or to buy a special ability. The skills include leadership, fencing, tactics, boarding, trading etc. that each have their own effect. Leadership will help you boss your men about and keep them in line, fencing aids your personal fighting abilities, boarding increases your chances to be able to board enemy ships during sea battles etc. The special abilities include more specific talents, such as "mentor" which provides your officers with 10 % of the experience that you yourself garner, and "windcatcher" that will let you get your ship on the move faster.
To make the most out of your career, you need officers who specialize in one or more skills and abilities, thus taking some of the burden from your own shoulders. They are hired in taverns and from that point on, unless you let them go or don't pay them enough, you are in control of their development too. You can assign these officers to fill specific posts on your ship, such as the boatswain, gunner, surgeon and so forth. Or you can assign them as fighters who will then accompany you (and sometimes block your way) wherever you go. If you leave them unassigned and wait until you capture your next ship, you can put them in charge of it. You can sell these newly captured ships at the next port or have them provide back-up in future battles. Alternatively, you can assign the officers as governors of the settlements that you have conquered. All in all, not much new here, if you compare this to the original Sea Dogs.
Ships, ships, what about the ships?
The ships are certainly the most interesting aspect of the game, for they are the very tools that you will be using to make your fortune. You start the game with a small lugger, which is fast and manoeuvrable enough to please a beginning pirate on those first voyages. Soon however, you will want to upgrade, and there are as many as eleven ship types to choose from.
Unfortunately, in the classic Akella fashion, some freedom of interpretation has been taken with the ship types and appearances. For example, a classic tiny boat called pinnace is now the second largest ship in the entire game! At the same time, many juicy possibilities have been completely ignored, such as the brig-of-war and sloop-of-war.
On a more positive note, all the ships differ in what calibre of cannons they can carry and how many. They also have different speeds and turn rates that affect their handling in sea battles. What's more, no two brigs are the same: even individual ships have differences between themselves and when you capture that first warship, you cannot really be sure that you got the best ship in the Caribbean until you try and compare it against its peers. On top of these characteristics that set the ships apart, you can further modify your ship by changing the cannons from bronze to iron, changing the type of the sails and add copper plates to your hull to protect it from enemy shots. And, of course, you can change the colour of the sails between a few basic choices.
No Pros and Cons at this time