3DClouds, the studio behind racers such as All-Star Fruit Racing, Xenon Racer, and Race With Ryan have taken time away from the circuit and are back with a procedurally generated pirate adventure that charges players with becoming the one true King of the Seas. There's a touch of Sid Meier's Pirates here, a dash of Sea of Thieves and even a little Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag thrown into the mix for good measure. However, what starts off rather promisingly soon exposes itself to be a disappointingly shallow experience, one that's happy to dole out repetitive fetch quests and boils the exciting, lawless life of a pirate down to nothing much more than a constant, tiresome grind.
Let's stay positive for as long as we can here though, as things do get off to a pretty good start with an initial story setup that seems to promise plenty of intrigue, revenge and adventure. Starting out in King of Seas you'll choose whether to play as a male or female version of the game's central protagonist and, after a quick tutorial on how to command a tiny little Sloop, you're thrown into a tale that sees you fight to avenge your father, clear your name and restore the rightful heir to the throne of this watery world. There's magic, voodoo, Royal Navy bad guys, double-crossing and all sorts of shenanigans thrown into the mix at the outset and early gameplay impressions suggest this one's got the goods to back up its tantalising narrative.
Controlling your dinky little Brigs, Sloops, Galleons and Frigates is a breeze here and it feels rather good to boot. Your speed is controlled by how many of your ship's three sails you've currently got unfurled, with the left bumper slowing you down and the right speeding you up. It's a simple system but one that allows you to pull off some pretty nifty manoeuvres during battles, slowing right down to a stop for a sharp turn and then immediately speeding up as you change direction giving you the ability to almost 'handbrake turn' your vessel to get the drop on enemies and line your cannons up for a blast across their bows.
Speaking of cannons, each class of ship has a different number of these lining its left and right (starboard and port?) sides and pressing 'LT' or 'RT' will fire these off at your foes. It requires good timing and positioning in order to get a clean shot on an enemy ship and choosing when to open yourself up to attack, manoeuvring your boat into harm's way so that you can successfully unload your guns, is where King of Seas is most captivating. Add to this a number of ridiculous magic-based special moves and you've got yourself a combat system that's a bit of a hoot, when everything is going your way.
For reasons explained throughout the game's story, King of Seas enables you to outfit your craft with a host of OTT magical powers and attacks in order to help you get the upper hand in its naval battles. Our current favourite rig — a speedy and highly manoeuvrable little Sloop — has the ability to call forth a Kraken's tentacle from the depths which smashes down onto enemy ships, it can turbo-boost out of harm's way leaving a deadly trail of fire in its wake or even temporarily transform into an ethereal ghostly version of itself through which all incoming fire simply passes without causing damage. You can summon sharks to attack, produce supernatural clouds to confuse your prey, use your ship as a flaming battering ram and even have your crew pee on your cannons to reduce their reloading times!
New ship powers and upgrades can be found in and around the game's map by picking up debris found floating in the water, searching wrecks, grabbing treasure from beaches, completing missions or simply buying them at a port market, and all of these come in the usual common, epic and legendary forms. Further to this you'll also find a handful of goods and items that can be traded for a profit in the many ports you'll happen across and there's a basic economy at work that sees some ports offer better prices on certain goods than others at any given time. All of the cash you make from this enables you to buy new gear or purchase ships and the XP you gain as you fight and collect items gives you points to allocate to the now-expected skill tree which branches into firepower, manoeuvrability and magic upgrades.
So far, so good, then. There's a decent premise here, the combat and basic boat controls are fine and we can absolutely get down with sailing the high seas to pick fights, find new gadgets for our ships and engage with the game's rudimentary economy as the story unfolds. However, spend a little more time with King of Seas and things begin to unravel pretty quickly. That story, which starts off so promisingly, very abruptly ruins all of its own surprises and intrigue in a very early doors exposition dump. Combat, which is undoubtedly fun in small doses when it's going your way, becomes extremely tedious due to a lack of fast travel that sees you respawn at the same base — usually miles away from your target — every single time you die, and side quests soon reveal themselves to be the worst kind of repetitive fetch quest filler.
Indeed, after an hour or two this game descends into an utterly relentless and punishing grind that it doesn't even try to hide. Very early on we had a main campaign mission that charged us with defeating a ship that was several levels above ours, one that kicked our pirate ass immediately every time we approached it. So, in order to level up (at this point we didn't know the enemy ship would level up alongside us) we decided to do some side quests, taking on three different missions, all of which turned out to be exactly the same as the campaign mission we were having trouble with, every one of them wanting us to go destroy this very same high level boat. We eventually discovered — with no help from the game — that we could buy a power from a port's carpenter which saw us pass this first major test of our skills, but it wasn't before we'd spent a good few hours grinding for money and XP, raising our level slowly, dying, being respawned on the other side of the map and painstakingly travelling all the way back to have another go. It really does feel overly punitive and even on normal difficulty this game will punish you incessantly for the first handful of hours before you get a few decent powers and abilities to take into combat.
To make things even more infuriating, there also seems to be little real rhyme or reason to how much damage you take in a battle here, sometimes an enemy will sink you in two shots, sometimes you'll seem almost impervious to cannon fire. Damage is split into three sections, crew, hull and sails, which should work to give the combat a little strategy as you can switch between three types of ammo to target each of these elements of an enemy craft. However, in practice it doesn't really seem to make a great deal of difference and we ended up forgetting about switching ammo types, relying almost entirely on our supernatural abilities to fight from range as getting up close and personal is such a crap-shoot. Add to this one-shot kills from random tentacles that rise out of the depths and wreck your boat, constant interference from other craft turning 1v1 battles into messy free-for-alls, and a system of repairs that sees you constantly run out of materials to patch up damage and the combat here very quickly becomes a drag — which is truly unfortunate as combat really is all that King of Seas has got to offer.
Everything outside of the ship battles in this game is distinctly basic. The economy is simplistic, finding treasure and upgrading your ships is initially exciting but soon becomes repetitive and tedious, slowly uncovering the world map is a grind and the whole thing feels like it has absolutely run out of ideas a few hours in. As an example of this, another mission later in the story drops all pretence of effort entirely and tells you to simply get yourself levelled up to 35 in order to continue the main campaign. We were at level 29 when this happened and were therefore expected to just grind for several hours, wasting our time engaging with boring, heavily repetitive side quests, picking up items for XP, sinking ships for XP, slowly trudging around the world ad nauseum in order to make our way to level 35 so we could get on with the narrative. It's not good.
We haven't really mentioned the map yet either. We're not sure we've ever had to open a game's map so often to check where we're headed and it's a mystery why the developer didn't simply add a waypoint to the game's UI to save us from having to constantly pause the action to see where our objective is located. Also, while we're at it, why is a level 17 quest to deliver a cake or some rum far easier than a level 7 quest to attack a ship? Why do we earn almost as much XP for quickly picking up a bit treasure as we do for engaging in a full-on naval battle that takes several attempts to complete? There are many nonsensical elements to this game, many of which are very poorly explained, if they're explained at all.
There are some pretty serious performance issues on Switch, too. The game constantly stutters as you traverse its seas, repeatedly stalling for a split-second as it struggles to keep up and load in new areas. Water textures can also be seen materialising in front of your craft at all times as you move around and the framerate has a habit of tanking quite badly when more than two ships engage in combat with each other.
In the end, King of Seas is a real disappointment, a good-looking little pirate game that has all the important bits and pieces in place, starts off promisingly enough, but then suffers death by a thousand self-inflicted cutlass wounds. The combat is serviceable, even fun in short bursts, but it grows tedious thanks to frustrating insta-kills, no fast travel option and confusing damage mechanics. The story dies a death early doors and everything else on offer really is time-wasting filler; a constant grind that very quickly saps any desire you may have to stick with this one to its conclusion. If you're absolutely desperate for some pirate ship shenanigans you may well find a few hours of fun here, but beyond that this is one high seas adventure that's pretty hard to recommend.
King of Seas gets off to a pretty decent start with a promising story and combat mechanics that are initially fun to engage with. However, the repetition isn't long creeping in. This is a game that's seriously lacking in any sort of depth, jettisoning much of its early promise in favour of a bog-standard narrative, hugely repetitive side quests, overly punitive combat that thinks nothing of wasting your time and a constant, mind-numbing grind that very quickly becomes a tedious waste of effort. If you're absolutely desperate for a high seas adventure, there's still a measure fun to be had with the combat in brief stints here but, beyond that, this one really is more of a Sir Francis Drag than a Sir Francis Drake.