Privateers – Review

Privateers is an (as of this review) unreleased roguelike strategy game, developed and published by Monster Tree.

At first look, (and I mean literally from the first picture I saw, followed by the start of the tutorial), Privateers appears to be a top-down roguelike action RPG, my first thought was how similar it looked to EtherGaming’s recent release Pocket Rogues, from the just the top of the head camera angle down to the light and shadow system used (I have to assume they are sharing an engine by just how similar in appearance they are), however when I actually played the game the differences are readily apparent, Privateers actually felt a lot closer to FTL in a fantasy pirate setting, than a typical ARPG.

Gameplay wise, there are segments in which you must command your crew to explore and fight, these handle more like a real time strategy game than an action RPG, you select your crew and point them in the right direction, they will attack enemies that approach without further prompt, however if you leave them to their own devices you’ll likely get wiped out fairly quickly, in order to combat this, and combat the enemies more effectively, each crew member will have skills that you can manually select, and you can pause the game at any time while still giving orders to your crew to implement as you resume, each crew member has a class which defines their base stats, the equipment they can use and which ability they have, also the basic archetypes are represented however there are sub classes to split them up even further, for example, instead of just a mage you can get a sorcerer, an elementalist or a summoner among others, the game is procedural generated so you will start with a different crew each time but in my experience they will be a balanced crew of a priest/healer, warrior/tank and ranger/archer equivalents.

When you are not in a quest, you spend your time in the town, where you can perform basic functions, such as buying and selling equipment, upgrading your ship, equipping and healing your crew, or in the local pub you can find new quests and hire new crew to join you, the quests run on an internal date system, each quest will be available for a specified amount of time (i.e. 30 days) and will take a certain amount of time to complete (i.e. 3 days), when you have multiple quests available to you, you will need to work out which order to take them on in so as to not let them expire before you complete them, however even if you run out of quests by either not accepting them or letting them expire, you can send your ship out to explore, which will allow random events and potentially open up new quests to embark on.

The events are really what make the game feel like FTL, when you select a quest there is high chance that your crew will encounter something unexpected on the way which can range from a mini event to information on another quest to take part in after the current one, most of these events will also have modifier options that change the outcomes, some of these will change your reputation level (positive turns you into a Naval Hero who is likely to receive presents from people, negative takes you on the route to Pirate Overlord which other than being a way cooler title also gives you benefits in combat, some enemies just surrendering based on your notoriety), there are also some modifiers that can only be performed with a certain crew class type, which is another reason to keep a varied crew around.

Story-wise, there really isn’t one, but at the same time the game is largely story based, how does this make sense? Well the game is quite narrative based but you decide the narrative with your options, there is no real overarching story that you could explain, it’s sort of like a choose your own adventure novel (for people that remember them still), the basic story is a crew of sailors trying to survive and prosper, it’s up to you if they do so by subjugating the weak, protecting the feeble or just treasure hunting.

Due to the procedural nature of the game, there is a high amount of replayability as well, when you select a new game there are a few objective options you can select from as far as end game goes, you can try to amass 50,000 gold, gain a positive reputation of 100 points or a negative one, and there is even a free sail option with no endgame, just survive and prosper in any way you see fit, all modes have a game over option as well, in the form of the death of your whole crew, if a single member dies you can hire a replacement, but if you lose everyone on an expedition you’ll need to start again.

Soundwise, the game is pretty basic at the moment, sound effects are pretty stock, which isn’t a problem as that’s all they need to be really, the music is nice but lacks variety, as such you will be listening to the same loops repeatedly, the worst of which is the sailing theme, purely as it plays from the start awkwardly quite often.

The Graphics in Privateers are by far the weakest aspect for me, the top down view is bland and makes it hard to tell what anything is, all human characters are just heads, shoulders and occasionally hands and feet, and most of the monsters don’t look much better, in between the quests, when you are in town, the town is a drawn picture, it looks ok, better than the characters, but still feels sort of off, like the proportions are off, and lastly there is inside the tavern where there are characters you can click on to talk, these characters look quite frankly, terrible, most of them look like rushed placeholder art (which as the game is still unreleased they might actually be), during my time with the game I had a few issues, characters walking into objects and getting stuck (including other crew mates), people in tavern appearing as just circles (which was sort of an improvement for some) and a quest in which I accidentally left an area due to the exit appearing directly under where the modifier option was so an accidental second click took me to an area I could not leave with nothing to do, forcing me to start a new game, as even quitting and reloading just brought be back to the nothing room, and yet with all these issues I still found the art to be the weakest aspect of the game by far.

Overall, aside from the aforementioned technical issues, sound and art problems, I found myself enjoying the game enough to do multiple runs and will likely do some more, especially after new patches are applied before release.

In coffee terms, Privateers is a decent cup of coffee served in a Styrofoam cup, even if the ingredients were top shelf you’d never convince anyone that likes the finer things in life to give it a shot, once they start using nicer cups more people will take a sip, and hopefully by that point it will taste as good as the ingredients potential, because at the moment, even ignoring the cup, it’s a mediocre blend that’s still pretty addictive, but it has a lot more promise waiting to be brought out.

  • Sam B

    For any readers of this article, if this sounds like your kind of game we would love to give you a free steam key for it. Jump on our discord and introduce yourself.

  • Sam B

    Thanks for the very well thought out review Chris! As you stated, the game is in alpha so it still has a lot of rough edges and polish needed. I am glad that you found the core elements enjoyable. There are a lot of improvements that we will be shipping by the end of the month. We would love to get feedback from you again on a future build closer to release!

  • Chris Z

    Have you ever seen a full top down game with human characters that actually looks good? I mean tanks/planes/spaceships are ok, but a head and shoulders just looks lame to me

    • Sam B

      Hey Chris! I agree that this is a really hard perspective to get right. Even with great art, it doesn’t look as nice. However, I think a lot of indies pick this perspective because you can rotate the sprites 360 degrees and they still look correct. This prevents you from having to redraw all of your character assets at 4 or 8 different angles which saves a huge amount of effort. For a small 2 man team this is a HUGE win. Lot’s of interesting compromises have to made when you are a small indie with tiny resources 🙂

      • Chris Z

        That makes a ton of sense, I’ve always wondered why people used that perspective over an isometric one that does the same thing but looks better, the different in the sprites required is the first time that I’ve instantly understood the choice.

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