To understand the 17th century Caribbean(!), you must first grasp the principle of mercantilism.
Broadly speaking, mercantilism means setting up all international trade to favor your interests over those of your colonies and trading partners. To understand why anyone plays along with this kind of rigged system, you must first grasp the principle of really huge navies.
It really was an ugly and extortionist system; if you’re a merchant native to the New World, you carry the yoke of second-class status your whole life. Thanks to cunningly tailored taxes, you can’t get a good deal with your mother nation. Thanks to a frighteningly inventive range of specialty cannon shot, you can’t get a good deal with anyone else. Is it really any surprise that some of these disenfranchised businessmen turn to smuggling?
Yes, it’s safe to say that these fellows right here have spent a lifetime under the boot of greedy, callous, contemptuous thugs from the Old World:
So, you know. At least they’re used to it. Beat to quarters!
So–is my heart really in this?
Mechanically, this is a no brainer. Every system in the game is broadcasting trash mob; farm for loot and XP loud and clear. There’s just that little mutter of historical perspective putting a damper on my giddy Errol-Flynn pirate romance. So what should I do? Should I chase that conflicted feeling? Ignore it? I feel like to get the most out of this game, I ought to be contextualizing my actions more or much less.
Let’s try on “much less.”
These guys have grey text on red boxes. Therefore, no-one loves them and I should kill them all for their stuff.
Mmkay. That wasn’t too bad. And how about “more?”
Every port I’ve been in was built on generations of endless, hopeless, absolutely unfathomable human suffering.
Fuck those red boxes, let’s git ’em!
Ah–this must be the naval battle screen. I figure I’ve got about forty seconds until this part is completely out of my hands, so let’s make the most of it.
On the top left, seems we’ve got wind direction–very critical information, since the nuclear engines that power our 17th-century watercraft are shut down for during engagements as a safety precaution.
At the top middle are some speed settings. Not the ship’s speed, mind; it doesn’t reef or let out your sails, it actually literally hits fast forward on the engagement. Like pretty much every speed-up-game mechanic I’ve ever encountered, the second I use it I can’t imagine life without it.
At the bottom of the screen you’ll see an MMO cooldown bar for my meager cannon collection. Unlike other pirate games, there’s no arcade style hand-holdy template showing you how far your cannonballs will go and where they’ll land. Instead, the mechanics authentically simulate being an idiot trying to figure out how your own cannons work in the middle of a sea battle. Figuring now’s as good a time as ever to start troubleshooting my imminent loss, I fire a blast experimentally. It lands…uh. I don’t know where it lands. I can’t actually figure out how to rotate my view to see what I was aiming at. So I might not know where my line of fire is, but I do know that if the enemy’s in it, I won’t see him.
I’d love to get further in-depth, but they’ve already boarding, which, thank Christ.
Looks like we get to define what kind of commander we’re gonna be. Mount and Blade does include controls for ordering around your warband; it’s actually a really straightforward and intuitive system for making your men do the Time Warp and then fucking die. To give you some context, ask the community how to issue orders effectively and they’ll let you know it’s really easy. Anyway, that’s why the first two options on the screen above make me mighty suspicious–being an officer doesn’t generally pay off for me. Anyway, let’s not bother playing Admiral Nelson until my navy consists of more than ten penniless volunteers in a big rowboat. I elect to go right into the fray.
Surprise! There aren’t any surprises here. It’s just Mount and Blade on floating platforms.
The ships are static levels connected by big fat gangplanks. You run around and get into third-person combat with the enemy, who, on this difficulty, are really easy to defeat. Just about the only thing that’s new is that if you hit “use” by one of the icons on the ratlines or crow’s nest, you climb up with the grace and naturalistic energy of a drummer boy in a creepy music box. In other words, it’s exactly what you were picturing when you pictured third-party Mount and Blade sea combat.
|You, uh, might have to take my word for it. I'll fix future screenshots, but just so you know, the game really can be this murky.|
It’s really not too bad, though. I don’t feel especially nautical, but there are worse things in life than pirate-wallpapered Mount and Blade battles. The only real hassle is climbing up into all the nooks and crannies to kill the stragglers, who have generally busied themselves raining hogsheads of bullets down on such men as didn’t hear your order to jump to the left.
And that’s the last of ’em. I’m pretty happy with the results. Half the original guys I set out with are dead, but–come on. Half of everyone I’ve ever met is dead. When you’re a badass and a grandma, it just comes with the territory.
All in all, an honest day’s work. What say we take this loot to port and wait for the game to inevitably get weirder?
NEXT WEEK: INEVITABLY, THE GAME GETS WEIRDER