GDC11: Pirates of Black Cove is the Pirate Game We Secretly Wanted All Along

One of the many pleasant surprises I came across at GDC was Pirates of Black Cove, a pirate-themed RTS from Nitro Games and Paradox Interactive. When I gave Paradox a visit I figured it’d only be for current indie powerhouse Magicka, but as it turns out, all of the games they had on display were quite promising. Pirates showed the most potential, and with the way it’s progressing, Paradox looks to have another massive hit on their hands.

The guys at Nitro sat me down and gave me a brief preview of the game, and it looks like quite a good time. It’s the golden age of pirates in the Caribbean, and in Pirates of Black Cove, there’s four major pirate factions controlling the seas. Three of them are “good” pirates, in that they actually have their own codes and morals, while the last faction, the Pirates of Black Cove, are ruthless douchebags that do whatever they want, whenever they want. As such, the Pirates of Black Cove pretty much control most of the seas, terrorizing even their own kind for personal glory. As a scrub pirate, your objective is to get in good with the rest of the pirate factions and unite them to down the Pirates of Black Cove once and for all.

Describing Pirates’ gameplay is a tad difficult. It’s part RTS, part ship battle, and part top-down RPG. You’ll spend most of your time in a top-down perspective, like an RTS, except you can control your main character/Hero unit like how you would a top-down RPG like Diablo. You gain missions from pirate mansions located on islands owned by the three factions. These islands are the equivalent to villages in RPGs, where you can walk around and talk to NPCs and such. This is where your reputation can come into play; the lower your reputation, the less these NPCs will respect you, and give you more rude comments than useful information. On the flip side, the higher your reputation, the more valuable information they’ll tell you, which can be helpful later on.

You can increase your reputation by taking on quests and missions from the pirate “king”, located in the pirate mansion. Here you’ll select a variety of tasks; in the alpha demo I was shown, one of them was to rescue the king’s kidnapped daughter from savages on another island, while another was to sink some pirate ships just off the coast. We opted to rescue the king’s daughter first.

To do so though, we would need to assemble a ragtag team of pirates to do our dirty work. How? On each island, there’s also construction sites, where you can build barracks and training grounds for various pirate units. For our task, we built two structures, one that trained some faster, basic pirates, and another that pumped out heavy artillery pirates that haul around cannons.

Once we have our team, we now can load them into our ship, and embark to the other island. The island wasn’t too far away, and we didn’t come across any pirate savages to do ship battles with, so it was a fairly painless process.

On the island, the battles were standard RTS fare, with multiple branching paths to get to the house where the princess was being held. Once the princess was rescued, you’d need to escort her back to the ship and back to the pirate mansion for safety. Since Nitro understood how much of a hassle it might be to escort a helpless princess all the way back and run the risk of getting ambushed, they implemented items such as the Wind Charm in the game, which automatically teleports your team back to the last mansion they were at. It’s helpful and smart, and makes the hassle of an escort mission virtually pain free.

Upon completing that quest, I was finally able to see what the ship battles would be like. We went and opened up the shipyard, where one could upgrade multiple elements of the ship or create entirely new ships via blueprints found in the game. Additionally, you could pimp your ship as well, painting it different colors, applying emblems, all that great personal customization.

After going through all that we embarked again and took care of the ships. What followed would’ve normally been a relatively standard ocean battle, with cannon balls and whatnot, except Nitro did an amazing thing: they added some absolutely insane weapons to the ships. Our ship was armed with heat-seeking artillery shells, which almost seemed unfair against the enemy’s craptacular cannons, and there’s many more ridiculous weapons in the game to upgrade. One other example would be a mine that, when exploded, would create a huge bubble atop the water and decimate anything within that bubble.

The end of that battle signified the end of the demo, which was a bit saddening, as everything I’d seen before that had me hooked. It really is the pirate game I wanted but never realized, with RTS-lite elements that are simple but still strategic and captivating, and light-hearted, good-natured humor that’s reminiscent of that found in Magicka. The main character’s name is Walken dePlanc, for crying out loud, and while traveling on the ship we came across a mermaid that talked about “seamen.”

Really, for a game that was only in its alpha stage, Pirates of Black Cove looked fantastic, and even though I’m not a huge fan of RTS games by any means, I’d nonetheless love to see more of it. Keep an eye out for this one when it comes out in June; it definitely has the potential to be a major hit.

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Allen Park

Allen is an utter whore of a gamer; he's completely open-minded to all games, be they AAA blockbusters or $5 casual children's games. His focus is on indie games specifically, valuing gameplay and ingenuity over sparkly visuals and ridiculous gimmicks. When he's not geeking out over the newest art game, he's out toning his sexy, sculpted shoulders while surfing epic 1.5ft waves, or having a good time with local, high-gravity microbrews.

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