Pirates. Free. Pirates. Free.
This is a free game. About pirates. I don’t know if I’ve repeated myself enough here.
What also works in Kartuga’s favour is that it’s a very, very good game. Despite my experiences at Ubisoft’s Dusseldorf offices with the triple-A browser games in development, I was still a little wary about InnoGames’ browser-based PvP pirate title. There’s still a little bit of prejudice but with the rise of Unity, these games are getting more and more involved with every passing moment.
The gentlemen at InnoGames wasted no time in getting us sailing, and within five minutes we knew everything we needed to know about captaining our ships. Which cannons you fire is determined by which side of the ship your cursor is on, and you fire with a simple mouse click. Special skills are activated by hotkeys and you can fire a harpoon – used for slowing enemy ships – by pressing space. It’s incredibly ergonomically designed around playing on the move or on a laptop/netbook, translating well from device to desktop and maintaining enough detailed functionality to use everything properly.
Each ‘class’ of ship (this basically comes down to DPS, tank, and healer) has an expansive skill tree to progress through. From what we saw these are all equally detailed and have the same depth as a full-fledged subscription MMO. The focus is solely on PvP but there’s a rich PvE overworld to explore, in which you can complete quests to collect new gear and crewmates (The equivalent of your typical MMO armour). It’s breathtaking how colourful and detailed the overworld is; and with a solid variety of environments promised for launch, Kartuga’s impressive visuals are going to be a huge selling point for those not quite convinced of Unity/browser gaming’s potential power.
I was quite content just exploring the overworld and sinking NPCs with just a touch of mad childish glee but time flew and we were dropped into one of the game’s PvP maps. These are as richly detailed as the overworld and although the maps are of a somewhat intimate size, they streamline the games so you’re never lost wandering around the map looking for something to fight -cough, World of Warcraft, cough. The first mode we played was a typical tower-capture game focusing on the collection of damned souls, repelling enemy ships from our own defense towers and captured souls whilst striking out and attempting to gain ground. It was a furious back and forth as enemy engineer ships dropped turrets and repaired themselves against the endless barrage from our ravagers. People got passionate about their ships pretty quickly and it was almost bizarre seeing this level of attachment and gamer rage ferment so quickly – vendettas were attempted and lost, suicide missions against all odds found unexpected victory, and we all quickly learnt that if we wanted to achieve any sort of lasting victory, we needed to work together.
This was especially true for the second mode we attempted. Multiplayer in Kartuga can support up to eight players but in this instance there were only four of us. This’ll be over quickly, we thought.
The basic aim of this next mode was to pick up a bomb in the middle of the map and carry it to an enemy shipyard. Once you’ve planted the bomb you have to stop enemy ships from disarming it – once it detonates, you get a point. Individual skirmishes between ships don’t usually last that long, they’re fast and furious, but in this instance we were all quite evenly matched. There’s an added desperation when you’re carrying the bomb and your only ally was just sunk, leaving you to limp alone to the enemy shipyard where you have to hold off the enemy assault before they can disarm the bomb.
The games automatically end at 20 minutes if nobody wins – we went for 15 minutes of vicious back and forth before scoring a single point, and we did it by the skin of our teeth. It’s a testament to the game’s balance that we were playing with two of the game’s developers and we were able to contend with them evenly despite having only been introduced to the game about fifteen minutes ago.
Kartuga is still in its youth but it’s already ship-shape, with the closed beta set to launch soon we’re going to see a lot of improvement on the game’s pacing and hopefully some more solid information on the game’s freemium currency. Any prices we saw in the preview were merely prototypical so there’s still not much of an idea how costly the secondary currency is going to be. But with the way things look so far, it’ll be easy to drop in and out of the game and have a great time without spending anything at all. Keep a eye out for Kartuga’s beta – I guarantee you’ll be impressed.