Some time soon my review of Pirates of Black Cove will be up on Gamedot (EDIT: lo and behold…), at which point you can marvel at how very mediocre the game is. Not bad, not hateful (I can think of one other nautical game that was…) but still undeveloped and not very satisfying. It would take a concerted development on behalf of any development team to make blasting an opponent with cannon fire dull and Pirates does avoid this, but only just. It’s a line the game skirts frequently, being just engaging enough not to repel you at first sight, but soon enough the boredom mounts and the rewards for completing tasks aren’t enough.
I mentioned the boredom in the full review, since to a large extent it’s what characterised the whole game for me. In brief, the game’s fairly spacious Caribbean setting requires you to point your ship at a quest marker on the edge of your map and take several minutes to arrive at your destination with nothing to do in between unless you fancy engaging in the ship-to-ship combat.
Even as I typed down my criticisms of it, however, a thought struck me – isn’t this quite similar to the gameplay I love in Mount and Blade? This has another map that you must guide your warband around, merely by clicking on where you want them to go. Need to get to the other side of the map? Just click on your destination and wait. There are towns and cities to enter along the way which offer various items and services, much like those in Pirates. Yet I’ve sunk what must be close to 100 hours into both Mount and Blade games whereas Pirates bored me in about three.
There is certainly more to do when on long journeys in Mount and Blade: a tournament might distract you, or a quest you fancy might be offered in a town along the way. This obscures the real reason why Pirates is better, however. Even if there were a million more things to do, it wouldn’t match up to the brilliance of Mount and Blade because of one simple thing: the core combat. Mount and Blade‘s combat is magnificent; charging knights, arrows and crossbow bolts flying everywhere, the cheers and shouts of fighting men and your own character, in my case, flying through the melee on a courser dropping my enemies with horse archery. That’s why you travel to places – the promise of glorious battle throughout the land. It’s why I’ll pounce on even a tiny band of looters that I can mop up in seconds with my huge army, for no reward other than the fun of playing in that combat engine.
But Pirates? My reward for going places is a stripped down strategy game with no depth or excitement, with repetitive enemies, with no strategy or tactics to engage in. If I stick to open sea I might get in a fight with another ship, but the experience is again so minimal that it’s not worth it. What Pirates of Black Cove demonstrates is that the core gameplay must always be the main method of involving the player. A game might have an incredible world built around the gameplay, or fantastic support structures, minigames and additional mechanics, but if the heart of the game isn’t engaging enough then, ultimately, the game has failed. If, in Pirates case, the support isn’t there either, then the problems are doubled.