Since the incredible success of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, Pirates have been all the rage. Unfortunately, the games featuring those sea-faring outlaws have been mostly very average. Into this fray sails Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships. This sequel to Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales pits the player in the shoes of a sailor during the titular age, and tasks them with determining the path of his burgeoning nautical career. AOP2 has some great ideas, and an incredible amount of depth, however an unfortunate lack of polish in both the gameplay and graphical design of the game holds the title back from fulfilling its promise.
First thing you have to do before you set sail is create your swashbuckling hero. The game features an unfortunate lack of customization options in terms of character creation, allowing you only to choose from one of three pre-created heroes. The game also allows you to choose your characters attribute levels which, while accompanied by a clever P.I.R.A.T.E. acronym (Power, Insight, Reaction, Authority, Talent, and Endurance), doesn’t really differ all that much from a traditional RPG attribute structure. The one place it does differ is in the Authority stat, which increases the ease that your captain can encourage new sailors to join his crew and also decreases the chances of a mutiny spurring loss of morale.
Despite what the title may suggest, you don’t have to be a pirate in AOP2. Once you begin your career, the game offers a wealth of paths for your created captain to take. From wealthy merchant, to nefarious sea dog, your character can build his wealth in virtually any way you can imagine from attacking and plundering other ships, to owning a shop along a trade route. Along the way you can build allegiances with the English, French, Dutch, and Spanish, each bringing with them their own benefits and rivalries. Of course, if you choose to live the life of the pirate, you can expect to be hunted down by the various nations, especially if you’ve attacked their ships. You’ll also be offered opportunities through these affiliations to do missions from local governors of the various settlements you’ll make your way through during the course of the game. Accomplishing these will not only increase the weight of your coin purse, but also increase your standing and prestige among the colonies.
You’ll need to earn money so you can buy bigger ships, and so you can staff those ships with crew of increasing size and talent. You can higher sailors to sail under your flag at the various taverns you’ll find scattered around the Caribbean. The number of sailors you have under your employ will determine a great deal of your success, perhaps most importantly by increasing the number of combatants at your side during combat. You’ll need to make sure that you maintain a healthy amount of food, money, and rum on hand to keep the sailors morale up however, or else you may end up with a mutiny on your hands.
With so much to do in AOP2, it’s unfortunate that the game’s control interface puts such a damper on the games potential. While the games various menus and maps are intuitive and user friendly (with the exception of some questionably small text), the gameplay struggles with an unwieldy control scheme. Character movement is handled via standard PC third person controls, WASD to move your character, the mouse to turn. Unfortunately, a lot of your characters actions are mapped to a mini menu that is opened by the enter key. Once opened, you’ll have to arrow over to the action you want to perform, and then press the enter key again. This becomes difficult when your character is trying to move and perform an action, like speaking to a walking NPC, at the same time. If more non-combat related actions would have been mapped to the mouse buttons, the game would have benefitted greatly. On ship controls are conversely quite simple and intuitive, employing the W and S keys to raise and lower the sails respectively, and utilizing the left mouse button to fire the cannons during combat.
Speaking of combat, it falls into two categories in AOP2: Ship to Ship and Hand to Hand. The ship to ship combat is just as it sounds. When out to sea, you’ll occasionally be attacked (or have the opportunity and temperament to attack others) by pirates or competing nations. When attacked, you’ll have the opportunity to control your ship either from the normal 3rd person perspective, or from a first person on ship view. In either view, the goal is to align your ship’s cannons (represented by circles around your minimap) with the enemy and adjusting your aim to ensure a direct hit. Ship to ship combat has a lot of fun elements and controls quite well; however your cannons load somewhat slowly, so anyone expecting a high paced firefight will be disappointed in the more realistic approach of AOP2.
Once you’re close enough to your enemy, you’ll have the option to board his ship. This leads to the on foot combat. Unfortunately, just like the general movement controls, the on foot action suffers from an unfortunately stinted control scheme. Depending on your strength skill, you’ll be able to fight with light, medium, or heavy weapons with inversely fluctuating levels of damage and speed. Attacks are handled via the three mouse buttons, each mapped to a different attack. You can block via the spacebar, but the game offers three other defensive movements with can be activated by holding in the shift key and pressing one of the three mouse buttons. This combat set up allows for a great variety of attacks, but unfortunately in practice it is too unwieldy to be effective. This makes on foot combat a frustrating exercise, especially when your captain is out numbered.
The audio/visual portion of the game is a serious letdown. The music is uninspired, and the sound effects are effective but boring. Graphically, the game is a muddy mess of poor textures, low resolution text, and blocky character animation. The water looks decent at times, and animates pretty well, but doesn’t look as good as it should considering the amount of time you’ll spend on it.
In the end, Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships is a game that unfortunately squanders a tremendous amount of potential with questionable controls and a general lack of polish. With a rebuilt graphical engine, and a completely remodeled control scheme, the series has a chance to provide gamers with an incredibly deep experience. As it stands though, I can only recommend the game to the most diehard sim and/or pirate fans willing to wade through some pretty rough waters to find the buried treasure in this title.