Kartuga – Preview
The older I become, the more I’m convinced that Monkey Island is responsible for nearly everything to do with my personality. Since the first time I finished the Lucasarts adventure I’ve had a minor obsession with anything comedy, monkey, point and clicky or piratey, and you need only to attach just one of those words to a particular game to catch my attention quicker than my dog noticing a fox. As soon as the higher-ups mentioned that Kartuga involved pirates, I volunteered to cover it before reading a single extra word. To my dismay, it soon became apparent that Ticking Bombs weren’t going to be bringing any swashed buckles or multi-cranial simians to the plate, but instead they’ve bought something rather unique to the fray.
Focusing on the naval portion of old-school pirating, the main action of Kartuga will see you confined to your ship as you take part in a variety of PvP battles supported by an extensive PvE role-playing adventure. As you’re confined to naught but your vessel, it’s probably for the best that Kartuga doesn’t feature a cartoonishly silly portrayal of the seven seas – the intention being to shy away from the “yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” style that gadabouts like Jack Sparrow perpetuate – and focuses instead on the sense of exploration and intense battles. However, the main issue I found was that the ships themselves lacked uniquity; if everyone is sailing the same ship then it’s not only going to cause some issues in the heat of battle but it’s also going to give an overriding feeling of similarity between players.
The path of disparity is granted through a class system, bestowing players with a variety of additional powers that focus more on providing another avenue of strategy over a definitively offensive or defensive slant. In the domination mode we played, the base combat simply involved capturing key points on the map, collecting points and winning if your side reached the pre-determined criteria, with combat consisting of sailing around the water and firing cannonballs at enemy ships or turret placements until they made like the Titanic. You’d be forgiven for considering the pace sluggish, but with the class system in place, the best adjective to apply is “methodical”. Without the boon that your class provides there’s the tendency for battles to just devolve into both ships circling endlessly and decorating each other with cannonballs, but with great power comes great strategic possibility.
The S.S. Gaminglives was endowed with several class-specific powers: buoys that could be placed to give the user a welcome speed boost and impede the voyage of others, aerial drones that slowly repaired the ship, turret placements and smoke bombs, which didn’t seem to do anything to hinder opponents and eventually felt like pissing against the wind in terms of a viable tactic. The recharge rate of each power varies – though it’s not clear if this is how the player chooses to level each ability or whether it’s a fixed timer – but these seem slightly inconsistent; turrets may only survive for about ten seconds before sinking but they can be summoned as soon as they’re gone, and are somehow quicker to summon than the smoke bombs or buoys.
Entering matches is quick and painless, and was activated when all the relevant players gathered by the nearby port and selected the game mode in question, where the system then pairs players by their levels and will fill the rest of the match with AI if the lobby doesn’t fill. To Kartuga’s credit, I didn’t clock that several opponents in my second match were computer-controlled until the closing moments, and even then it was more to do with their generic user-names than their nautical abilities. It’s unlikely that you’ll be forced to spar against artificial foes outside of the PvE objectives, as each server is large enough to accommodate thousands of other players, which should practically guarantee a living partner or two as you tackle the world before you.
Upon reflection, I find myself unsure of Kartuga; it’s unlike anything I’ve played before, but that revelation is as equally a gift as it is a curse. The lack of clichéd and comic portrayals of pirating could be a breath of fresh air, but the world I saw felt stale and lacked a definitive personality. The focus on the naval combat is a welcome change of pace from sword-fighting, burying treasure and finding inventive uses for a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, but ships lack individuality and I’m not convinced that the class system and powers will be deep enough or offer enough strategic depth to prevent conflicts becoming trite in the long run. I’m intrigued by the promises of a persistent world, but mostly pondering how that can be effectively portrayed if players can’t leave the confines of their ship. Finishing on a positive note, Ticking Bomb and Innogames were keen to point out that the upcoming MMO has a low barrier to entry, and with only a two gigabyte RAM requirement it can easily be run by half-decade old laptops and computers.
While the release date is still a while off, any burgeoning swashbucklers who want an experience that looks beyond the veneer of our romanticised imagery of piracy can sign up and register for the end-of-year Beta by setting sail for Kartuga.com.
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