Imagine that you wake up one morning and find yourself in a dungeon covered in a veil of darkness. Your neighbors are all cloaked in hooded robes and rhythmically chanting into a bubbling abyss. Suddenly large green tentacles burst forth from the block sludge below and you snap out of your trance. It’s evident this block party has gone to hell and it’s time to Irish goodbye. Sadly, you aren’t the most discreet and everyone notices you trip and knock over the refreshments table on your way out and everyone is angry enough about it to chase you down.
That’s Abandon Ship in a nutshell. The game opens up with a group of cultists summoning a Kraken from the deep where you quickly recover your senses and escape. On your way out, you have just enough time to free a few prisoners and commandeer a ship as you escape.
From there, Abandon Ship becomes what I affectionately refer to as a “crew-simulator”. Similar to Faster Than Light, Abandon Ship is a randomly generated map focused on time-pressed exploration, gathering resources, and fleeing your pursuers across the high seas.
Even in the earliest stages of the game, understanding crew roles is essential. Each crew member has a predesignated skill that will make them more useful in some areas over others. For example, you can recruit Gunners who are best assigned to man the ship’s canons, increasing reload speed; or the Navigator who is best assigned to the helm of the ship, granting bonuses to ship maneuvering speed. Using each of crew members to their strength, is the only way to ensure that you’ll have the combative edge against pursuing cultists.
Abandon Ship‘s combat persists of two ships exchanging cannon fire side-by-side. Using various forms of deck-mounted weaponry, players can damage enemy hulls, masts, or even crew members to, ahem, turn the tides of battle. The beginning tutorial ship comes equipped with started round ball cannons to damage hulls, chain-shot cannons to destroy masts, or grapeshot cannons to wound the opposing crew. Each type of damage has an associated path to victory.
On the left side of the combat HUD, players will find a narrow vertical bar divided into four sections. This represents the distance between the opposing ships, giving different weapons and crew members advantages and different ranges. Mortar cannons are most effective at long distance, but the grapeshot canons can only fire at close range. At the closest range, your crew can board the enemy ship and start swashbucklin’. Understanding the nuances of the weaponry and crew combinations gives players the opportunity to develop an effective strategy.
My personal favorite strategy is to destroy the enemy’s masts and use the ‘ram’ maneuver to throw my ship into theirs, damaging the hull and stunning the crew, at the cost of collateral damage to my own vessel. It’s fun, aggressive, and oh so satisfying even at the risk of self destruction. But that’s where the shipwright comes in.
As you sail through the map, you’ll discover ports scattered about the world. Any time players dock at a port, they’ll be able to visit both the shipwright and the tavern.
Shipwrights can improve your ship with upgrades like hull armor or hull spikes, both necessities for the aggressive pirates like myself. Or for the bleeding hearts on there, lifeboats are also available to purchase, giving any sailors knocked overboard the hope of rescue.
But sailors are a dime a dozen and can be hired right next door to the shipwright. When you crew is short, just hire another deck scrubbing bilge-rat. They don’t come cheap, but money spent on ship upgrades has a much greater impact on crew survival than an extra hand.
Eventually you’ll remember that you’re running from a group of cultists who want to sink your battleship, so you leave the grog and port behind to sail the seas once again. What looks like a blank canvas fades away into a beautifully portrayed living map, all contained in an ornate gold frame. It’s a very creative and visually pleasing design, but most importantly, it’s full of content.
Discovering new areas means unlocking more events. Displayed on the map as small white circles on the map that highlight a specific location. Once players arrive there, they will either encounter a quick text event with choices and affiliated rewards, a cult ship, pirates, or sea creatures to combat. Defeating cultists in these events will delay the cultist pursuers, buying you valuable time and unlocking new locales.
It’s worth nothing that Abandon Ship is still in Early Access on Steam and has a ways to go before it’s ready for a full release. But the game has its merits in its current state.
Crew and weapon compositions give players options to keep each playthrough unique from the last. Developing combat strategies is fun, and even more interesting after improving your ship.
However, Abandon Ship could benefit from faster pacing. The game has a lengthy and thorough tutorial section, which is quite valuable to go through. But the gameplay does not get faster after that moment. There are long pauses between cannon reloads and commands where the player is expected to simply wait until there are actions available. Granted, players will be tracking several meters at once so it would be quite easy for the game to move too fast. But there is a healthy balance to be found.
Each map section is more challenging than the last, but the overall difficulty increases at pace that mirrors the stop-and-go combat sequences. There’s plenty of untapped potential and plenty of time for Fireblade Software to make adjustments. In the meantime, there’s plenty of content worth exploring in this canvas seafaring adventure.