Another day, another freemium app review, this time Pirates of the Carribean: Master of the Seas for Android. The modern smartphone market is absolutely dominated by the freemium and free to play models, and in many cases this is a very bad thing, as customers are fleeced for far more money than they would pay for full games. What is worse, many publishers are considering gameplay and player enjoyment secondary goals to squeezing every last penny out of their unfortunate customers.
However, not all freemium games are that bad, and indeed you can see both ends of the scale from one company; EA Mobile. Theme Park and The Simpsons Tapped Out are as far apart in quality and value as you can possibly imagine.
So, can Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean tread the fine line between value and quality, or does it sink under the wieght of the gold in its cargo bay? Read on to find out…
Pirates of the Caribbean has little to do with the movies in truth. Other than the pirate aesthetics, the occasional picture of Johnny Depp and the names of the islands, there is little here for fans of the movies. To be absolutely blunt, the game could be re-skinned with any theme and it wouldn’t change a thing about the gameplay.
Luckily, that gameplay is a little bit better than most freemium titles. The aim of the game is to become the ‘Master of the Seas’, and to that end you must claim mastery of twenty islands, which amounts to completing 100% of all the quests on the islands. Each island has several quests to complete, and selecting them gives you options for going about the mission. There is little rhyme or reason to which option you should choose, although I found that selecting the silliest option usually prevailed. Once you have found the best way to complete the quest, a little bar rises slightly, and you simply keep clicking the quest button until the bar is full, at which point you have ‘mastery’ over that mission.
The better part of the game is played at sea, where you must scroll around an impressive looking 3D map, choosing enemy ships to attack and plunder. Ships are usually linked to real life players, and you can see all their stats before you attack. Once you do attack, you are treated to a short cut scene of the battle, and are then told whether you won or lost. You can keep attacking the enemy craft until it sinks if you like, and can earn gold and gems to buy weapons and upgrades with the loot you find. It is fun for a short while, but does soon get repetitive, but it the world map really is quite impressive, especially if you take the time to download the HD visuals pack.
Each time you attempt a quest or battle, you use up some stamina, which slowly recharges over time, or can be instantly replenished by the use of some gems. Yes, gems are Pirates of the Caribbean’s currency, and you will be seeing a lot of them. From using gems to recruit new crew members or speeding up the construction of buildings that you can buy on the island, gems are used for almost everything. You can win free gems when you level up, or by getting lucky with your loot, but most gems have to be bought via an in app purchase.
The game starts off really well, but the quest bars for each mission soon start to move a tiny amount at each attempt, meaning that anyone who wants to complete all the islands is in for a long, hard slog. After the first, interesting, hour the game slows to a crawl and must be completed in tiny sessions, hours apart. It can be summed up like this. Start game, spam quests until one stamina gauge runs out, attack ships until the other gauge runs out, leave for an hour until they recharge, come back and start again.
That isnt to say that, taken in these small doses, the game isn’t entirely unenjoyable, as the excellent presentation, graphics and comedic quest descriptions will keep you coming back, just don’t expect to get anywhere for a long time without spending a lot of money on gems.
Overall, this is definitely better than games like Theme Park, and does have a charm all of its own, and if you are in the market for a decent freemium title, you could do a lot, lot worse than this. While not as good as The Simpsons, this is a polished, but excruciatingly slow, Pirates of the Caribbean themed freemium title.