Blackwake is a goofy multiplayer first-person shooter where you play your part in a battle between nasty pirates and polite Englishmen. Is it worth buying?
The vast majority of titles featured in Steam’s Early Access section are complete and utter garbage. By garbage, I mean drastically incomplete to a level where you should be paid to play the game, or at least be given free access until it’s finished. Developers of these games shouldn’t accept payment for their virtual pile of rubble. Blackwake is our only hope.
I first jumped into the game, to be greeted by a highly intoxicated Scot, who was apparently our hoy’s ‘elected’ captain. He shouted a few microphone-muffled words, said ‘FREEDOM’ a couple of times, shouted a bit more, and we were off. The other two pirate ships—a large galleon and another hoy like ours—left our side fairly quickly, most likely to get away from this loud drunk, and started sailing slightly to the side of our opponents, which were now visible. We could see what they were doing, trying to line up their powerful side cannons with the enemy to cause heavy damage on the English ships. Our captain, however, obviously had no prior experience on the seas, and was sailing our hoy straight at the largest enemy ship.
A small boat. Charging at a galleon. Keep in mind that the ship we were aiming at had more than eight cannons on each side, not including the multiple swivel cannons. Our ship had two small swivels where we were facing and our captain was clueless.
‘Get ye’ starboard side ready lads, we’re goin’ in,’ he slurred. I heard a glimmer of hope in that sentence. Maybe this guy isn’t so clueless after all. We were at full speed, heading towards a humongous, daunting warship, and our captain wasn’t worried in the slightest. We might be in good, Celtic hands.
The galleon started shooting its swivels at our sails to try to slow us down, so Captain Jack Sparrow over here ordered one of our fellow drunk pirates to climb the ropes and repair them. The guy did as he was bid and was repairing the sails faster than the enemy could tear them. We sailed onwards for another forty-five seconds, questioning the captain on what our plan was, to receive no response but a long, solemn silence. We were growing dauntingly close to the galleon, and our team’s ships were nowhere to be found. Great.
At the last moment, our captain turned left, so we were perpendicular to the enemy ship, and we slowed down to a crawl. Captain Jack changed accents. He became Australian. ‘Fire the starboard and load port with grapeshot,’ he commanded, right after he lined us up. We fired and hit three out of four shots, then loaded port with grapeshot. He turned us around just in time as the enemy galleon lined up, so we were parallel to them. ‘Fire the grapeshots!’ We fired the grapeshots, killing a large handful of people. Things were turning out incredibly well…
Until the other enemy ships engaged in long-range sniper battles with cannons and muskets and swivels and we were absolutely torn to pieces. We all respawned in a new hoy and went over to this island where both of our team’s boats had landed, all drinking rum and being absolutely useless.
Needless to say we lost, but that was still the best first experience I’ve ever had.
Despite the common drunk skippering and many fellow crew members who don’t do their jobs to a decent standard regardless of how hard they try, Blackwake is surprisingly fun. Hearing people yell in horribly-attempted accents is all part of the humour that the game influences. I’ve partaken in some of these amusing — yet completely absurd — moments and it’s absolutely hilarious, especially when you’re all running around, drinking tea, uttering ‘‘Tis but a scratch!‘ when your arms have been blown off, like the posh old dillydalliers you are.
Essentially, your goal in the most basic of game modes is to kill your enemies and sink their ships until they have no more tickets — or respawns, if you will — left, causing them to be defeated. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.
Your duty, as a member of the crew, is to follow your captain’s command. They’ll bark out orders, and you’ll do what they say and hope that they know what they’re doing (or else you’ll have to mutiny them). If your captain tells you to reload all of the ship’s cannons, you’ll need to reload the cannons. If your ship gets struck by enemy fire, then you’ll be ordered to repair it, and you’ll have to do that. If the captain lets you know he’s performing a swing and wants you to fire when you have a shot, you do that. Just follow your captain’s command. Pretty simple.
As a captain, if you’re so lucky to be nominated by your crew as one, your job is much harder. You must steer the ship, make sure you are clear of enemy fire, order your men to reload whatever type of ammunition necessary into the cannons, line your ship up so your men on the side cannons have clear shots, shout ‘Fire!’ when you want your crew to shoot, shout ‘Fire!’ when there’s a fire on your ship, make sure your ship is repaired and in sailing condition and tell your crew to repair it if need be, order your men to load grapples when you wish to board, bring your ship to ramming speed and ram when you want to perform a quick board and deal huge damage to enemy ships, etc.
Your job isn’t pretty, nor is it easy, but it’s rewarding to know that your crew is following you 100% of the way. You also get lots of crew experience and level up slightly faster when you are a captain. To assist you in your difficult job, there is a nifty command screen when you hold ‘C’ which allows you to shout at your crewmen without having to actually use a microphone, but it’s a lot easier when you do have one. You can also use text chat to communicate, like in many games, but I tend to see it as slow and inconvenient in fast-paced combat.
So far, the gameplay is brilliant, the graphics are great with next to no framerate drops, the audio is very immersive with whimsical Monty Python-esque voice acting and hilarious dialogue, and it’s all in a $20 package. I’ve currently played a little over ten hours, and I’ve enjoyed my ten hours immeasurably. There are a couple of pesky negatives, though.
Close quarters encounters are where the game lacks most. In the frequent instance of a board, whether you’ve grappled, rammed or been grappled or rammed, you’ll most likely be faced with an alarming number of enemies that you and your teammates must fight off. The gunplay is what you’d expect from 18th century weapons (with incredibly tedious reload times — again, as expected from that era of weaponry). Landing pot shots with muskets and blunderbuss-ing people away into the ocean is a whole lot of fun. Close melee brawls, however, are a completely different story. When you’re right next to an enemy, frantically swinging your cutlass or broken bottle at them, it feels slow and clumsy, and these so-called ‘timed’ melee blocks seem completely useless (though I might just be exceedingly bad at timing them). It needs to be more fast-paced and refined, and this needs to be done before more game modes or ships or weapons are made.
There doesn’t seem to be any endgame at the moment, besides levelling up enough to unlock that cool hat or the sweet naval jacket. I suppose your goal is to be a good crewmate or captain, but there currently isn’t anything else there.
These are things that will no doubt be changed in the future, as the game grows out of its Early Access cocoon. That said, Blackwake is a perfect example of the state that a game in Early Access should be in. It’s developed enough to be worth the $20, still with enough room to add a whole bunch of stuff and for it to not be overwhelming. The developers seem to be listening to the community’s ideas through their forum, which is a good sign.
If it’s a good LEGO adventure you’re looking for, then this isn’t the game for you. If, however, you’re considering buying Blackwake, a humorous, team-based naval warfare (simulator?) game with good intentions and a knack for getting the crew going, then you should definitely give it a go. In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, ‘Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate’.
👍 Blackwake IS worth the US$20 it is available for.
This review is for the PC version of the game — any other devices may play differently.