Author Topic: Pirate Dragons: Early Access Review  (Read 4370 times)

Jubal

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Pirate Dragons: Early Access Review
« on: August 26, 2023, 04:18:53 PM »
Pirate Dragons Early Access - a review by Jubal

Game Type: Indie/Commercial
Genre: Action RPG

Link: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1835120/Pirate_Dragons/

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So, pirate dragons. The good news about pirate dragons is that it does what it says on the tin: you are a dragon, you start your own privateer fleet, you go around fighting between different factions and attacking pirates and generally building up a haul of booty. You can do some trading, though I will admit I largely skipped the trading part of the game in favour of attacking pirates to try and take their stuff. I'd have liked to see the other game elements expanded a bit, but basically the core naval combat loop is the heart of the game and that's correctly where the focus has been.

The upsides
I think the most important point to make about this, and it's genuinely no small feat, is that by and large I found the flying combat genuinely good fun. Most games with flight combat or other 3D combat are absolutely terrible, because making a good maneuver system work in 3D that the player can actually aim with is very difficult. However, having most of the targets be moving in 2D (effectively, due to the water surface) actually works pretty well, and the overall experience of flying down the side of a boat and fire-strafing it is really enjoyable. That's a big plus and somewhat the really core selling point of this game, and given this game is very cheap I think it was entirely worth the price for this alone.

The surrounding game also has a bunch of worthwhile basic RPG stuff - towns to visit, quests, and so on, where you can work up your hoard and build a bigger ship fleet at the various ports. There's upgrades available both for you and for your vessels, and a fair bit of customisation - you can make your own flag with a good range of options, name your dragon and each of your ships, and so on. I'm an absolute sucker for that sort of bit of writing yourself or your take/ideas into a game's story, and I really enjoyed that.

The downsides
Firstly, optimisation. Yes, my laptop isn't new, but that doesn't mean a game of this size should be taking this long to load or having the graphics glitch because things can't handle them. I was having glitch-outs in some battles due to the particle effects etc, and if there's one thing an action RPG really, really can't do without, it's smooth gameplay. The size of the back end also needs a look, because this game is somehow larger in file size than TES IV: Oblivion, which given its very significantly smaller range of landscapes is something that should maybe be a cause for concern.

There's some work needed on the UI, which looks a bit, to put it gently, cheap (I think better fonts and graphics work could help a lot here). It's also not always clear what's going on: it took me a while to work out, for example, what the impacts were of losing - a defeat screen that gave readouts the same as the win screen ought to be a priority, I think. I found the map movement really janky too, the controls felt a bit awkward (I'd have preferred a "click to move here" system). I think I also needed to be able to zoom out a bit more and it felt tricky to work out where I was and where I was going except by near constant map checks.

Hopes for the future
The core gameplay loop is good except when the optimisation can't keep up, though it's quite built towards a skill-first game and one with solidly mid-range difficulty. It'd be interesting to see more options for balancing skill and preparation, the kind of thing that e.g. the Witcher does well, where your skill in combat balances against your tactical sense of what to do. Right now for example you don't have any control over your bonuses and when they launch and what you get: being able to plan and prep those in some way could add a really interesting tactical element. I didn't play much with the alternative breath weapons, but flagging those up better might be good - possibly adding quests to initially unlock them, then keeping the training as it currently is for improvements would be interesting.

I think there's more to be done on building up the setting too. This is never going to be a setting-first game, but I still felt a bit lost in the way that everything felt kind of generic and unexplained. Where really are we? Who are all these factions? I think expanding the quests as the game develops will be important for this, and I'd also like to see more variety of random encounters available.

Finally, more for stretch goals, I think a game this reliant on the core game loop needs more variation in that loop. The different ships as it is are fine, and the occasional enemy wyverns add interesting variation, but considering some other sea monsters or similar to change things up would start to make the game have a much stronger sense of variation and be generally less same-y. Dragon versus kraken as a boss fight would be really tricky to do well, but would also be SUPER fun, having the kraken in a bay of destroyed ships and just lobbing hull parts at the dragon as you try and burn each of its tentacles off or something.

Anyway, a solid purchase given the low price for now, and plenty of potential for more as it develops, so this is 100% one of my best below-five-euro steam purchases of the last two or three years, and I've made quite a lot of those. Looking forward to seeing more.
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