From Shenzen-based developer Fabled Game Studio & publisher Blitworks Games we have card battler Pirates Outlaws. Best described as a pirate themed take on Slay The Spire it’s hard not to draw parallels to MegaCrit’s 2019 masterpiece.
One thing that immediately becomes apparent is the sheer scope of Pirates Outlaws compared to Slay. That had four classes total whereas Pirates has sixteen distinct classes. Not to mention different card types and hence, strategies for each.
You certainly won’t be romping to a speedy completion with each either, though Pirates does a good job with its introduction via fairly vanilla classes. The key distinction you’ll need to get to grips with is melee attacks don’t require ammunition, but they can only attack the enemy in the forefront for the most part.
You’ll need ammunition for ranged attacks and skill-based commands like deploying shields. The various classes have differing balances of melee and ranged attacks that give them all a distinct feel. At the outset though, you’ll often feel like you’re on a hiding to nothing as you’ll feel a bit bewildered by the sheer number of variables to contend with.
As you traverse the map screen you’ll come across islands that are a standard battle, events which often impart extra relics (aka modifiers), markets that let you buy new cards and taverns that allow you to heal up and get rid of curse cards. These last two are often placed right before a boss fight, though the branching pathways mean that you can sometimes wade into a boss low on health due to low cash. More typically you can end up with a market when you need a tavern. There’s consumables that let you heal up, but you’re still subject to the whims of the RNG.
A special mention has to go to one delightful special event in which you’ll lose health each turn as you try to negotiate a labyrinth. It is entirely possible to deplete your entire health bar in this one event alone. Yeah, that’s some bullshit. You’ll say that quite often while playing due to arbitrary nonsense like this.
One thing that caught us out for example, was what role your ship’s action points related to. They’re affected by your choices in the map screen, that much is clear. But it wasn’t immediately clear why one run ended abruptly until we reviewed a gameplay video we’d captured. In effect, you run out of AP, your ship sinks. You might well be told this in the tutorial phase, but we don’t know about you, we rarely take all the instructions we’re given in first time. The glossary didn’t explain it either.
Another thing, you end your turn by tapping . Zero warning. It just ends. A prompt would be nice, especially if you’ve cards left unplayed. As a result it’s far too easy to fluff a battle by a stray button tap.
After a while though, you’ll start to get a feel for how games unfold. You may even get a decent run going and defeat a boss or two. Here’s the rub, when you beat a boss, you’ve no option to save and come back later. Your only option is to abort your run and take your loot or continue to a probable defeat. It seems really wrongheaded to stop you from continuing a run. We get it is probably to stop save scumming, but surely allowing a manual save after a boss win can’t be out of the question. And when you start again, your save is deleted. Just a suggestion to the developers there.
Somewhat maddeningly, your progress in the arena mode is saved, so we remain a little baffled that we can’t carry on where we left off in the campaign. It also means that games are very long. It’s not so bad if you’re playing on PS5 as you can suspend and hope you don’t get hit with a rest mode firmware update. Forget it if you’re on a basic PS4 though, you’re in for the long haul or have to capitulate early. Perhaps this as a result of the game’s freemium roots on iOS, though no cash money changes hands in the console implementation thankfully.
Thankfully gameplay is solid if not exactly massively riveting. The ebb and flow of battles against the AI is generally quite fun although the same old defeating a group of enemies only for another to appear and hit you for six is an occasional problem. You’ll learn to target particular enemies as a priority, the rocket launcher types that hit you for twenty five damage for example.
Pirates Outlaws is the perfect game to play while you’re doing something else, be it working or watching stop-start live sport like baseball or NFL, perhaps even a Netflix boxset. You can even get away with muting the music as it’s nondescript looped sea shantyesque rhubarb. BBC 6Music with Mary-Anne Hobbs at her most self-indulgent playing a twenty five minute Nils Frahm solo is more engaging, put it that way.
Every game you complete gives you repute with which you unlock new characters, perks and game modes as well as new locations. As well as new characters, you’ll unlock handy things like extra ship AP. Besides normal gameplay, you can also do additional quests such as dispatching pesky ghost pirates that simply won’t stay dead.
Trophy hunters would do well to go elsewhere as the trophy set here is esoteric at best, suited for those in for the long haul. To put it another way, we’ve played ten hours with but a single trophy unlock for having done the tutorial. There’s a few looming for us on the horizon, but a rinse this isn’t. The unlock conditions are often maddeningly specific and unlikely to come from general gameplay. Yes, the sort of trophies we once hated during our Xbox achievement hunting days.
The ultimate issue with Pirates Outlaws is the sheer number of different classes you can play. You could easily have had half the number and a more refined experience. As you tackle the six distinct areas you’ll never feel like you have truly mastered a class in the same way as high level Spire players do. We’re playing with the bear handler class currently but can’t help but feel we’re not even close to untapping its potential.
In conclusion, Pirates Outlaws is a fair port of a mobile game which heavily apes Slay The Spire in many ways, but falls down a little when it comes to the implementation. Being unable to save a run is crap though. It’s OK but not exactly essential.
+ Easy to play, difficult to master
+ Once you get into a rhythm, quite fun
+ A perfect game to idly play while doing something else
- Music looping gets a bit dull to the extent we switched it off after
- Far too easy to inadvertently end your turn
- Spreads its net a bit too wide