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Pirates of the Black Cove can be described as an adventure real time strategy RPG. But it’s much easier to see it as a modern remake of Sid Meier’s Pirates. For those who haven’t heard of it, Sid Meier’s Pirates and its 2005 remake were pirate simulators that combined numerous gameplay elements and featured ship-to-ship combat, sword fighting, a vast sea to sail and governors' daughters to woo. Despite the fun fusion of style’s there really haven’t been any other games that have capture the life of a pirate quite so well(Sans maybe Pirates of the Burning Sea), so it’ll be interesting to see if Pirates of the Black Cove can compete with the PC gaming classic.
Pirates of the Black Cove sets you as an English sailor who, through mutiny, overthrows his captain and becomes the man in charge of a crew of pirates. As the game goes on, you encounter three different factions of pirates and it’s up to you to complete missions for them and eventually unite them in order to become the King of Pirates and defeat the Pirates of Black Cove.
When you start, you choose from one of several different playable Pirate Captains. Each captain has different strengths and weaknesses like bonuses to naval combat or enhanced melee combat in the land based sections of the game. These bonuses develop over time, and each time your captain levels up he gets a new perk which benefits you in a different way.
Since your overall goal in Pirates of the Black Cove is to unite the pirate factions, you have to earn reputation with each of them by completing a number of missions. There is a fairly good amount of mission variety and completing also grants you money and new ship blueprints. The titular Black Cove pirates act as bosses in the game and while the naval combat is usually quite quick and fun, its in these battles that you really have to use strategy to take down ships with much better weapons and armor than you have access to.
Any pirate game would be nothing without excellent naval combat and in this department, Pirates of the Black Cove delivers in spades. The ship-to-ship combat system is very easy to learn and dive into. While there are certainly some nuances to the naval combat system, its unfortunate that it doesn’t have more depth of meta-strategy in it. That said, the difficulty curve can be a bit odd at times. Some battles can be resolved in seconds while others can take an absurd amount of time to win. One of the keys to winning both the naval and land battles in Pirates of the Black Cove is to manage your health and your crew's health. I found the fact that you do this by drinking rum to be a nice touch.
The overall presentation of Pirates of the Black Cove is excellent, with the game using a piratey art style that meshes with the gameplay and gives a lot of personality. Unfortunately, while the graphics compliment the gameplay quite well, the voice acting is at times terrible, My first pirate captain looked like a badass pirate marksman and then I discovered to my dismay that he sounded more wussy than Guybrush Threepwood. The UI and interface for Pirates of the Black Cove keeps things quite simple but effective, although the tutorial system isn’t that great as it can be overwhelming while important things like how to buy repair kits for your ship.
Pirates of the Black Cove features a good amount of ship customization and by using blueprints players are able to unlock and equip new weapons for their ship as well as buy and switch between different ships. Each one has different skills and strengths and they all suit different playstyles. If you want a massive warship then go for it, if you want a faster, more agile vessel then go for it. The game leaves the choice of ship entirely in your court.
One area that Sid Meier’s Pirates was weak in was when players came ashore. Pirates of the Black Cove tries to nail exactly what Pirates failed to do. When you come ashore, Pirates of the Black Cove becomes a RTS of sorts with your crew being your army and your captain being a hero unit. This works quite well and definitely breaks up the long sections of sailing, although they do lack any real depth and can quickly become tedious.
While the world of Pirates of the Black Cove is by no means small, it’s nowhere near as large of Sid Meier’s Pirates was and feels a lot more empty. There were many points in which I felt like I was sailing for too long without seeing anything. Despite the size of the world itself, there’s a ton of stuff to do for completionists. The game features a ton of different collectibles from Pirate Jokes to blueprints for new ship designs.
Pirates of the Black Cove can be quite ambitious at times but sometimes it suffers from technical issues like freezing and some pathfinding issues in the land levels. While the RTS land-based sections can quickly become dull, the immensely fun naval combat certainly balances this all out. Overall, while Pirates of the Black Cove isn’t a bad game, its not exceptional either. It’s just a good bit of piratey fun for the relatively cheap asking price.