Naval Action Preview [Early Access]

Fans of Patrick O’Brian rejoice, now you can channel your inner Captain Aubrey and take command of an 18th century sailing ship in the early access game, Naval Action. Creaking sails, strained rigging, and the rush of water all set the stage. The time period is probably around 1800, though some of the games features make it feel like it’s happen in the golden age of piracy, or about a hundred years earlier.

Naval Action

puts you in the role of ships Captain in one of the games factions. They cover a wide range of period nations including the US, Britain, Denmark, Spain, along with pirates. Some factions are at war right at the start of the game. No word if factions can declare war on others later on in the game.

The game has an almost EVE Online feel to it. Zones of contested ocean with pockets of security where the Nations Navies roam. I’ve yet to run into a player pirate, but I’ve spent most of my time off the Eastern Seaboard near Charleston.2016-01-26_0856

Initially you’re greeted with a very blue and very sparse UI. This is your home port interface and is definitely as bare bones as it comes. Up top is some hints to what more the game will offer ranging from missions, a shop, your own fleet, trading, and even crafting.

Past that boring blue screen we find the real draw of the game. The Sea.

2016-01-26_0907And man, this game is pretty. Your littler cutter breaks through the surf with ease all the while rolling in a manner that would make me turn green. The wind is actually a factor in the game and as you move about your speed will change along with the trim of your sails. Later, in combat, this can play a huge advantage over who has the “weather gage”, or the ability to control the engagement because of the better wind placement.

Beyond your home port you’ll find… water. Surprise surprise. And this where things get a bit tedious. Without an autopilot, or First Mate, I have to keep at it while I try and sail to some distant port. Sure the game is pretty, but it gets stale like seabiscuits after an hour of exploring.

The interesting part comes with the ship combat. About every ten minutes their is a small fleet battle that pits a dozen or so ships on each side against each other. And that’s where a game that at first seems like a proof of concept shines.

The combat is interesting, rather like World of Warships. There is no reticle or targeting help, you have to time the roll of the waves and fire right at the proper moment. It’s challenging. Almost too much so, sometimes you obviously hit the enemy without any damage done.

In my first fleet battle my little cutter mounted a type of cannon known as a carronade. This cannon has a very short nose, but fires a larger caliber ball for the size. So for me it was all about getting close and hammering the enemy.2016-01-26_0920

This actually worked pretty well as the fleet engagements turned into a spinning mass of ships all trying to keep each other in the guns. My carronades, when they hit, absolutely shredded the enemy’s hulls.

I wonder how closely the methods of battle fit reality? Ideally the other cutters would keep me at range and hammer me with their longer range guns. From what I saw nearly everyone just got as damned close as possible and just kept shooting. The fights felt too long, even if it was more realistic.

Each match is allowed one hour and thirty minutes. Wow. I know in real life some of these fights could go on for hours, but I really don’t want to steer my little cutter in circles for an hour and a half.

The grind looks to be a bit steep right now. In World of Tanks within a few hours you have an extremely wide variety of tanks. Here it looks like you might have 12 hours before you get out of the cutter and into the next ship. That’s too long. Ideally in an hour I’ll have some ship choices, and in a few more I’ll have other ships to choose from. Grinding to fight the same pirates, do the same missions, and running the same routes just won’t be fun. If they want to succeed they need to ease people in and show them a wide variety of ships.

2016-01-26_0939Eventually you’ll be able to outfit your ship with more than just cannons. And this could be a really interesting part of the game. You could mount a bunch of carronades on the top deck, or maybe you prefer long guns, but these have to go onto a lower deck. So the trade offs and advantages makes for some interesting gameplay. Lighter sails might give more speed, but be more fragile. Once the interface is fleshed out some more I think this could get really cool. Spanish guns. French Sails. English Oak. All variety to add to the immersion.

Immersion is what the game is going for, and if they can manage to wrap you up in a naval cloak then they’ll have a winner. If it feels like you’re genuinely working with a sailing ship from 1795 and really plying the seas, then man, this could be a fun game. If it just ends up being a World of Warships clone with sails then I think they’re doomed for obscurity. The structure is there, and I’m excited to see how it progresses.

Verdict : If you know who Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, get the game now. If you’re into the golden age of sail, check it out. But others might want to wait for the decks to get swabbed and a fresh layer of varnish on the teak.

Gamer, Author, Engineer, Dad.

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