Forgotten Seas – The Newest Indie Pirate Adventure

An ambitious new high seas survival game by first time development team Pangea Game Studios.
Kai Law

It’s no secret that indie development teams usually comprise only a few people. These teams rely on a smaller budget and sheer passion to get their games up and running, but has there ever been a development company solely consisting of a loving couple? If not then Pangea Game Studios may be the very first to exist.

The self-proclaimed gaming couple arrived on the scene with their open-world pirate survival game Forgotten Seas. The two found support through indie.io (formally Freedom Games), a company whose mission is to back all innovative indie game developers. Thanks to this extra financial backing and advertisement, Forgotten Seas could leave the idea room and launch straight onto Steam.

Pirate video games are something that has been really hit or miss when it comes to triple-A developers. Perhaps this couple can change the course of the genre and breathe some life into its sails once again.

Story

Pirate fiction tends to revolve around adventuring across the seven seas or warring factions blowing holes in one another’s ships. Forgotten Seas takes a different approach to the formula. Interestingly the game takes inspiration from events that happened in real life, specifically the Flight 19 incident that occurred during the Second World War. Several US pilots went missing while leaving Fort Lauderdale and the player takes control of a fictionalized recreation of one of these pilots. The player can choose between the two characters Samson and Fireball (two call signs of the missing pilots).

Trapped in a world much like our own, the player awakens on an island surrounded by endless ocean. Armed with nothing but your wits (and a guidebook) you must gather up supplies to survive and eventually build a boat. Along your journey you need to find clues left behind by fellow lost pilots to find your way home. The story is not the focus of Forgotten Seas, in fact after a while you’ll probably forget about it. It exists mainly as background noise to keep the world feeling alive. Though with any pirate-themed game, the gameplay is always the most anticipated part.

Survival Mechanics

It’s difficult to say exactly what Forgotten Seas really is at its core.

The title suggests it’s a full-blown seafaring adventure, yet there’s a lot more to the gameplay. The majority of your time is spent gathering wood, food and other necessities much like typical survival games. This may deter some players but it’s one of the most accessible survival systems I’ve seen in a game. It’s a very forgiving system, which aligns with Pangea Game Studios’ core belief of making a game that’s suitable for gamers of all ages. That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing however as the world is full of aggressive AI. There’s no shortage of bad guys to fight, from aggressive sea creatures to rival pirates.

You’ll need much more than a boat to keep yourself from visiting Davy Jones’ Locker. Swords and spears are great for close encounters, but pistols ensure you don’t have to get too close to angry pirates and bloodthirsty crabs. When you finally craft your first boat, you can then venture further out to other islands and into deeper water. This is where Forgotten Sea’s survival mechanics get a little more interesting. New materials become available to harvest and shipwrecks can be discovered that harbour precious cargo. There’s also a variety of weather and natural effects which drastically change the look of locations from tropical islands to full-on arctic tundras.

There’s also a level-up system that grants the player a stat point each time they level up. These points can be allocated to one of four skills: strength, dexterity, vitality, and energy. It’s not the most intricate skill system, but it adds a bit of variety that helps games like this feel less repetitive.

Pirate Mechanics

Most people play pirate games to feel like a pirate. As obvious as that may sound, developers must understand this concept and adjust their gameplay accordingly. Did Pangea Game Studios achieve the right balance? Yes and no. A pleasant surprise was seeing the ship variety at your disposal (given you have the materials to craft them). Much like how you grow stronger as the game goes on, so does your fleet of ships. The raft is the most important tool in your arsenal during the early game. It allows you to travel from island to island, check nearby shipwrecks and discover floating containers. As you progress your vessel goes from simply getting you from A to B to helping you destroy entire enemy fleets.

In Forgotten Seas, your approach is entirely up to you. Whether you prefer a handy one-man vessel armed with a single cannon or a majestic galleon crewed by a loyal fleet, the choice is yours. Maybe that’s a simple adventurer or a seafarer hell-bent on conquest. The world isn’t just full of hostile NPCs, other characters are there to help you out. Gold is the currency used in the game and can be used to purchase equipment and goods from traders. As well as this there are also quest givers that provide the player with maps and story snippets. Pirate games often run the risk of feeling empty and Pangea Game Studios have tried not to make this an issue in Forgotten Seas.

What Doesn’t Work

While it’s always great to see developers care about appealing to a large audience this has arguably affected certain mechanics negatively. Survival games need gathering mechanics that don’t feel tedious which Forgotten Seas doesn’t achieve. You have to manually click the left mouse button each time you swing when mining rock or chopping wood. This makes the process of resource scavenging feel even longer than it already is. Sailing isn’t much better either, unfortunately. It’s initially pleasant travelling around searching for new locations, but the slow speed of your boats makes each journey drag on. On top of this, you don’t have much control over your boat as you simply move by using WASD. You can’t control the speed or positioning of your ship with the sails or even deploy an anchor. Pangea Game Studios made it clear that they wanted a simple experience for players, but when is it enough? If the selling point of your game is sailing across the ocean on large ships, then the sailing experience needs to be fun.

Combat is also a large part of the gameplay loop and again suffers from being completely dull. Much like when harvesting a tree or a rock, all you do is tap on an enemy until they disappear. Ship-to-ship combat should be engaging, yet all you do is tap T to lock onto an enemy boat. You can’t manually aim your cannons or even board enemy ships. It makes it feel like less freedom is given to the player which should never be the case in an open-world game. For $25 on Steam, I expect these mechanics to be enjoyable and engaging which isn’t the case in Forgotten Seas.

Room for Improvement

Despite my gripes with the game, Forgotten Seas is still in early access and Pangea Game Studios have shown signs of listening to players’ concerns. Developers and players need to form a strong relationship and if this power couple continues to listen to feedback I do not doubt that Forgotten Seas will become the great pirate game it was meant to become.

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