by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Playing the game
No, the most significant by far will be the ability to take over and develop towns. Yep, you read that right. No longer will you just be attacking to loot, you'll be attacking to conquer and keep. After you've successfully taken an enemy colony, you can install a governor loyal to you and when he's in place you can start shaping the colony to suit your own goals. However, not all colonies need to be forced to 'see things your way'. It's possible to bribe governors to swing them over to your side.
Keeping control over a colony sounds easier than it is as other nations will be interested in it too and are always awaiting a good moment to take it off your hands. When that happens, you'll receive word that the colony is under attack. Depending on the strength of the colony and the size of the attacking fleet, the colony will either repel, resist or be overrun. As long as it's resisting there's an opportunity for you to head back and come to its defense. So depending on your own speed, you'll find either your own flag flying over the island, or the enemies in which case you'll have to start all over. Unfortunately that is all that's known about colony management. It's an integral part of the game and it definitely got my attention.
Obviously a pirate captain needs a ship. You can obtain ships in several different ways. Buying and capturing are the more obvious ways but it's also possible to add to your fleet through quests and partnering with other captains. Such partnerships may not last forever as partnered captains aren't known to be exceptionally loyal and reliable. Of course you could always try and punish such behaviour and attack the 'traitor' and assign one of your officers as captain of your newly acquired vessel.
Did I mention officers? Yes I did. In similar fashion to PotC and Sea Dogs, officers may join your crew and add their skills to your own. Nothing new there but what is interesting is that officers also gain experience and as they gain levels, you can control in which direction they develop. Keeping your officers alive becomes vital as a well developed NPC can enhance your ability to survive in the harsh and hostile Caribbean considerably.
Another way to increase your chances is through ship upgrades. You can outfit the 16 different ships that the game sports, with a number of upgrades. There will be twelve cannon upgrades that aren't only about how heavy they are. You can also acquire cannons of different quality. Higher quality cannons will for instance allow you to fire more often before overheating and blowing up. Other upgrades improve the speed and handling of your ship like brass plating and improved rigging. Between the wide range of ships and variety in upgrades, it's possible to create a very versatile fleet with ships catering to different wishes. The only restriction is in the amount of ships that the player can control which is up to four at a time.
We'd almost forget that your own character gains experience too! The skill system consists of 11 skills that you can assign skill points too. Among a range of combat related skills like sword fighting and defense, there are several that will help you improve trade and the speed of repairs on your ship when it has been damaged. On top of that you receive ability points with each new level. Ability points can be used for special abilities that also influence your character. The Heavy Hand skill for example, will allow you to negate enemy blocks during melee combat and the Helmsman skill reduces the damage your ship suffers during storms.
Expectations are high, indeed
I was a huge fan of Sea Dogs and even if I felt Pirates of the Caribbean was a bit of a cop-out, I enjoyed playing that too. Akella has an unmistakable talent for breathing life into the Caribbean and into pirate life. Small improvements like locals responding depending on your behaviour towards them, will only enhance this even further. Combine that with a highly moddable engine that will revive the once strong and very creative Sea Dogs and PotC modding community and we may end up with a game with long lasting appeal. Hopefully Akella will be more forthcoming with information soon so we can get a taste of what's to come. For now I wouldn't get your hopes up for a 2005 release. Things have been too silent for that to be very plausible still.