by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
A bit of the background
For gamers new to Akella's pirate games its good to know a little of what has passed before as it explains a little of the game's checkered past. Even if the Age of Pirates name is new to the world of gaming, the game can only be seen as the spiritual predecessor of Sea Dogs. Released some 5 years ago, Akella surprised friend and foe with a very engaging game with a decent storyline, crisp graphics, RPG elements and open ended gameplay. Sea Dogs was fairly successful and a sequel was announced not long after. Rumour has it that Akella was running out of money during the development of the game. When Disney needed a pirate themed game for their Pirates of the Caribbean movie and knocked on their door with a bag of money, Akella did a quick&dirty makeover and Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) was born. Obviously, it killed Sea Dogs II as well. I'm assuming that the rights to the Sea Dogs name are in the hands of Sea Dogs publisher Bethesda and that somewhere in the above story, there's a reason to be found why Age of Pirates isn't called Sea Dogs II. I guess it will never be publicly known, but that Age of Pirates and Sea Dogs are from the same tree is obvious.
The game is set in the Caribbean of the -ever eventful- 17th century. It's 20 years after Nicholas Sharpe founded his pirate nation of Libertalia in the original Sea Dogs. The combined fleets of France, England, Holland and Spain made short work of this new threat. As a result, the pirate life became even more perilous than ever been before but as always, from war and chaos spring the most interesting opportunities. You either play as the reckless Blaze, adopted son of Nicholas Sharpe, or the beautiful but deadly Beatrice whose relationship to Sharpe is still unknown.
That's as far as the story goes in Age of Pirates. You'll find out more about Blaze and Beatrice as you play the game but their backgrounds don't really influence the overall plot. In fact, the plot is simple and straightforward. It's your task to finish the job that Nicholas started and bring the entire Caribbean under your rule. Now that's a challenge! While you're trying to achieve your main goal the game will keep you entertained and gaining experience through randomly generated quests. These quests aren't generated at the start of the game but are continuously generated so that you never run out. In essence, this enable you to play an endless game that continues until you have reached the main goal at a time of your choosing.
So far Akella has released the names of 19 inhabited islands ranging from Curacao to Barbados to St. Martin and Jamaica. Ample room for buccaneering, I think. All of these islands, as well as the water in between, are rendered in an updated version of Akella's fantastic Storm engine (2.5). If you look at the screenshots that come with this article, you'll agree that the engine produces some of the most beautiful outdoor scenery ever seen on the PC. Islands look lush, ships are rich in detail and the water... well, I'm writing this in my swim shorts. I'm ready to dive in. Day and night changes seem to come in many variations, mimicking real life as close as possible. In short, the game is a feast to the eyes. And yet, they're not the most significant improvement over PotC and Sea Dogs.