Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned Preview
We recently traveled to Propaganda Games in Vancouver to see their swashbuckling action RPG, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned. Though the game won't be out until early 2011, it's nearly finished - and looks it. Armada of the Damned will provide the run-up to the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and will give players a deep, hardcore RPG experience.
You play Captrain Sterling, a young man with dreams of the pirate's life. Unfortunately, that life is cut short, as you're killed by the evil Spaniard Maldonado before you can say "Shiver me timbers." But as you sink to the bottom of the ocean, wrapped in your ship's anchor, you're saved by an undead pirate captain and conscripted into the Armada of the Damned.
Your task is to find the scattered pieces of a legendary ship known as Nemesis - the only ship capable of traveling to the place where the Goddess Calypso is entombed in a crystal. The plan, ultimately, is to set her free, and with her, your own soul and destiny.
So that's the big, overarching plot. However, there are two distinct paths to that end point, and which you choose is decided right up front at the beginning of the game. Around the time you wash up on the beach after your resurrection, you must choose whether you will become a dashing and Legendary swashbuckler, or an evil and Dreaded pirate. Your choice dictates your quest objectives, your powers, and your appearance. So Armada of the Damned is essentially two distinct experiences in one. That said, within each path, you have room to play. So you can be a Legendary pirate who is still a jerk, or a Dreaded pirate who means well.
Propaganda's developers demonstrated how these two different paths play out through one particular scenario. In each case, Sterling was after the steering wheel of the Nemesis, which was stored in Maldonado's palace. The Dreaded path has you sneak in through a window and snatch the wheel, then use incoming fire from your ship to escape, despite the loss of many innocent lives
The Legendary scenario, on the other hand, has you disguise yourself as one of Maldonado's associates. After grabbing the wheel, you are confronted by Maldonado and company above a crowded ballroom, where you make a rousing speech, before gallantly escaping with the wheel.
So where the dreaded pirate uses chaos and fear as the means to his end, the legendary pirate uses bravado. We also saw these differences play out in a combat scenario. Before we get to particulars, you should know that the action in Armada of the Damned looks just like what you'd see in an action game. You run around, dodge, hack and slash. Behind all this is a deep RPG back-end, which you can pay as much or as little attention to as you want. Casual players will be able to button mash their way through, while hardcore players will be able to min and max and build their pirates into truly fearsome adversaries.
Now, the Legendary pirate's fighting style saw him quickly dashing from enemy to enemy, delivering quick sets of blows. The dreaded pirate, on the other hand, moved more slowly and pulled enemies to him. The Legendary pirate used a special attack wherein he threw a bottle of gunpowder, then shot it for area of effect damage. He also had two swords that he was able to work into creating some slick combos. The Dreaded pirate used relatively supernatural powers, summoning water to overwhelm his enemies, and using an anchor to reel them in, and then bash them.
Both versions of Sterling were able to taunt, which lead to a curse being applied to the target enemy. This enemy not only took more damage, but also suffered from longer combo chains. When a cursed enemy was almost dead, Sterling would execute a finishing move, which in turn would spread the curse to all nearby enemies who saw it. So this is a glimpse of the strategic depth of the battles in Armada of the Damned.
And those are just the ones that take place on land! We also saw the Nemesis take to the high seas and do battle with an assortment of British and Spanish ships. There are sail shots, hull shots, and crew shots and each will be particularly successful against different kinds of ships. But one type of shot that is effective against all types is the "Wrath of the Deep" Dreaded special attack, which calls down a cinematic stormstrike on the enemy for a one-shot kill.
Aboard the Nemesis, we also noticed a lovely she-pirate named Penny, who was in the first mate position on deck. While the Propaganda crew wouldn't tell us anything about her, they did mention that there will be many different first mates and other crew members to choose from. We don't know if you'll be able to romance any of them, though we think that's a distinct possibility.
Armada of the Damned certainly features some romantic venues. The game's two main cities are Tortuga and Port Royale. Tortuga is a seedy pirate's playground, while Port Royale is the clean commerce center from the films. Both were gorgeous locales that looked better than what you see in many finished games.
It seemed clear to us that Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned is nearly ready to ship, and yet, the Propaganda crew will have until early next year to finish polishing for its launch on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. That, in turn, will be months or possibly days before a fourth film arrives in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. We know which one we'll buy a ticket to first, and it won't be the movie.