Battle Royale Takes to the Sea

Game Title: Maelstrom
Developer: Gunpowder Games
Price: $19.99 (10% launch discount until April 18)

What is it?

Maelstrom is a naval combat game that includes elements of the recently popular battle royale genre.

Up to 15 total player ships spawn in random locations around a map and are tasked with collecting gold and becoming the last ship floating.  Ships come in a variety of forms split between three different playable races.  Each have their own pros and cons and a unique passive ability.

Outside of other players, there are also AI ships on the map that provide gold and various buffs to boost stats for the remainder of the match or repair your ship.  In addition to this large monsters can appear in the growing and changing dark water zones on the map which can bring your ship down with one slam.  A single much larger monster also roams part of the map presenting an obstacle to players to deal with alone or possibly even together since it seemed to actually take damage, hinting that it can possibly be killed for rewards.

Progression systems are included to customize and upgrade your ship in between matches, meaning all players won’t necessarily be on a even playing field despite choosing the same ships.  Ranking up ships using earned gold adds new ship customizations with various stat boosts.  Another progression feature involves Captains and Crew Members which can be earned from taking one of the top three places at the end of the match.  Captains are the most unique and offer the player’s ship a new ability, while Crew simply provide passive stat boosts.  For those that struggle to win, it is possible to earn them through a leveling system as well, however it is a much slower process, roughly taking somewhere between one to two hours to earn a level up chest depending on your performance.

Outside of this mode there is no other content available currently outside of AI bot matches.  More content is planned for the base game mode experience and based on player counts they could potentially add a full single-player campaign as well.

What I Liked:

  • Offers a truly unique spin on the battle royale genre, rather than going for an easy cash-in clone.
  • Easy to grasp controls that will have you feeling like a master captain no time.
  • Multiple race options which currently include Humans, Orcs, and Dwarves.  Each of these have their own unique set of ships to choose from.
  • Rewarding progression systems that allow you to earn rank up your fleet of purchased ships and load them up with new gear, captains, and crew members.
  • Much like other battle royale style games, the safe map area shrinks over time.  Maelstrom’s version of this turns water a darker shade and has monsters lurking below within it that can easily destroy your ship.  I found this variant to be much more thrilling and scary over other offerings.
  • Sea monsters can appear within safe areas of the map as well, presenting challenging AI obstacles to deal with in addition to other players.
  • As the game title implies, a massive maelstrom can also be present on the map, something which while dangerous can also be used to the players advantage to give a nice boost of speed with its  whirling current.  This presents an awesome location for late game battles.
  • Losses can still provide some rewards which are based on gold gathered during matches and overall placement.  This means slow progression is possible over time even if you are struggling.
  • Battle Royale style waiting area so you can mess around with others while waiting for a match to fill up.

What I Disliked:

  • The fact that you can bring in custom geared and leveled up ships into matches means the playing field won’t be that even always.  The developers have acknowledged this issue and are working towards a solution that will attempt to match up players with similar ship power. (Update: this is apparently live now and will match up balanced players if possible)
  • Outside of the single multiplayer mode there isn’t much else the game has to offer.  A single-player campaign is something they will add only if the games reaches a set amount of sales.  Until then the only single-player option is to play against AI bots.
  • A minor nitpick is that there seemed to be a motion blur feature within the game that could not be turned off in the settings.  This has been acknowledged by the devs, so expect to see a setting arrive eventually to toggle it.
  • If the game struggles to build a good player count I can see the queue times can becoming frustrating and bot matches offer no rewards so progression could come to halt.
  • The end of game loot reward (Captains, Crew Members) only seems to be rewarded for top three players.  Given the advantage these customizations can give players I feel there should be a chance for it to drop regardless of performance, with the chance and quality increased based on standing (Ex. Top three players are still guaranteed rewards, with everyone below having decreased percentage chances at a reward).  With the current system it is heavily pushing skilled players towards easier wins and amateur players towards more losses.

Final Thoughts

Maelstrom is a game I feel that has great potential as long as it can reach the developer’s sales goals that will not only result in new features, but also a solid community of players.  The battle royale genre is something that is already becoming very stale and overcrowded in my opinion due to the repeated attempts with games that all feel relatively similar, however Maelstrom does something that is actually new with entirely fresh gameplay.  It’s different enough that I fear that it won’t get the attention it needs as at first glance someone would never expect it to be a new battle royale game.  With the right exposure and marketing over time it could find a place on a speedy current to success.

For those on the edge I have to say that the game is very easy to get into if you are worried about a learning curve.  There are no overly complex mechanics to learn and the ships are very easy to take control of from the get go thanks to simple WASD and click-based firing controls.  There are of course other elements layered over this, such as the different cannon projectiles and the captains, crew members, and gear which will alter your ships performance in various ways.  At the same time the simplicity can be a downside for some I’m sure that perhaps were hoping for in-depth mechanics for managing your ship.

Despite being early access, the gameplay itself feels quite polished.  The Early Access is felt more-so based on the amount of content available currently which is quite limited.  I’d recommend giving the game a shot if you are even remotely interested due to Steam’s refund option.  If you enjoy it then hopefully you’ll stick with Gunpowder Games and join them on their development voyage.  In the future we can at the very least expect a new playable race along with its associated ships, new maps, monsters, and more based on the roadmap.  Beyond that, as I mentioned, will be based entirely on the success of the game with stretch goals laid out here.

For those curious, they hope to wrap up early access sometime in late 2018, so if you don’t want to hop in just yet perhaps pop it on that wish list and check back later in the year to see where it stands.