Game of the Year 2020

Note: This review was written on the 6th December 2020 on version 1.1.6 of the game. All the information about the game at this stage was accurate to the best of the reviewer’s knowledge.

You’d be forgiven for not being particularly interested in another first person Early Access battle royale game that appears on Steam, but although Blazing Sails does technically fit this description, in reality it is able to differentiate itself from most other titles in this genre. For those who are interested in a multiplayer, pirate, ship to ship combat title, Blazing Sails is worth checking out.

The game is mechanically very similar to Sea of Thieves, and having played both games, it feels like how I would have liked Sea of Thieves’ arena mode to have turned out. There is currently only 1 ship type that can hold up to 4 players, and each task on the ship has to be managed by individuals (there are ships to be added, the Developer Roadmap can be found here). This includes steering with the wheel, adjusting the height and angle of each sail to catch the wind, operating the capstan to raise the anchor, fixing damage to the hull, or operating the pump to rid the ship of water. The crew has to work together to keep the ship operating effectively.

As the game goes on, the safe area of the map will shrink due to the encroaching danger zone, much in the same way as other battle royale titles like PUBG or Apex Legends. Another battle royale element is that the ship, as well as the individual players, have to be stocked and upgraded. The game starts with all the ships moored next to islands where the players can find cannonballs, wood planks for repairs, and ship upgrades. Additionally, they will find primary, secondary and melee weapons and their respective ammo types. Players then have to return to their ships to deposit the supplies into the hold, and throughout the game the crew has to keep an eye on the supply levels of each resource, possibly stopping at other island groups for more loot. The wheel, capstan and cannons can be upgraded up to 2 times each. You can also attach swivel cannons to 3 points on the ship, giving you more flexible firing angles. These ship upgrades are balanced quite well, and give you a noticeable, not not overwhelming advantage.

The game allows you to engage in combat both from a player on player and a ship on ship perspective. It’s important to note that unlike most battle royale games, players will respawn on death, and you have to sink the enemy ship to eliminate that crew from the game. Hitting enemy ships will cause holes that leak water, and to counter this a player has to grab some wood from the supply and fix holes individually, as well as use the pump to rid any water. The variations in cannon ammo are a nice touch that mix up the combat a bit. Heavy Cannonballs fly more slowly and drop more quickly, but cause bigger holes that take longer to repair. Anti-Cannon Shot will lock the enemy ship’s cannons in place with chains, which have to be broken in order to regain control of the cannons. Trapshot will drop an opposing ship’s anchor, making any potential escape more difficult. Shots will be affected by distance, as well as the speed and direction of the ship, so you need to learn to account for both. You can also face enemy players by boarding their ships, or by bumping into them on islands. The player on player combat is functional, but isn’t as strong a feature as the ship combat. Whilst the ship upgrades feel fair, players who are lucky enough to come across the rarer and more powerful weapon types have a major advantage when taking on other players. As a plus side, you can jump on an enemy ship, go below deck and pull the cork from their hull, which causes water to flood in until it’s plugged, which is pretty satisfying. Both a cannon fire based approach and a boarding approach to combat, or combination of the two, are effective ways of taking down an enemy ship, so you can at least enjoy either playstyle whilst being useful.

Blazing Sails has a lot going for it. The most positive aspect of the title is the good balance between the arena combat and battle royale elements, whereby gathering resources and weapons is important to be effective, but does not drag the game out for too long, or give you too significant of an advantage by spending longer scouring for loot and upgrades. Having the game being about eliminating ships rather than individual players means you can stay in the game for longer, and you can also join games in progress, which removes much of the early game loot gathering. The combat is also solid, although I would like to see some tweaks to the player weapons. As you might expect with an Early Access game, there are a few glitches, and at least for me, the performance was a bit lacklustre considering the game does not have particularly complex visuals. The game has a low cost, and with new features still to be added, it’s worth a look, even if you want to wait for a full release.