Abandon Ship Early Access Preview

Abandon Ship's mixture of exploration, crew & resource management and FTL-style combat is one worth following.

By Woozie, Posted 21 Feb 2018

Imagine waking up one day deciding to quit the cult you’re part of. You wait for the opportune moment, bust a couple of other unfortunate souls out, steal a ship and set for the wide open sea. Except, you’re not running away, since every now and then, a pesky octopus keeps contacting you telepathically, asking if you wouldn’t like to go back and continue taking part in the horrible things your former associates are into. That’s pretty much how Abandon Ship starts, although, the tone of things might be a bit less lighthearted. Combining exploration, resource and crew management with FTL-style combat involving Age of Sail ships, it provides an interesting mixture of elements in the Early Access landscape.

Abandon Ship’s world map is divided into regions which house explorable areas. Each of these areas comes with different types of weather and more or less calm waters. Lightning, for example, can strike ships, while in combat, causing fires. Fog can obscure the enemy at long range making precise targeting tougher. Volcanoes can erupt during combat, causing either fire or hull cracks. Unruly seas bring waves crashing into ships, requiring the crew to brace, lest they risk being thrown overboard. Moving from one explorable area to the next is done through gates placed at one or more of the four cardinal points. It costs a certain amount of supplies, adding a resource management element, and also requires completing a certain number of events in said area. The edges of these areas are marked by golden frames, an appropriate touch given how its art style is inspired by naval oil paintings.

Abandon Ship, Early Access, Preview, Screenshot

Events can involve combat or text that presents the player with simple choices. Sometimes, you’ll bump into a school of fish and gain supplies, or you might see a castaway in the distance, which you can decide to approach or ignore. Saving a ship beset by pirates might gain you both gold and an increase in crew morale, while trying to rob a ship that’s barely holding together can bring about the (very) sudden death of one of your crew members. There is some variety, but things do end up repeating after a while. Getting three combat encounters in a row isn’t particularly ideal as, most of the time, they’ll play out the same, unless you choose to ignore them, forfeiting potential resources. While these events often involve choices, some of them do have a tendency to brusquely kill off your crew. Currently, this feels a bit cheap, as many times, you can’t really react to it, instead just having to cope with an experienced crew member dying in a fight you couldn’t control. At the same time, their distribution can work against you. My first run was doomed to fail, as I ran into repeated events that relieved me of needed supplies and crew. My 2nd run was considerably smoother as the game threw lots of gold and supplies my way all throughout.

Traveling from area to area, you’ll encounter Ports where ships can be bought, upgraded, or equipped with new weaponry. Armor makes for sturdier vessels, spikes increase ramming damage while making sure enemies don’t get away unscathed should they decide to ram you first, while your boring old mortar can be replaced with one that’s guaranteed to crack the hull of the enemy ship. There’s even a lifeboat which your captain and crew can use to escape when things go south, potentially avoiding permadeath. I wasn’t as lucky the first time around, as my ship was blown to pieces. My captain ended up dying out at sea while clinging to a piece of wood. Ports are also the place where you can buy supplies for travels and hire new crew. When your ship’s hull is barely holding together, or your experienced navigator was killed off by an event, they can be a godsend. What’s interesting is that while, generally, gunners will excel at handling weapons and surgeons are the only ones that can heal others, in taverns, their stats will be somewhat randomized, meaning you might bump into a surgeon that’s also good at repairing the ship. At the same time, if a gunner repairs the ship a lot, his repair skill will increase. This adds choice, as sometimes, you might find better members as you travel, while also creating potential for getting attached to your crew.

Abandon Ship, Early Access, Preview, Screenshot

As you go about, attempting to thwart the Cult, you’ll inevitably run into enemy ships. A good portion of Abandon Ship will be spent doing battle. Borrowing from FTL, ships are divided into sections. Damage the sails and you take away a ship’s mobility, making it harder to get closer or further from you. Take out their medical table and healing won’t be readily available. There’s a good variety of weapons on offer, although I did stick with the regular cannons and didn’t encounter much trouble during my second run. Some weapons can cause fires, while others crack the hull, allowing water to make its way onto the ship. Some are effective only at specific ranges, while others can specifically suppress the enemy crew, making sure their weapons fire less and repairs take longer. Harpoons can keep a ship close unless cut, and there’s always the possibility of ramming and boarding the enemy.

In order to fire, weapons need to be manned. Similarly, choosing the engagement range can only be done if you’ve someone manning the wheel (and someone else making sure the enemy’s sails stay damaged). I found the rhythm of the combat to be a bit too slow. A good portion of the time is spent looking at bars as they fill up, selecting a target and watching tiny projectiles fly towards the enemy. Killing off crew can be fairly tricky, at least when the ship isn’t specialized specifically for that, while the occasional fire or leak, never felt truly dangerous. There were a few exceptions, when facing ships with a more varied weapons setup, such as flamethrowers and acid mortars that would splatter fire and poison all over my deck. That was when the combat shone the most, as I was frantically scrambling to clear hazards while deciding whether I should just move in close and board or continue fighting at range. Fleeing is also an option, which upon getting a certain upgrade, in tandem with an experienced navigator, becomes way too easy to do. There’s definitely potential to the combat in Abandon Ship, however,  as it stands, unless you constantly shift  between weapons, which didn’t feel necessary, combat does get to a point where it becomes stale, requiring going through the same few motions repeatedly.

Abandon Ship, Early Access,Preview,Screenshot

Graphically, Abandon Ship oscillates between an interesting oil painting-inspired look outside of combat, and muddy, unimpressive visuals while doing battle. There’s some variety as different areas come with more or less turbulent weather and different island types, however, the maps feel fairly empty. In combat, the texture work on the ships isn’t the best and I found the characters to be a little too small. Targeting the proper enemy in melee can be difficult and melee combat itself is not really something to look forward to. Crew members clip into each other and it really relies to focusing down one foe, then moving onto the next, with occasional healing breaks. It’s a case of combat being rather uneventful most of the time and not at all atmospheric, as firing cannons results in small projectiles being shot towards the enemy ship in a manner that’s not too impactful. Were it not for the icons above the characters, discerning between them solely based on their models would be difficult, and when it comes down to crowded melee encounters, clicking on the proper target can be a nightmare.

Abandon Ship has an overarching story that, while playing with the usual lovecraftian elements, does manage to drive things forward. Main and side quests send you across different regions, which allows for discovering the different weather types and, to be quite frank, there is a sense of adventure to it. The writing itself is passable, for the most part. The first “chapter” also takes some inspiration from FTL, attempting to build pressure by throwing foes your way after a bar has filled up. Where FTL’s incoming fleets ushered in a constant sense of danger, Abandon Ship fails to do that, at least at the moment. The Kraken is a thoroughly disappointing enemy from which you can easily flee. Alongside the Kraken, there’s a “formidable” enemy ship that’s as easy to down as any other, and doesn’t reward anything if you decide to sink it. This means that fleeing is the best option and, as it can be done fairly easily, makes the encounter to be more of a nuisance than anything else. Then there are the Haliphron, vicious monsters, which initiate inescapable melee combat. Given how the melee combat isn’t one of Abandon Ship’s better features just yet, it’s understandable how Haliphrons brought more exasperation than anything else. There’s also a Combat Campaign which is essentially a string of combat encounters minus the exploration aspect.

Abandon Ship, Early Access, Preview, Screenshot

The current framework makes Abandon Ship a title whose progress is worth following. There are moments when it began to feel like a great seafaring adventure. Saving castaways, defeating pirates, trading with ships out at sea, looking for ports when low on supplies, or in need of an extra man in your crew - it can definitely be fun. However, it’s not quite there yet, as they interlock with sudden deaths you can’t react to, a world that feels a little too empty, as well as events and combat that do become repetitive. My second playthrough was considerably more generous with resources, as opposed to my first, which does make me wonder whether the title will aim to be a more relaxed adventure with occasional bouts of danger as opposed to a constantly tense affair. Time and Early Access feedback, will tell.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Fireblade Software
Developer(s): Fireblade Software
Genres: Strategy, Adventure
Themes: Indie, Naval
Release Date: 2018-02-21 (Early Access)

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