Just like the pirate battles of yore, if pirates were dice-rolling robots.
By Ned Jordan
Raft Pirates is essentially a PvP MMO game in which players craft armed rafts
to send into one-on-one duels with each other. If you're picturing galleons
manned by swashbuckling adventurers and scoundrels, well, you've got the wrong
picture. These pirates are little robots that resemble beans with arms and legs
and their rafts are quite literally rafts. However, that doesn't mean that they
don't take joy in attacking each other with the hopes of coming away from the
battle with a nice haul of plunder.
Every player begins their career with a
simple raft built around a crane with a diver on the end of its hook that is
essential to their ambitions to be the scourge of the game's seas. Drop the
diver into the water and he'll pop-up a minute or so later with salvage
materials that you can use to add more sections to your pirate raft and place
plenty of weapons on them. If you want to help the diver out, you can play a
mini game in which you move him left and right as he descends, picking up gears
while dodging mines. Succeed and you'll collect some bonus resources on your
dive. Each subsequent dive takes a bit longer than the last, but the number and
variety of resources gets better. You will eventually tap out a dive location
and have to move on to the next, though.
Once you've got some resources you
can spend them to build some weapons. When placing weapons on a raft section
there are a few considerations that you'll have to take into account. The first,
of course, is the cost of the weapon and whether you have enough of each of the
various resource types it costs to purchase the weapon. The next consideration
is where to put the weapon. Each raft is divided into a grid and each weapon
takes up a certain number of squares in the grid. Getting the most weapons onto
a raft is a little like playing a game of Tetris, although the game won't let
you rotate the weapons before placing them. Each weapon is rated in terms of its
power, too, so you'll also need to make sure that you pack each raft with as
much power as possible.
Once you've got some weapons in place, you can sail
out into pirate waters and try your luck against other players' rafts. Each game
map has safe areas in which you're free from attack by other pirates, but the
resources gained from diving are far better in pirate waters than in safe
waters, and the clock that determines when it's time for you to gain a level
only runs in pirate waters. When you move to a spot in pirate waters a battle
will begin if another pirate is already there, if not, then you can do some
resource gathering while the coast is clear. If you want to actively seek out a
fight, then sonar power-ups are available that will let you see where other
players are currently located and how strong their rafts are compared to yours.
When two pirates occupy the same spot on the map, a battle ensues.
battle begins that attacker decides how to position the rafts, as long as at
least one raft section from each players' rafts are touching. Battles are
resolved in much the same way they are in the board game Risk. The total
strength of your raft determines the maximum number of dice that you can roll
each round, and once the dice are rolled they're sorted from highest roll to
lowest and matched up against your opponent's rolls. The higher roll in each
match pair scores a hit for the player that rolled it, with ties going to the
defender. The battle continues in this way until one player's raft is destroyed
or the attacker attempts to break off the attack. The winner of the battle is
awarded resources based on the original strength of the loser's raft, and is
given a grace period free from attack in which to dive for more resources.
Raft Pirates is a free-to-play game, and it shares a lot in common with other
games in the genre. Everything from building new weapons to earning additional
moves is timer based, and everything on a timer can be rushed if you're willing
to spend some real money on power-ups. Real money can also be used to unlock new
weapons sooner than they would normally be available or to purchase premium
weapons. Players who spend cash will be at an advantage because the game
balances the PvP based on total raft strength, so a player with a lot of raft
sections and normal weapons may be rated at the same strength as a player with
just a few powered-up raft sections. And since battles are determined by the
comparative strengths of individual raft sections rather than of the entire
raft, paying players' rafts are inherently stronger.
Raft Pirates has a goofy
vibe to it, some inherent pay-for-advantage imbalance, and simple and shallow
play mechanics, but in spite of all of that it still manages to provide some
entertainment. Designing and growing your raft, upgrading it when new weapons
become available, and testing it against other players' designs are all
enjoyable and compelling enough to keep you engaged for a while. Challenge
quests and boss fights that must be won to open new maps add to the fun. If you
have the patience to deal with the slow pacing and the temptation to pay for
boosts and upgrades, then it's worth checking out.