After many months of coverage, a soft-launch and a hands-on preview, Seabeard (Free) is finally upon us. When a game gets this much coverage and hype, it’s typically hard for it to satisfy all expectations. This seems to be even more true whenever a game relies on freemium mechanism as a way to monetize. After spending a great deal of time within the game, I’m happy to report that I don’t believe Seabeard is a victim of its own hype but I do think that its freemium system will probably alienate some of its potential player base.
Once long ago, pirates were united under the banner of the legendary pirate Seabeard. However, after a horrific monster attack, his hideout was destroyed and Seabeard himself vanished with nary a trace. Without his guidance, the pirates scattered and began to quarrel and bicker. As a descendant of Seabeard, you return to the ruined island with a goal to rebuild it to its former glory and hopefully reunite the pirates and restore order to the region. Seabeard’s story is grandiose and full of potential and certainly sets the stage for wanting to keep playing.
Actually playing Seabeard immediately brings to mind comparisons to Animal Crossing and in some regards its a pretty apt comparison. Both have plenty of open-ended gameplay with a lot of focus on personalization and small daily quests for rewards. However, unlike Nintendo’s casual darling, Seabeard goes a lot further in terms of goal-oriented objectives and expansion that goes beyond simply improving your home. Sure, home improvement eventually becomes an important facet, but Seabeard also charges you with building an actual economy, complete with marketplaces for selling the various items you’ll find and residences to house the traders that’ll run your markets. You can also build a storehouse, trading depot (to sell items to friends that visit your town) and a variety of upgrades to your core craftsmen.
Those craftsmen are the key to earning the game’s standard currency which is necessarily for nearly every facet of the game. For example, you first recruit an Angler, which will allow you to fish across the various islands and sell them at your fish market. Eventually, you hire a swordsman that will allow you to explore dark caves and dispatch enemies which lets you discover treasure and collect monster parts that you can sell at the parts market. Both types of activities employ mini-games in order to succeed and while neither one is offers any real strategic depth, it at least offers some kind of input activity. Seabeard also takes advantage of real time, with certain missions or items restricted to certain times of the day.
Seabeard offers a lot more than simply monster hunting and catching fish. You can also collect various food and wood items scattered across the islands that can be sold at their respective markets. There are also crafting stations that allow you to combine the basic items you find across the land into more complicated items that can be sold for more money or are necessary for missions and constructing some buildings. Finally, a daily quest system provides random objectives and rewards that offer clothing, furniture or monetary gain and experience (a leveling system acts as a wall to unlocking some of the cooler things).
As mentioned earlier, customization is one of the other big points for Seabeard and while it isn’t too robust it still offers enough to give the impression of personalization. You can purchase and customize your character’s clothing, your craftsmen’s clothing, indoor and outdoor furniture for the entirety of your island, and even the exterior of your boat (as well as the boat itself). Considering the perpetual focus on unlocking and improving a wide variety of aspects of your island, I never felt the need or desire to spend my money on purely cosmetic items. However, for those out there that enjoy that aspect, it’s there to be taken advantage of.
Speaking of boats, sailing mini-games are another big aspect of Seabeard and are essential to earning the ingredients necessary to both build/upgrade your island as well as accomplish the myriad of quests that can be thrown at you. Mini-games include manuever-oriented ones such as ‘Dangerous Waters’ (lane-based pratfall avoidance) to tap-based games such as ‘Target Attack’ (tap to shoot the targets while avoiding the civilians). Players are graded on a three-tier scale and earning a gold medal awards a variety of exclusive items. Players can also earn really rare items such as dynamite, which can remove rocks from your island and can open up new areas to build. Sailing mini-games are on a timer so the earning potential isn’t unlimited (one of the few freemium elements the game incorporates). However, I never felt that it was particularly restricting.
In case you haven’t figured it out, there’s a ton to do in Seabeard. Quests reload every day and offer ways to earn experience and supplemental income and items. There are also dozens of items you can eventually learn to craft and sell, and there’s always a high level storyline quest to do which typically involves restoring your island to its former glory. In addition to the customization options and crafting upgrades, you can also eventually discover new lands offering more opportunity to earn items and discover quests. For the most part, I was never left with nothing to do but that may be due to my casual play style which lends itself well to Seabeard’s freemium mechanics.
As we covered in our hands-on a few months ago, Seabeard’s freemium aspects were what concerned me the most. While the soft launch has seen the developers significantly tweak and improve the mechanisms to be more player-friendly, the free-to-play elements are still there and exist primarily to slow the player down. For example, every major action has a timer attached to it. Selling items in your marketplace, building/upgrading your island, crafting new items — all of them have timers that can be sped up with the game’s premium ‘Pearl’ currency. In addition, every significant main story quest requires a ton of money (among other items) in order to complete them.
I really don’t have an issue with the above, but Seabeard’s biggest fault is when it relies on its randomly awards as necessary items to progress. Let’s say you want to build a new residence for a trader you want to hire. Before you can even purchase architectural plans (which requires money) and then build the residence (which requires even more money and items), you need to clear the land for construction purposes. Clearing the land will require rare items which have a small chance of being rewarded when earning a gold on medium or hard difficulties. You can also potentially buy it from an NPC but the odds of an NPC willing to sell it to you are still rare (not to mention it requires a lot of coin in and of itself). When you combine the above with the fact that premium currency is pretty expensive for the amount bestowed (and required if you wanted to skip required construction items), Seabeard can conceivably have some pricey paywalls if you’re on the wrong side of the games randomization engine.
The most frustrating thing about the potential paywalls is the fact that I really want to progress in Seabeard. Improving my island or hiring a new ally are pretty awesome experiences but it happens few and far between. Seabeard also starts out pretty slow in terms of what you can do to earn money, which tends to push players towards purchasing currency to try and speed it up. By the way, that cool story I talked about earlier? You kinda get lost in the day-to-day drudgery of earning coins and upgrading buildings and little gets paid to the tale for quite some time. Thankfully, the developers have made some significant changes to improving the opening experience and some portions of the freemium timers. However, I feel like my concerns can never truly be addressed within the freemium system the developers have chosen to employ.
Still, even in its current state I really like Seabeard. It’s not going to work well for players that want to play for hours on end perpetually but for casual players it hits an adequate balance for progression. It’s focus on story missions and actual goals also provide me greater motivation to continue to play than say Animal Crossing which is incredibly open-ended and relies on an almost sandbox-like experience for motivation. Also, despite it being somewhat hampered by its freemium underpinnings, there is still so much you can do in Seabeard, which speaks well of the developer’s attention to content and quality. That quality also extends to the rest of Seabeard’s non-gameplay facets, such as its great visuals, mood-setting music and intuitive controls (the sole exception being an incredibly annoying tendency for the game to freeze momentarily during the sailing mini-games). Seabeard isn’t the magically universal game that I wish it could be, but for those that can work within its system, the rewards have the potential to be truly great.