Naval Action – MMO Preview
Naval Action. MMO Game Preview. Developer: Game Labs. Purchased at NavalAction.com, downloadable via Steam. $30, but preorders are temporarily suspended at the time of this writing; see note at end of preview.
Promising: Beautiful graphics. Immersive sound design. Intuitive controls, but deep and challenging gameplay. Open World (in development) sounds like fun.
Worrying: Steep learning curve with no tutorial or manual (yet). Unlocking higher end ships requires a long grind.
The bosun’s whistle pipes as I order Battle Sails. The ship’s timbers groan as I bring her hard to port, sliding in onto the stern of an enemy frigate. A single gun booms as I check the range, then I unleash a smashing broadside, sending up a fountain of wood chips and debris from the enemy ship. I crack a predatory grin as I bring the ship back around to starboard, preparing to give him another raking. This is Naval Action, and I am in love.
Naval Action is a beautiful multiplayer game that puts you at the wheel of a man-of-war from the Age of Sail, from a tiny Lynx or cutter to the colossal Santisima Trinidad. In its current form, it’s just a multiplayer team death match, though developer Game Labs is hard at work at an Open World mode that will allow players to sail the open sea to explore, trade, or fight as they please. If the Open World is anywhere near as good as the fighting we have right now, this game will be brilliant.
The first thing you’ll notice upon joining a game is how lovely it is to watch. Even on low graphics settings it looks nice, thanks to solid art direction, but on maximum settings it is jaw-droppingly pretty. Static screenshots don’t fully do it justice—you have to see the ships in motion to appreciate them. Luckily, the game has a thriving YouTube community if you want to see for yourself. The second thing you’ll notice while getting used to the control scheme (more on that later) is how immersed you are in the game’s world. Your ship is alive with sound and motion: crewmen serve the guns, sails billow in the wind, timbers creak, and the bosun’s pipe sounds out your orders.
One complaint is that there’s no real manual or tutorial—it’s virtually mandatory that you watch YouTube videos or read forums and blogs before getting started—but this is a very early Alpha/Beta product, so I can excuse the lack of documentation. That said, once you know them, the controls are intuitive and easy to remember (w and s increase and decrease sails, a and d operate your rudder), and simple navigation and aiming your guns will come easily to you. Changing ammunition types, controlling your crew, and activating special abilities are done through the number keys. And to sail the small starting ships, that’s all you really need to know. Where things get complicated and deep is when you get into larger, square-rigged ships and need to deal with things like manual sails.
The depth, which may frustrate a newcomer, is where the real meat of the game can be found. Just like a real captain of the era, you have to pay very close attention to the wind direction and understand how to place your ship at the optimal angle, how to tack, and how to manually angle your sails. Again, luckily, the community is there for you; I highly recommend the video series by RamJB as introductions to how to do all those complicated things that steamships don’t have to fret over. To be honest, I’m still not a very good sailor, but it’s a mark of just how much fun the game is that I can be bad at it but still want to keep playing. I previously had very little interest in the Age of Sail, but Naval Action inspired me to read as much as I could—I’ve been reading the Horatio Hornblower series, the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and Six Frigates, the history of the early US Navy—and it’s gratifying that, the more I know about the era, the better I get at the game. Or, at least, the more I understand how I got out-sailed and sunk.
Naval Action will eventually grow beyond just being a multiplayer arena, with the addition of a promised Open World mode. Details are still sketchy at this point, but from what the developers have published, we can expect the game will let you sail from island to island, exploring, trading, fighting, or even engaging in good old piracy. I’m hoping for something with some of the depth of Port Royale or the Patrician series, but with the fun of Sid Meier’s Pirates. Currently, ship customization is limited to changing out cannons, but I expect that will change with the addition of the open world sandbox.
In some ways, Naval Action is a very difficult game to preview. I can type until my fingers ache, listing all the different features and the ways in which wind, the sea conditions, and your ship’s rigging interact, but I feel it’s the sort of game you’ll either love and play for months on end or get frustrated with and quit after a few days. Though it’s a deathmatch-type game currently, comparable with World of Warships or War Thunder, the pace is much slower and more thoughtful, so it might not appeal to someone who wants fast-paced dogfights. On the other hand, an old salt steeped in the lore of the Age of Sail and surrounded by model ships might think the game is too simplistic and arcade-y. All I can relate is my own experience: when I first saw the game on YouTube, it piqued my interest, but Age of Sail was not my thing; I was looking forward more to World of Warships. But once I got into the game, it hooked me and I wanted nothing more than to clear for action and go broadside to broadside over and over. If naval warfare, sailing ships, or even multiplayer battle games like World of Tanks are in your wheelhouse, you owe it to yourself to give Naval Action a try. You might turn into a regular Jack Tar after all.
(Although Naval Action had been available through early access on Steam, pre-orders are temporarily suspended while Game Labs does further testing. For additional information, see this post on the Naval Action forums.)
About the Author
Matt Richardson is a freelance social media consultant and web traffic analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a degree in History from Davidson College, with a special interest in military history and the Civil War. He has rotted his mind with video games since childhood. You can follow Matt at @MT_Richardson or read his blog at Ritalingamer.com.