In the sea of MMOs it takes something special to stand out among the countless titles vying for the attention of online gamers. Kartuga does this with one simple question - what would Sid Meier's Pirates be like if it was an MMO?
Currently in closed beta, Kartuga lets you sail the seven seas in search of fortune and fame, all while thousands of other would-be nefarious seadogs are doing the same thing.
Upon starting the game you're given a choice of three different types of ship to take charge of. Destroyers are powerful and speedy but extremely fragile, designed for players to get stuck in and leg it before things get hairier than Blackbeard's chin. Protectors can take a lot of damage but are slow, meaning retreat is rarely an option. Engineers, meanwhile, are best used as support ships, providing repair crates and drones to aid other ships in larger battles.
As you level up and gain skill points you'll develop your ship's abilities in whatever way you see fit. Each of the three ship types has a skill tree that branches into three main categories. The Destroyer, for example, can eventually be levelled up into a Raider (faster but weaker), a Ravager (a more long-range attacker) or a Brawler (more armour so ideal for close battles).
The ship you choose will also have an impact on the in which way you play the two PvP team multiplayer modes currently available in the Kartuga beta. Domination is a capture-and-hold type mode in which teams have to find and secure five ghost ships randomly placed in the world, collecting their souls until one team accumulates 2500 and wins.
Destruction, meanwhile, is a more complicated affair in which teams try to grab a bomb which spawns in the middle of the map, and then drop it in set locations on the opponent's side. It takes a short while for each team to plant the bomb, detonate it or defuse it, during which point ships are vulnerable.
Multiplayer aside, Kartuga's main meat is still its main mission-based gameplay (its PvE mode, if you want to get with the MMO lingo). Carrying out various quests, collecting rewards and levelling up your ship is a pleasant experience, and grinding doesn't feel as dull as it could, though the slowness of these massive pirate ships makes the pace a little more leisurely than we'd like.
MMOs can sometimes be a swine to get into, so we're thankful that Kartuga focuses more on arcade-style gameplay, making it a lot easier to get into the game quickly. The ship is controlled with WASD and the mouse is used for aiming and firing your cannons, and that's about it in terms of the basics. Naturally, there are more complicated things to be learned over the course of the game, but it's refreshing to see an MMO that allows players to get stuck into the action within five minutes of registering.
So far we're enjoying the Kartuga beta then, though there are some niggles that still need some work. It would be nice if things were explained a little better in the game, but as it is none of the menu icons or skill tree icons have pop-up text explaining what they actually do (at least, we couldn't find any), making the process of enhancing our ship one based partly on chance. Still, that's what betas are for, and if these can be ironed out things look promising.