Platforms: iOS, Android
Genre: Pirate Card Game ala Slay the Spire

Mobile games are primarily developed with casual players in mind. All the players would love to have is to have something fill in their time casually, as opposed to devoting their time to full mobile games like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang or PUBG Mobile. With that said, casual games don’t mean that one can skimp on quality.

I’ll admit, the game got me, ahem, hooked. But, after weeks and weeks of playing Pirates Outlaws, it dawned on me and I realised that the game happens to violate the casual gaming ‘rules’, and I’ll tell you why.

But before I do, I’ll just say that I’m glad to finally let this all out after being pent up. Let’s talk about the good bits of the game first.

Set Sail

The mobile game is developed by Fabled Game Studio. It features a turn-based card game with all things pirates.

Players have a choice of 6 heroes to pick with, each with their own set of cards and customisations. These heroes are;

  • Gunner
  • Sword Master
  • Explorer
  • Curse Captain
  • Alchemist
  • Admiral

Each character will have their own unique perk. By default, the first character you unlock is the Gunner. However, you need to unlock the other heroes with a considerable amount of gold. The Admiral is RM14 though.

The other currency is reputation which can also be used to unlock characters.

Full Speed Ahead

Gameplay is handled with randomly generated levels with paths you can choose. Each path has random battles and events happening along the way.

The game offers you multiple paths that culminates in a boss fight.

In the end, you’ll face a boss regardless of any path you choose. It’s a pretty standard roguelike card game, just with a pirate twist. You’ll choose from one of three islands to explore, the latter two of which you unlock with gold and reputation.

Along your course, you’ll be fighting bandits, visiting taverns and shops, encountering random happenings that could give you a relic that provides bonuses for each level. You’ll also receive new cards that pad up your deck.

This accounts for interesting gameplay as each path you take is unique and each level is randomly generated. This translates to that luck is a huge factor whether you would have a good or bad run of the level.

En Garde!

In term of combat, you’ll be using your cards to make your way through the battles.

There are a few types of cards that can be played, such as shields, bullet shots, punches, and sword swipes. Each of this card has a cost in the form of ‘ammo’. Think of it as your mana per turn.

Minimalistic design is everything in 2019, but too minimal makes it quite bland.

Cards can also be upgraded in shops so it would boost the effect of the card. For instance, attack cards will have their damage boosted while shield cards can block more damage.

This economy is a huge strategy element that could make or break your run towards the boss since most of the cards are pretty worthless against mid-level enemies and above.

This is partially due to the depth of gameplay, or rather, the lack of it. The hand size is capped at five cards. You have to discard your entire hand every turn, regardless if the card is used or not, so there is no holding on to a card to wait for a potential combo in future turns. It’s essentially rolling dice.

Your starter deck consists of about 10 cards, so you’ll burn through them quickly. And since you cannot edit the deck, you will just have to rely on what you have until you win some more cards, which usually happens in the middle of your journey. Plus, most of it is random, from card draws to the enemy encounters to winning new cards.

This would mean your strategy would mean nothing if RNGeesus or Lady Luck or whoever you believe in is not on your side. With each level being a unique run, the game will never be stagnant. It always pushes you new encounters requiring new strategies.

Riposte

As a premium game, this costs RM3.99 on the App Store or Google Play Store.

I’m fine with that. It’s a small price to pay for a pretty game and with quirky piratey music. The music is bright and happy, fitting for a pirate game.

However, I’m not fine with developers padding up their game with tons of in-app purchases as a way to squeeze money from their players. Especially when consumers have paid the entrance fee of RM3.99.

The heroes and the other areas can be unlocked by gameplay alone, no money spent whatsoever. They cost about 1000 gold (or 500 reputation) for each hero, and 5000 gold for new areas.

Sounds doable, right? Wrong.

This is my character after a month of gameplay. Nothing special to report.

For each run on a level, you will earn about 20 to 40 gold and around less than 10 reputations per run. I usually get around 30 gold on a good run. So it would take me ages to unlock a new character.

And don’t get me started on unlocking levels.

You can defeat bosses to unlock the next areas, but bosses are so durable that they would whittle your health down quicker than you can, unless you have most of your cards upgraded, and yes, you guessed it, real life money. You need to spend some cash to have most of your cards upgraded, unless you want to grind some gold to upgrade your cards.

The game is hiding a pay-to-win structure behind a preposterously high progression wall, and that’s absolutely ridiculous coming from a game that asks you to pay before you play.

Again, I’m fine with that if it was a free-to-play game, but in reality, it isn’t.

It’s insulting by how obvious this game forces you to participate in its in-app purchases model.

See that 1% of progress? That’s a month worth of blood, sweat, and tears.

Another huge criticism on my end is the unresponsive touch. Coming from a game that costs as much as a whole lunch’s meal, the touch response is appalling. You’d have to mash or double tap on anything on the screen to highlight the objects. Thank God swiping isn’t affected as you’d mostly be swiping to complete battles.

This was tested on both a Sony Xperia Z5 and HTC One M8, in which both of the phones are working perfectly fine.

Does Pirate Outlaws Mark The Spot?

I tried to ignore the flaws over the few weeks of playing, but today I snapped. It’s a good game with great concept regrettably plagued by a pay-to-win model camouflaged behind a steep progression wall.

I thought it would be a casual time burner in which I could play when I’m idling or having some free time, but no. I had to grind to progress further. Grinding beats the concept of a mobile casual game.

The lack of depth spoils what could be a strong roguelike deck builder such as Slay the Spire. All these fatal flaws drag this game straight down to Davy Jones’ Locker.

Pros:

  • Interesting gameplay.
  • Beautiful minimalist graphics.
  • Cheerful pirate music.

Cons:

  • Pay-to-win.
  • Bad touch response.
  • Lack of depth.
  • High progression wall.
  • Tedious gameplay loop.
  • Success goes down to luck.

FINAL SCORE: 30/100

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