When Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale’s combat system is working as intended (not very often), it is enjoyable and brings something new to the genre due to its wide selection of passive and active abilities and players being allowed to mix and match various upgrades to each ship to its respective captain, and yet despite this Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale still feels like every other pirate sandbox release in the last 20 years, and yet somehow is still less enjoyable than all of them.
While much of this can be attributed to Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale sharing the same setting, ships and era as many other games, many other more interesting sandbox titles have these same issues. Yet, they still find ways to make gameplay more meaningful, with scripted narrative events, mini-games, or even courting and marriage to a governor’s daughter (or tavern wench!).
As someone who likes many games that others would demean as boring (Paradox is one of my favourite publishers), I found Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale lacking in so many areas that boredom is the only way I can describe how I felt after playing it for around 6 hours.
While Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale has hundreds of quests, the overwhelming majority of them are fetch and carry quests with a tiny bit of flavour text, and while delivering grog or transporting a passenger from A to B is all fun and games, doing so for the umpteenth time gets a little stale, especially when the rewards are often well become what could be earned by attacking the nearest convoy and capturing all of its ships.
While Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale does offer a decently comprehensive tutorial system to cover basic controls and concepts, many things are left unexplained, and even as a veteran gamer, there were some aspects of Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale that I had a fair bit of difficulty figuring it out, especially when players are forced to figure it out mostly on their own due to how few content creators have worked on content for Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale.
Is it impossible to learn as you go? Of course not, but when certain mechanics ( such as tight turns) are thrust upon players often before being explained, it is a little frustrating to find yourself stuck in an encounter and spending 20 minutes trying to move, only to find out that the reason you cannot turn is actually due to a bug, and while the turn icon is showing on all tiles surrounding your ship, half of them do no work, for some unknown reason which the UI does not indicate in any way.
Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale over-reliance on RNG comes back to haunt it in many ways, but never more prominently than during boarding encounters, where players are presented with a series of choices that promise varying degrees of success and progress.
Unfortunately, this system has a nasty habit of backfiring comically, such as allowing a crew of 8 sailors who are suffering from -217% morale and all associated debuffs to overpower a crew of 150 sailors who are buffed to the gills with passive abilities due to having high morale and a skilled captain.
What makes this all the more frustrating is how immersion-breaking it is, with players who have maintained the upper hand in a battle being given a 90% chance to succeed in their next attack, suddenly not only failing the attack but somehow losing their entire crew (100+) and ship in the process to a broken, demoralised and occasionally unarmed enemy crew of 10 people or less, despite the UI only indicated that the manoeuvre would cost 2-6 crew members at most.
This system, however, is not only slanted against the player, and many times in the early game, I captured a warship with 120+ highly trained marines using a trade ship with a handful of pirates onboard.
As a result, battles feel like tossing a coin. No matter if the mission had a 90% or 10% chance of succeeding, I felt the need to save often in case the game decided my crew of 240 pirates with the best weapons money can buy and morale in the upper 90s would be unable to tackle the half dead and demoralised crew of a sinking Sloop.
In a perfect world, Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale’s progression system works very well; players will gradually become more powerful as they capture new ships and hire new crew, expanding their fleet while the game world is updated to contain larger and more lucrative convoys for the plunder.
In this system, the world remains challenging while never being unfair, with the player gaining access to additional captains and powerful upgrades to counter the increase in larger and more powerful hostile convoys; unfortunately, Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale does not work like this, and its possible to entirely derail this system in as little as 20 minutes without trying.
If ship-to-ship combat were working as intended and broadside battles between opposing fleets resulted in broken bodies and sails, then this system would work fine; unfortunately, that is not the case, and ships will spend the vast majority of each battle launching volley after volley at one another, with shops appearing to have more armour than a modern day aircraft carrier,
I do not care how good your Sloop is; no ship of that class should survive multiple broadsides from two fully upgraded Ship of the Line or Military Frigates; it’s just not realistic and results in battles that either go on far too long or end in players being forced to board the enemy vessels to get back to the high seas.
In my recent playthrough, I upgraded from a very unremarkable Brig to a fully decked-out Ship of the Line in just a few minutes, which allowed me to hire more crew and easily board essentially any ship I could encounter in the early game.
While still in the early game, in the very first stages of the campaign, and with only one other ship in my convoy, I was able to capture around 100 vessels + their cargo in around 1 hour by opting to attack every convoy and board every ship I encountered due to the tedious nature of Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale’s cannon warfare.
Selling these ships and their cargo allowed me to quickly level up from level 2 to 16 in around 1 hour, granting me access to a wide range of captain abilities before I could progress the story, earn a reputation or recruit fellow captains.
And this is where the trouble begins; due to my relatively high level, the oceans suddenly filled with large convoys of pirates and pirate hunters long before I could access the captains needed to bolster my fleet.
As a result, I was forced to enter combat against my will every few seconds before boarding each enemy ship, making repairs, selling the spare ships and repeating the loop; by the time I had played Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale for 4 hours, there were so many enemy convoys in the sea, that is as not uncommon to be perused by several at once, resulting in battles every few minutes, something which would not have been so bad if Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale’s battle system worked as intended. Boarding was not an infinitely better tactic than exchanging broadsides and hoping to land a hit.
While I could press on from here and try to build up my fleet with additional captains, random encounters every few seconds, have drained any motivation I had to play Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale, and frankly, replaying what is essentially the same sea battles 20+ times per hour sounds more like a sadistic pirates torture than a good time.
The only way Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale could be saved is if the developer did one of three things to address the punishing and completely unbalanced progression system.
No matter what the developers choose to do, one thing needs to change, and that is the number of hostiles on the sea at any given time, as being ambushed multiple times on what should be a short trip and forced to repeat the same tedious sea battle over and over, is far from engaging, and makes me feel like I am being punished for how quickly I was able to level my character just by playing the game as intended (without using exploits or trainers).
I must preface this by saying that Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale’ plays much better on PC than on console, however since the developers have released Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale onto both 8th and 9th generation consoles, they must make sure it performs as expected, and despite being an experienced gamer with over 30 years of gaming experience under my belt across a wide range of platforms and genres, I found Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale to have some of the worst camera controls of any game I have ever seen.
This issue is exasperated by the developer’s instance to automatically change my perspective without user input, forcing me to stop pursuit (or allow myself to be captured by a pursuer) while I readjusted my perspective, a not-so-easy task on console due to over-sensitive camera controls and a frustratingly unintuitive UI.
Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale feels like a game that was made with a mouse and keyboard in mind, and controller support was an afterthought, something which is just unacceptable in 2023, a year where the vast majority of PC games receive amazing console ports with comprehensive controller support.
I encountered two crashes (resulting in lost progress) and multiple instances of lag and slideshow levels of fps when playing Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale on the Xbox Series X, one of the most powerful consoles in history; after seeing these performance issues, I shudder to imagine how badly Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale would perform on a baseline PS4 or Xbox One, consoles which are notoriously for their weak hardware specifications in 2023.
While some performance issues would be acceptable in an RTS game with dozens of units moving simultaneously, Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale is turn-based. Battles with as few as three ships present (and only one moving) can result in horrendous and unexplained performance issues. This should not occur on a platform that can run visually impressive titles at much higher framerates and resolution without issue.
Tortuga - A Pirate's Tale is a strategy video game developed by Gaming Minds Studios and published by Kalypso Media, it was released on 19 January 2023 and retails for $29.99.
Tortuga - A Pirate's Tale is available on the following platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
On average Tortuga - A Pirate's Tale takes between 15 and 30 hours to complete.
Estimated completion times are derived from various sources and may vary based on the skill level of each player.
The following peripherals are officially supported:
Tortuga - A Pirate's Tale is rated PEGI 16+ and contains the following:
Tortuga – A Pirate’s Tale feels like every pirate sandbox released in the past 20 years and yet is somehow less enjoyable than all of them, making it impossible to recommend when there are so many better and often cheaper alternatives to be found, ironically, including several titles developed by Gaming Minds Studios and published by Kalypso Media.