Deck building games are, as we’ve previously discussed, a genre that gets peculiarly overlooked unless almost unplayably hard. So it goes for Pirates Outlaws – a fantastically involved card-me-do, with so much to do, but one that does it in a superbly approachable way.
How is that a “but”? What madness has taken hold?
In the somewhat awkwardly titled Pirates Outlaws, you’re one such naughty sailor, attempting to navigate your boat between the series of islands that make up each level. Some offer turn-based battles with groups of pirates, others have ‘events’ that see you perhaps finding hidden treasure, or gambling your permanent health in pursuit of a possible bonus item, others have taverns or markets to restore health or buy and sell equipment. And each ends with a tough battle.
Turns are balanced via the use of ammo. These are essentially action points, needed each time you fire a weapon, prep a skill, or load up on armour. The exception is melee attacks which are ‘free’, and of course various cards will allow you to meddle with these stats as you play. And you have reload cards in your deck. This means you plan each turn accordingly, choosing that double-shot that takes up two of your three ammo, but then reload one more, throw a smoke bomb to blind that dangerous opponent, and use the last to play a shield.
Every card can be upgraded during a run, using the markets and bonus items found. Then there are new cards to buy, or be won in battles, found in treasure chests, and so on. You can also unload cards from your deck at certain points, to streamline what will come into play.
The game is far more forgiving of your choices at the start than so many in this genre. If you overload your deck with too many cards, you’re not so quickly punished as in others – although learning to cut it back will afford you better chances as the runs get harder. And every single element is cleanly and usefully introduced when you first encounter it, rather than assuming vast amounts of prior experience from the player. This is so refreshing!
And that’s not to say it doesn’t get harder. When you complete a run you gain Repute, which is used to unlock new levels, new pirates, and new game modes, and the further you go, the more there is to gain. But the further you go, the tougher an experience it’ll be.
There are thirteen different buccaneers to unlock and play as, each with a different skill build, meaning you’ll look for different ways to approach the game. You begin with a Gunner, whose deck is pistol-heavy, relying more on ranged than melee attacks. First unlocked is Sword Master, and won’t be surprised to learn she puts her emphasis on the wacky-wacky, at the cost of being able to use armour. And then her starting deck offers a brand new selection of cards that nudge you toward a far more defensive approach.
I’ve really only scraped at the surface of it, which is a real pleasure. Sometimes a more approachable deck builder might veer toward offering less long-term, but certainly not here. There’s so much to unlock, and so much to learn about how best to organise your cards, that it’ll keep offering for a very long time.
It’s also really nicely presented, very decent cartoon graphics. The only disappointment is a lack of animations – it’d be so much nicer if the characters at least waggled their swords or aimed their pistols during attacks. But as much as I missed that at the start, I quickly stopped noticing as the game continued.
This is a really strong yet extremely approachable deck-building game, and after eight months in Early Access it’s fully released now. And really deserves a lot of attention.