I’d like to start with a brief explanation of what NAVAL ACTION the game actually is. You see it is quite different to any other game that I have ever seen. NAVAL ACTION is going to be a game that has an open world map to sail your ship in. You will be able to be a Naval Officer, Merchant Captain, Privateer or even a Pirate. Once engaged in a battle you play the battle in a hybrid third person sort of first person view. Aiming takes place in first person as does looking down your telescope, sailing has you floating above the deck a little with the option to zoom out a little more to spin around the ship and get a better look at things.
Currently the open world is not in game and pre-order customers are fighting it out in team deathmatch style battles.
Have you ever played Empire Total War or one of the various pirate games that have been around? Wondered what it would be like to have a more serious game that focused a little more on realism and historical authenticity without compromising on fun and game play. That is what NAVAL ACTION is to me. It is not an age of sail battle simulator. But it is currently looking like the first game that will come anywhere near that mark. The ships so far are beautiful replica 3D models and the mechanics make for game play that allows most real scenarios you can get yourself into in real life engagements possible.
As you can see from what has been written so far, NAVAL ACTION is going to be somewhat unique. It is very hard to compare to any other age of sail game that has been on the market. The closest comparison I would make would be a historically inspired star citizen. It’s got the open world and good combat mechanics but is not a simulator. It should though sate the appetite of any history buff, wargamer and even maybe the sim boffin crowd. All of which I consider myself to be.
The developers are GAME LABS from the Ukraine, the same people who gave us Ultimate General Gettysburg recently. They have also worked on: World of Warplanes, World of Tanks, RaceRoom, IL2-Sturmovik, Metro and STALKER among others.
What is important to note is that they are fans of the age of sail genre. They consider that they know where others went wrong. Games like Pirates of the Burning Sea, Empire or Napoleon Total War, Assassins Creed 3 and Age of Sail Privateers Bounty.
What I can tell you of game play is only what it is in it’s current state of testing. Many of the open world details we just don’t know yet. The detail we do know is that it will be on a large map and there will be time compression of some sort for sailing. The open world will also have a strong focus on a system that prevents other players from camping, griefing, multi-boxing and any of the other unsavoury pursuits that were apparently happening in games like Pirates of the Burning Sea.
Enough of that though let’s talk about gameplay as it stands. All of this is of course subject to change as it is very early in development still.
Currently there are PVP (Player vs Player) and PVE (Player vs Enemy) rooms. This means that players can play against real people or play together against the AI (bots, artificial intelligence). The PVP and PVE rooms are further separated into light ships only and open to all ship rooms. This has been done to ensure everybody tests all of the ships. You must accumulate damage on the lowliest ship to progress to testing the next largest ship which means spending time testing them. Understandably facing the 140 gun Santisima Trinidad in a tiny sloop or yacht would not be much fun. There was a real reason for rating ships for the line of battle!
So you join one of these rooms and wait for a 60 second count down to finish and are faced off against either a slightly stronger random AI opponent with whomever has joined you for PVE or against humans through a balance system that uses tonnage as a base for determining sides.
The battle loads and the sides start in two lines. Well out of range from each other and barely visible without the aid of your telescope. There is a 10 second countdown while everybody connects. Then you start and can set your sails and your guns start loading. At this stage you should be deciding which ammo you want to load before they waste too much time loading the default ball ammunition.
Ammunition types in game at the moment are Ball, Chain, Grape and Double Shot. You also have to of course consider the size of the gun or carronade that you have equipped your ship with. Ships can only be equipped with cannon they would have been capable of carrying. Carronades do not fire as far but are lighter and heavier weight of shot for their size. The other choice is whether to equip long guns or standard guns before battle. Long guns seem to take a lot longer to load.
Once you have decided on shot you tell the crew to load them and stop loading the current ammunition type. This will restart the load time from zero again. There is nothing worse than being at close range and having long range single shot ammunition and almost loaded while your opponent is able to hit you with double shot.
Once the ammunition is ready the reload circle is complete and a whistle signal will be heard indicating that one broadside is full. You face the camera to that side, right click and the game camera moves you down to the top cannon deck ready to aim and fire. You will see two lines on the water that are almost transparent indicating the current width of the broadside. The longer you hold it the tighter the width will get, indicating accuracy of the crew improving with more time to sight there weapons. This cannon width strip can also be moved left or right a small way representing the crew moving the cannon a little left or right as was historically correct. You do this naturally by moving the mouse left or right.
Once done you have a small red line controlled by the up and down motion of the mouse, this represents the cannon elevation. The movement of the ship is important here. Your ship not only rolls with the waves and leans because of battle damage, but depending on where the wind is in relation to your sails, you may find the side you are firing from facing the sea or the sky!
Once loaded, sighted and elevated, single ranging shots are fired if deemed necessary to determine range. Starting with the bow (front) most cannon down to the rear most usually. This is done by tapping space bar.
You can at any time disable an entire deck to prevent it from firing. But aside from this wait for the roll and fire! It will be another 30 seconds or so before your men reload your guns. I have not timed this but wanted to get across that this is not twitch and a lot can happen between shots!
If you fired single ranging shots a long time before the broadside those single shots will be available a lot earlier than the rest of the broadside. This also goes for if you fired the decks separately. The deck that fired first will finish reloading first and be ready to fire again.
It is possible to aim for different parts of the enemy ship and see the damage effects. Individual masks can be aimed for and taken out for instance. Ships will sink to one side once they take too much damage on that side and the crew cannot plug the leaks or pump the water out fast enough.
If you take damage currently (subject to change, it’s alpha) there is an indicator which shows how much of your planking has been lost and how much has been punched through below the waterline to create leaks. There is also an indicator to show how much water your ship is taking on. When that indicator reaches full you sink. Plain and simple. This is one of the necessary abstractions in the game as real wooden ships almost never sank or blew up.
If you set the ship to “survival mode” this sets the crews carpenters and a portion of the crew to damage control, plugging the leaks and pumping water out faster than usual. You will see the number of leaks slowly reduce to zero.
The pump like the rudder and other things on the ship can be damaged or destroyed as well. Making it impossible to pump water out or steer. Although I will discuss later how the sails can be used to steer. Another thing that is listed is the magazine. Although currently that is turned off during the current phase of testing!
The rear of your ship where all the windows are is particularly susceptible to damage and a good place to aim for when you want to destroy a larger slower ship. This is a good reason for larger ships not to let smaller ones behind and to have an escort. Although some have formidable rear armament that still far outweighs sloops and such.
Before we move on to sailing I should mention that the damage and physics in this game track every single cannon ball as it sails towards hitting the enemy. For this reason when ships are pushed slightly over because of the wind you can hit below the usually submerged part of the vessel and once submerged again it will take on water!
The longer the range though the less accurate and more haphazard these smoothbore cannon are. Sometimes at range even if a ranging shot is on target the broadside will simply spin off course and may just hit all around the ship! Because physics! By far the most satisfying thing about the game is seeing the balls hit and wood splinter everywhere.
Now to the sailing mechanics.
There are two ways to control the ships in game. The first is the AUTO sail mode.
This is the default mode and moves the yards for you, yards are the wooden poles that the sails are hanging off, in real life they are turned by the ships crew to the best position for the sails to gain speed from the wind.
In this mode you move the rudder with the A and D keys and the game will move the yards to the best position for speed as your angle to the wind changes.
A quick not to say the fact that the game uses the WASD and mouse as primary controls for this game makes a case for it being similar to an First Person Shooter game in the way it plays, albeit a very slow one that bears dissimilar resemblance in almost every other fashion.
So apart from AUTO sail mode you can press any of the manual sail keys to switch to “manual mode” at any time. As soon as you do this you can control each masts yards collectively. Unfortunately there is no way to control each yard on a mast. You must move them all at once. This essentially means that on larger ships you can move the front yards and the rear ones collectively. The keys to do this are Q and E for the front and Z and C for the rear. For the most part in this mode you use the front mast to help steer the ship and the rear most one to catch the best wind angle. You press F again to go back to AUTO sail mode and let the crew adjust sail automatically for you! You end up using a combination depending on what you are concentrating on at the time.
The more speed you get with your sails the more it will heal over depending on wind angle and speed or force. To correct this and fire sometimes it is necessary to take in sail to slow the ship. Slowing the ship will also give increased turning speed. W and S control the amount of sail that is set. Some settings are Full, Half, Slow, Very Slow and Battle. Your speed will also be affected by leaks and flooding, listing and such. The speed at which orders are carried out, especially loading the cannon is determined by the crew you have left!
So you set full sail from nothing and it will take time for each sail tier to unfold and you will see the consecutive tiers drop sail from each yard until you have all your sail set.
I should mention at this stage that if you are attempting to turn into the wind and are too slow to get around and gain speed again you can become backed where the ship will actually stop being blown back by the wind. This is also referred to as being “in irons”. You will actually see the sails being blown backwards. This then becomes a little like reversing a trailer to come back out of it. Another abstraction here though is that they have “simulated” ships boats giving you a tiny bit of turning power even when you are backed and have no idea how to get out. This means new players can get out of trouble albeit slowly.