SelectButton’s Early Access reviews provide valuable insight on a work in progress. The game will be reevaluated once officially released, as the review below is based on the Early Access build of the game at the time of the review’s publish date.
Ahoy, Mateys! While a genre unto itself, piracy in video games has long been an exciting mix of adventures, simulation, and naval battles galore. With the recent success of some pirate-centric titles, it's great to see another entry to the overall "Pirate" label with Maelstrom currently in Early Access on Steam.
Unlike other pirate games, Maelstrom focuses more on the ever-popular battle royale structure, pitting you (and possibly a teammate) against others in a duel to the death across varying maps. These are small, well-structured maps meant not only to be quickly accessible (crossing them doesn't take long), but they are littered with canyons, tight passageways, and whirlpools of devastation all meant to keep the challenge alive as you duke it via cannons.
The other lovely benefit of the game, on top of the map sizes forcing quick, hectic encounters, is the game is built to keep you in sight of your enemies. You're playing against other nautical adversaries; it's not like they'll be able to use that Kar98 to hit you from 20 miles away seemingly wiping you out from nowhere. No, and if anything you should expect to see your demise coming at any point since your enemies will always be somewhere nearby. Sure, you might still get blindsided as you come around a turn, but it'll be a show as you sink. If you manage to survive and take down your enemy, expect rewards of gold and other items like short-term power-ups as well. The power-ups themselves will grant you an extra boost during battle, like added protection or firepower and the loot is tallied after the match along with any potential winnings you earn.
Players themselves are also defined by the ships they choose. There are three fantasy races in total (Humans, Dwarves, and Orcs), each with three vessels to choose from. Every race is distinctly different from the others with their own playstyles, and then even the different ship types themselves have their unique way of approaching every match. Further enhancing your playstyle is the ability to upgrade your ship with new crew members offering different bonuses, skills, ship upgrades, and other items. Upgrades and crew members are purchased using the loot gained from matches. Additionally, new unlocks become available over time with each new level.
Perhaps one of the best parts of this game, in addition to the crisp presentation and graphics, is the sheer fun it injects into the battle royale system. Unlike third/first-person shooters, this feels like an eclectic mix of battle royale with a MOBA-like game akin to League of Legends. Picking from your race/ship types means there's variety within each fight since not everyone is starting equal. While it can be kind of frustrating to go up against better-equipped opponents in matches, it's still fun to see the difference in not only playstyles across your opponents, but also their choices in setup.
Maelstrom definitely introduces some new gameplay life into the battle royale model. While it is a hot commodity currently, most games follow similar first/third person shooting structures so it's incredibly refreshing to see something so completely different, yet similar simultaneously. Plus, add in the fact that as the map shrinks you can expect terrifying sea monsters to come after you, and well, you've got yourself a fun time.
Note: Maelstrom was reviewed based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided by the publisher.