Sailing Era – Zero Punctuation
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A few of the regular commenters who gravitate to my magnificence as a room full of Comicon attendees around an unaccompanied pretty woman have noticed a curious pattern emerging in my list of favorite games, as many of them highlight a boat. Think about it. Return of the Obra Dinn. Spirit farer. Silent Hill 2 has that moment when James Sunderland goes to a boating lake on “World’s Most Attentive Husbands Get In Free” day. Dark Souls…er…has a few swords that could possibly be repurposed as a mizzenmast. And look at all the other clues: he loves Horatio Hornblower books, he owns a bath, he’s physically dependent on water to continue living, we’ve clearly stumbled upon the secret cheat code that will ensure a positive review from Yahtzee Croshaw. Well I had to get to the bottom of it, I would hate to think any aspect of my behavior had become reliable, if my wife found out she would make me start unloading the dishwasher again. So I played a bit of Sailing Era last week, an open-ended RPG management game set in the era of sailing that features boats as prominently as any game, and has managed to impress me from the start by having the ingenious foresight to come out in mid-January when everything else is worth saying.
Sailing Era is a Chinese game. Which isn’t much different from the Japanese games, except the characters have this hint of desperate panic in their eyes because they’re afraid of being disappeared by the government. Besides that, the main clue that gave it away was that the damn thing was in Chinese by default and I had to navigate the menus trying to educatedly guess my way to the language option. Which might just trigger my first review: it’s located about as well as an American tourist in the Arctic Circle. Dialogue is poorly framed throughout the rest of the interface with occasional missing spaces and line breaks in the middle of words and generally reads as if it’s been roughed up in an alley by Google Translate. In immediate contrast to the vibe of internationalism that Sailing Era is trying to convey, it’s meant to follow a range of characters from around the world in a wondrous time of exploration and discovery where all the diverse peoples of the globe can come together. and find common ground on their hatred towards Europeans.
Sailing Era is very ambitious and yet at the same time, rather off-puttingly simplified. It aims to create a playground for the entire clitniblage world, every sea and every continent mapped out for you to systematically defog, with every port and colony of the time precisely placed. If they want to release a DLC for that, they’re gonna have to let you go to the fucking moon. Traffic cheese across the Sea of Tranquility or something. And yet, the number of ports available to visit doesn’t count for THAT, because all of them are just glorified menu screens and half of the ports in Africa use the exact same background with the exact same smarmy, visibly European dude. hold the trading post. I found the central gameplay loop to be about filling your map, i.e. pointing your ship to shore, dropping the sails and hoping you stray into another settlement before your supplies run out and the crew must begin harvesting other people’s nail clippings for food. But as a basic mechanic, mapping the world is probably the least interesting activity.
Exploring the uncharted regions of one of Earth’s most hostile environments in what amounts to piles of dead trees and tissue being a notoriously boring pastime. I understand there’s a limit to the excitement of nautical adventure that can be described when the camera is half a mile from the action, but maybe my crew of weird suspicious strangers could have done faced with a little more retreat from outposts in distant or hostile countries? So you should butter them up a bit before they agree to let you stock up on provisions and blood diamonds at half price? Or is that too much to ask of a game that already spills pretty thin on a bit too many features? I guess the naval combat element is within minimum expectations for this sort of thing; It’s a pretty useful sort of splash with Playmobil toys in the bathtub based on using clumsy steering controls to bring the enemy into cannon range. I wish it was a little clearer when your cannons are ready to fire. Again, the ships are pretty small on screen, so it’s not like we can squint and try to see if the gunners have reloaded the shot, primed the fuse, and finished their quick game of soggy biscuit .
But in addition to naval combat, there is also hand-to-hand combat when you board. Ostensibly. I mean, I’m sure there are. It happened in a tutorial. And… that was the last time I saw him. It’s entirely possible that I was hallucinating from some dodgy grog. I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen after that. Probably should have paid more attention to the tutorial text, but with the location issues, it was like trying to ask directions from a disheveled person on a street corner yelling about listening devices government in his urethra. Come to think of it, naval combat as a whole didn’t happen that much. I was ambushed by pirates precisely once while crossing the Gulf of Aden and in all other cases I had to participate in it by taking bounty missions from outposts. Which are both painfully identical and joyfully educational. Because you look for them and they’ll say “Go kill pirates in the Ligurian Sea”, so that’s a quick alt-tab and a trip to Google Maps before I could even think of adding it to the itinerary. Now be honest with me, viewers, who knows by heart where the Ligurian Sea is? Just you? Alright, smart clogs, now YOU explain why the Antwerp bounty office didn’t care.
I would summarize Sailing Era as a game full of misplaced effort. I keep flipping boulders and finding all this extra complex gameplay that I really can’t be bothered with. Like land expeditions. You go to certain ports and as long as you’ve done them enough favors and don’t forget to wear a tie to the governor’s office, you can gather a team and a bunch of supplies on a menu interface about as well hospitable than Hal 9000’s tax return, but push past all that and suddenly you’re essentially in this whole other, slightly different The Curious Expedition game where you explore a hex continent encountering random encounters and treasure. And in the meantime, I can just as much take advantage of going back and forth between Portugal and Sierra Leone a few times to restock all the cafes with exotic African sandwiches. So overland expeditions was yet another thing I did about once, because it’s called Sailing Era not Cocking About In A Meadow Period. And now I feel bad for those who had to sit down and write all the random encounter text when they would rather have been enjoying the sun or a soggy game of cookie. As for the theory that I automatically like games about boats, I’d call that an inconclusive test, because finally Sailing Era scratched that itch and rearranged nautical-themed fridge magnets in torrential rain.