MMOs are a very serious business these days. If you ask someone what type of MMO she prefers, you're more likely to get an explanation that sounds as if she's telling you what political party she belongs to. As a person who writes about games, it's easy to slip up and suggest that these virtual worlds we play in should offer different types of gameplay and even offer different ways to pay for them. If you're not careful, your readers can get angry and call you insensitive and inaccurate names like noob, sell-out or, even worse, journalist.
In steps Innogames. On the surface, the developer and publisher doesn't seem to be more than a peddler of semi-challenging browser-based games, but spend a few weeks with the lineup and you'll find yourself appreciating not only the innovation in the German game-maker's lineup but also the variety.
Kartuga is the latest to come from Innogames, and it's fun. I know, I know... fun seems to have become a dirty word when it comes to MMOs (it's not immersive or hardcore?!), but I for one am so happy it came along.
I always like to warn readers when I am writing about a game that is in a beta state, so consider this my warning: Kartuga is in closed beta. As I've pointed out before, the word beta has pretty much lost all meaning, so all I can say is that the game is pretty darned polished and could go gold right now. While I'm sure there are some glaring issues or game-breaking bugs within Kartuga, I really found none. Honestly, I was too busy destroying enemies to notice.
You'll start off choosing from one of three nations to join up with, each with its own unique story and style. You'll also visit three different areas of the world. There are only three classes as well: the Destroyer, Engineer, and Protector. I went with a damage-dealer and jumped into the game for the first time in the embedded video. Within just the first few levels, you can see just how simply complex the game is. It's really closer to a dungeon-grinder like Diablo III or Torchlight in the way that you can destroy a lot of enemies and gain a ton of loot. This loot is often better -- at least a little bit -- than what you currently have on your ship, and it's easy to swap out.
First, it's all been done before. I loved me some Diablo lan action back in the day and really had some fun with Torchlight, but I've already done that. If you're going to make a new version of this popular genre, at least make it look new. Kartuga is set in the world of sci-fantasy or steampunk ship combat, runs in the browser, and looks great. I can forgive the fact that its gameplay is similar to something else because it looks much different.
"I can log in the game, do a mission, kill or be killed by a few players, and log out. It's all so accessible and easy to play that I forgive the light grind."
Second, the gameplay feels grindy pretty quickly. I know that the idea behind a dungeon-crawler is to grind, and I actually completely understand the appeal, especially when you introduce a bunch of your gaming friends and a 12-pack to the scenario. Typically, however, I do not enjoy spending time on a grind because I could be using that time to discover other cool games to tell my readers about. That grind is present in Kartuga, but it's a "soft" grind and can be done in small bits. I can log into the game, do a mission, kill or be killed by a few players, and log out. It's all so accessible and easy to play that I forgive the light grind.
I'd also like to give credit to the UI design in Kartuga. UIs are one of those things that we as gamers rarely take notice of until we come across a stellar example. It's the same with good graphic design or excellent movie making; we don't really notice the shortcomings until we see something else that has done a much better job. Kartuga's relatively large skill trees and in-game store slide right out of the sides of your browser. Everything flows and is mostly easy-to-read. I can't really comment on how the cash shop will work simply because the game can change quite a bit over the course of a beta, but Kartuga's shop appears to be following the familiar Innogames pattern of selling mostly shortcuts while also offering some very handy in-game items. Does the game sell power? Sort of. You can unlock skills with cash-shop funds, for example. Plus, I still have whiplash from seeing just how many definitions of "power" there are in the community. You'll just have to play and see.
Kartuga is an easy-to-play, good-looking, and accessible browser-based pirate ship game that is just plain fun. I can't say that I'd want to grind out missions in the game for hours at a time, but it's a great title for people who like to go for the gold at the pace of a rocket. I enjoy popping in and out, and it's nice to see that I don't have to travel long distances or wait through long queues to get to a fight. All of the classes seem pretty balanced, and right from the beginning I felt powerful. I also love how many little items, skills, and technologies there are in the game; there are a ton of tweaks to play with. I'm not normally turned on by min-maxing, but I love the fact that I can be pretty unique. I'd rather be unique than powerful any day!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!