Picaroon – The Age of Online Empires
By Neil Kewn (Murxidon) – OnRPG Journalist
Picaroon isn’t your average strategy game. Half real time strategy, half MMO – it’s an online game that strives to be different in a space populated by cookie cutter titles. Mixing traditional base building and resource gathering with competitive multiplayer, quests and trade, Picaroon is a feature packed merger of all your favourite RTS mechanics. Sounds great in premise, but is Picaroon a complete package of powerful playing styles or a convoluted concoction that should be avoided?
A self-proclaimed MMORTS, fans of the heralded Age of Empires series, turn-based juggernaut Civilization or the underappreciated Anno 1404 will all find something to like in Picaroon. You are given a small island to build, maintain and control with objectives to complete along the way. Coming off the back of the social video game boom brought on by Facebook, those who have fallen under its spell will find much familiarity in Picaroon.
Picaroon’s small download makes me wonder why it wasn’t a browser-based game in the first place. Playing online games at work is all the rage these days, and the game’s management and base-building aspect would be well suited to the casual audience. There are three different game types to choose from. The first is a classic setup with a fixed time limit and frantic end-game, the second is a quick skirmish that lasts just a few hours and the final mode offers an endless, persistent game for die hard strategists. Picaroon isn’t a casual affair though, there’s depth and strategy that will appeal to the most hardcore of players, but it’s welcoming to those who don’t have a lot of spare time to watch their empire rise.
Developing your settlement is the first order of business. Constructing farms, mines and other buildings helps increase the number of resources available in your pool. Many are required to progress to the next level of the tiered construction tree, with the most advanced buildings at the top. These bring a whole host of new and powerful building options, unit types and game enhancements. A text-based tutorial guides you through the majority of Picaroon’s features, helping you get well acquainted with the game.
Once you’re happy with the progression of your settlement, it’s time to build defences and forge an army. Naval warfare is an extremely important part of Picaroon, and it’s wise to begin building ships and forming fleets as soon possible as new players are only protected from attacks for the first 72 hours. Discovering and colonizing new settlements is necessary for growth, and whilst you start off small it won’t be long until you have control over a number of islands. Having ample protection across the board isn’t easy so it’s wise to build the strongest defences on your most valuable islands. There are a good number of different ships available. Bombers, scouts, submarines – there’s a vessel for every occasion, each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Forming powerful and varied fleets to work in any given situation is a challenge.
Questing rewards you with “specials” and other goodies. A dedicated questing panel lists available tasks and their requirements. The majority of them are basic (building a mill, attacking a pirate ship, etc.) and act as a helpful guide in growing your settlements whilst rewarding you with helpful items. The use of cards known as “specials” adds another strategic element. These one-shot deals can profoundly affect anything from construction times, to ship accuracy, to population growth. Specials are awarded through questing and can also be bought in special packs from the in-game store.
A grid overlay displays your settlements and the location of your units. With a 40x40 grid to contend with, even a simple game of Picaroon is a vast one. Players are always on the lookout for new settlements to colonize, and they are usually more than willing to take yours if it is not defended. This is where Alliances come in. Players can form their own guilds and recruit other players in an attempt to garner a foothold on a certain area. Strength is certainly in numbers when it comes to conquering other player’s settlements and the inevitable task of defending your own.
A small cash shop is used to fund the game. Using a currency known as “Doubloons”, players can purchase the aforementioned premium Specials Packs. Packs range from fleet transportation speed buffs to stat increases to help protect your settlement if you are away for the weekend. It isn’t a necessity to indulge in such luxury but there is a clear advantage to those who do. Endgame is where the most action is. Those who have donated resources to the Home Nation across the course of a game are rewarded with the most hi-tech, advanced equipment and units available. Anything from advanced submarines to nuclear weapons, it’s worth gifting any remaining resources for the chance to wheel out the big guns in the final days of play, especially if you’re not interested in the Picaroon store.
Unfortunately not everything is as polished as the engine room of my Heavy Bombship. The user interface is poor. Cluttered, ugly menu screens and dreadful navigation mechanics take the shine off the game. Picaroon falls short in the graphics department too. Settlements consist of several huts and buildings, with little or no activity from the population you strive to appease. Textures are bland and of low quality, with water effects sadly lacking. Not such a surprise considering the small download, but the overall presentation of the game becomes an eyesore after a while.
Nevertheless, Picaroon succeeds in standing out amongst the pack. It may lack polish, but the fundamentals are there and its strong, addictive gameplay should evolve over time and keep those already playing interested. An enjoyable game in need of some slight refinement, Picaroon is a title that will appeal to both casual and non-casual real time strategy fans. Climb aboard.
Graphics - 3
Controls - 3
Features - 4
Customization - 4
Community - 3