by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
This past weekend I took a voyage into the brave, deadly world of hunting whales in the PC game Nantucket. Whales, sharks, narwhals, men. If it swam in the sea or rode atop it, it was my quarry. I spent most of the time trying to figure out how to quantify exactly what Nantucket from Picaresque Studio was, and I think I’ve done it. It’s Oregon Trail mixed with the Total War event system, compiled in a digital board game. It’s a true amalgamation of systems, but it winds up working out very well. You play as one of the crewmen of Captain Ahab and The Pequod, who wound up aboard another vessel, the Rachel. Events unfold, and you wind up with your own ship and the goal of revenge. Of course, you seek out to destroy Ahab’s curse and sail through the golden age of seafaring. It’s challenging, frustrating, and you will probably die a lot if you do not spend time grinding and farming. Farming what, though? This was truly a weekend of farming. In Nantucket, I farmed Whale Blubber.
Oh yes, Whale Blubber. Your ultimate goal is to unravel this story and chase down the White Whale, Moby Dick. You start off as a captain with barely a vessel to his name – a beat up, run-down piece of junk – and a few drunks from the bar to join you on your glorious quest. Though I wound up using that same boat for most of my adventures, just leveling it up over and over with repairs, expecting every adventure to be my last one. The RNG was very weird, and no matter how strong I thought I was, there was always that chance encounter that suddenly had a gigantic shark or whale, or fighting pirates, who dealt bonus damage on round one, made bleeding effects happen, or hit with devastating shots. So, a lot of this is left to chance, but at least that’s fitting. After all, the seas are cruel and unforgiving.
You gain your missions from the newspapers at various ports of call, which offer tidbits of interesting news, along with the “jobs” section which offers your tasks. Some of them have requirements, such as a character level, a ship with a certain amount of cargo hold, or abilities. They will almost always be far away, though the tasks are generally simple. Follow a rumor of a whale hunting grounds, follow the trail of a destroyed ship, defeat a named sea creature (these are the hardest ones in my estimation). You’ll have a little gold at the start at least, and most of the resources you need are inexpensive. The prices will vary from port to port, and these include Fresh Water, Wood to repair the ship, Grog (sailors need their booze), and Food. You’ll purchase it in amounts that equal days because that’s how time is measured when you’re traveling by sea. You’ll make some of your money off of these missions, but the majority of the money rolls in from farming whales.
Now, some of these “find a whale spawning ground” missions will just lead you to fighting sharks. That’s fine, at least it’s exp. When you’ve found a spawning ground, you’ll see on the map what type of whales spawn there, the frequency, and the times of the year that they will come to that spot on the map. You’ll want to make sure you’ve been to a nearby port of call because there will be times you need to retreat from battle, recover, resupply, and go back out again. When you get to one of these hunting grounds, you’ll wait in active mode (you can pause time to consider where to sail next, or if you need to step away) for whales to arrive. From there, you can either send out your crew to battle for you (auto battle), or you can get down in the trenches, as it were, and take command.
Your first ship only has one whaling boat, so you’ll only receive one attack per round. This can be devastating in certain missions where your goal is to survive 6-8 rounds and the enemy Sharks/Whales keep returning. When a battle begins, you’ll see your characters and the enemy, and each turn the weather changes, offering various effects. These can be amazing, such as stunning a random enemy, or bad, where certain class effects won’t work, or you have a random character stunned. The attacks come with a roll of the dice, and you’ll see several squares, some with icons in them. These are the abilities that your character has a shot at using. The more skills you have, the better chance you have of hitting one. They aren’t all attacks, though. Hunters only attack, but if you bring down your Sailor, he can do amazing things such as defensive moves that make someone immune to damage. The classes are:
Hunter: They are the damage dealers, in the early game I tend to bring down two to every battle, including the captain (who is primarily a hunter)
Sailor: They guide your ship, and are defensive units down in battle. Very handy to have around. You must have someone to steer the ship, and it’s best to have someone in this role who actually knows how.
Science: Your science officer is the healer, offering more exp for defeating sea creatures, emergency kits, increasing the healing restored in the Forecastle of your ship and more.
Craftsman: The craftsmen do all the physical work on the ship. They give you more out of your whale blubber, to chop wood in safe docks, and in general do the dirtiest of deeds. They are indispensable.
This is where the game starts to feel more like a Total War title than anything else. Each of these random characters starts off with positive and negative traits, including Lazy, Teetotal, Strong, Open Minded, Closed Minded, Gourmet, Slopeater, et cetera. These also come from “events”. As you sail, lots of time passes in the world, and random events happen on the ship. Sometimes a crewman wants to go visit home for some reason. I’ve seen them take their own lives after their parents pass, need to borrow money, have to beat up bandits/highwaymen. You might have to deal with someone eating too much, or potential bad water. I’ve found the more water I have, the greater chance that has of occurring. If you hover over the options, you’ll see the percentage chance of the results, and what the result will be. For example, if you keep the sedentary water, you’ll have characters gain dysentery. And you know what that means: you’re gonna poop yourself to death.
The longer you’re at sea, the more supplies you’ll chew through, but fortunately, there are icons that show how much you have left of each, and will warn you if you’re running low. If you have a bad event and think maybe you won’t have enough? Turn around, sail back to a port and get more. It’s better to lose time than to have to choose between “drinking your own urine” and “praying to God for drinkable water”. This game is definitely rooted deeply in the era of Melville, for better and worse. Sometimes your choices are terrible. A lot of times, they are. You might lose two of your crew, and have to sail back to a port, only to find they have no one to hire. At least you don’t have to pay gold to hire them initially. They do, however, get a cut of whatever profits you might from selling whale parts. They don’t get a lot, as they aren’t the captain or owner of the ship. And buying new ships is insanely expensive, so you’re going to have to grind a lot if you want to get something new and shiny with more crew capacity, and better possible upgrades. Your first ship doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. Upgrading said ships takes gold and takes time, but you don’t have to sit in port and wait. You can resume your exploration, and come back when it’s done. The part I love about this the most, though, is that you keep these upgrades when you buy a new ship. So you can focus on your first ship, and keep those research parts when you move on.
From Hell’s Heart, I Stab At Thee: 3.5/5
While Nantucket is charming, tells a hell of a story, offers a decent difficulty and length, the RNG, as mentioned earlier, is horrific. I highly recommend leaving on auto-save, at least on a monthly timer, because if you don’t and forget to save (like I tend to do) you’re going to be a miserable person. I’ve run through something like 12 to 15 crewmembers, and the captain of my ship has died to pirates, sharks, and whales around 3 to 5 times. Usually to ridiculous, foolish things I had no business dying to. You should definitely take your time with this game and not rush. Even in the early game, you can be obliterated by the weakest of the Narwhals. Despite how much grinding you will likely have to do, this is not a terribly long game, around 10-15 hours. It’s very open and allows you to travel and do as you wish. Plus, the sea shanties. How can I forget these? Occasionally, your crew will break out into song, singing classic sea shanties of the time. They are incredibly talented and lovely to hear.
While these are all terrific aspects, I don’t feel vested in my crew. When they died, I just picked up more chumps at the latest port of call. The whole tale of Moby Dick was a very intimate affair. The crew got to know each a lot better than I realized when I read the book in elementary school. But in Nantucket, despite the well-told story, delightful visuals, and well-designed gameplay, I’m torn out of the immersion by how little I get to know these sailors. It’s actually kind of frustrating having to sail port to port, potentially avoiding encounters, and not leveling up because I’m alone. This and the fact that the map does not wrap around were the biggest negatives to me. I also wish the game didn’t pause every time you alt-tab (because I alt-tab a lot). I enjoyed this game and will continue to explore every nook and cranny of this ancient Earth, and I don’t even feel bad about it. If you love seafaring games, grinding titles (a’la Darkest Dungeon), and want an excellent story well told? Then Nantucket is definitely for you. It’s part tactical RPG, part visual novel, and it’s absolutely worth the price point.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.