Like a pirate ship plummeting towards Davy Jones’ locker, this swashbuckling RPG has been through the wars. It was originally released on PC in 2016 before being converted to mobile a year later, presumably receiving a rejigged interface. Some three years on, it sails onto the good ship PlayStation 4. But rather than being a bigger and better version of its PC counterpart, it feels more in line with the mobile release.
From the chunky image-driven UI – clearly intended for fat fingers and thumbs – to the small download size, there are telling signs at every turn that Tempest was once designed with the constraints (and benefits, we guess) of the mobile platform. Within those constraints, Tempest promises a lot: it’s an open-world RPG with pirate ship battles, trading, resource management, upgradeable stats, third-person swashbuckling, and countless fetch quests.
While it does manage to deliver on those promises, it does it in the laziest way possible. This is a simple game, favouring text instead of cut-scenes, and the majority of actions are menu-driven and of very little consequence. As for the open-world aspect, let’s just say the map is around 90 per cent water. You can choose to fast travel to avoid conflict – which entails watching your scurvy-ridden vessel pootle around a map screen – or sail manually while keeping an eye on the compass and wind direction, eluding the grasp of the occasional colossal sea creature.
When seafaring it’s never long until enemy ships appear, all of which are keen to pursue. Naval battles are drawn-out affairs based around circling to avoid the enemy’s attack radius while patiently waiting 15-20 seconds per cannonball reload. Destroying an enemy ship can feel satisfying – and it’s also during naval battles that the game looks its best – but more often than not the odds are stacked against you. The majority of enemies not only boast superior firepower but attack in pairs.
While it’s possible to upgrade cannons and hulls, as well as equip magic crystals that repel attacks, it takes considerable time and effort to amass the required gold. This is a slow-burning experience that’s not only difficult to get into, but also hard to make any real headway. All we had to show after 5 hours of play was a couple of insignificant ship upgrades, making the thought of owning a gargantuan pirate ship a mere dream. Any gold earned from quests is soon blown on restocking cannonballs, medicine for the crew and rum to lighten spirits.
The game’s constraints become incredibly apparent the moment your mettlesome pirate sets foot on dry land. Just one small island-based location is used throughout – only mission objectives and enemy assortment change from one pitstop to the next. These missions vary from locating keys to open a treasury, to fighting off waves of skeleton marauders or giant (enemy) crabs.
Until purchasing a pistol only two actions are available (blocking and attacking, allowing for a crude parrying system), and character movement looks and feels unnatural, with characters seemingly gliding across the land. To make matters worse, the camera is positioned awkwardly, zoomed in far too closely. These sections also look considerably last-gen, resembling an early PS3 game at best.
Occasionally AI will fight alongside you, which would be exciting if it wasn’t for the fact that they – just like yourself – kick the bucket after taking just two or three hits. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to fail island-based missions several times until finally emerging victorious. Restarting is a slow process, requiring a trip back to the ship and a brief voyage to a glowing docking marker.
The quest system is likewise crude, with no quest tracking or any of the ‘quality of life’ features we’ve come to expect from modern RPGs. There’s a quest journal with vague descriptions and that’s about it. They’re so vague that we couldn’t even tell if there was a main quest to follow. Some missions won’t appear on the map screen until you’ve manually clicked on their location, resulting on us randomly clicking on every island, colony, and fort in hope of getting a marker to appear. In the end, we simply accepted every quest available to increase the chances of stumbling across somebody we needed to defeat or trade with.
Also of note is how trivial some quests are, such as delivering letters halfway across the map. A quest to “investigate geothermal activity” left us smirking – so much for living a pirate’s life.
Another minor observation is that even after spending over 5 hours with Tempest, we were yet to unlock a single trophy. While you may be thinking there’s nothing odd about this, consider the fact that there’s supposed to be a trophy for completing the tutorial. This presumably means we missed or overlooked something during the opening.
This is a good example of Tempest as a whole – it doesn’t care that we never completed the tutorial. It doesn’t care that we accidentally wandered into hostile territory. It doesn’t care that we accepted the mission to sink a ghost ship but lack the firepower to do so. It doesn’t care that we’re on a mission to detonate explosive barrels, but are still yet to purchase a pistol to shoot said explosives. It doesn’t care that a tornado is currently destroying our ship and killing your crew while you undertake an on-foot mission. And it certainly doesn’t care that we wasted ages trawling the map screen hopelessly trying to follow quests.
Tempest: Pirate Action RPG – to use its full title – isn’t a broken experience. Nor is it bareboned despite its simplicity – there’s a fair bit to it, with some hidden depths not coming to light until delving into the menus. The problem here is that the trading elements, naval battles, RPG style quests and those terrible, terrible, on-foot missions fail come together to form something bigger and more substantial. It’s like playing a board game where you’re constantly being put back to square one.
We came to Tempest expecting to become a Pirate King. Instead, it kicked sand into our face and gave us some letters to deliver.