My ship is falling apart and I’m down to half crew. It seems like ages since I left port and the sea is throwing everything it can at me. Disease. Disorientation. Even the whales are out to get me. I glance over at the horizon, and spy another ship. Turns out, it's more pirates just like us.
I’m going to stay and fight. It’s a risk, but I’ve made it out of tougher scrapes and their ship isn’t that big. Before long we pull alongside and I order my crew to board. We jump onto their ship and cut through their ranks. The gamble pays off quickly: we're victorious. I check the loot. There’s jewels, gold, and even wooden planks to fix the ship. Finally, my luck is changing.
These types of stories are common in Don’t Sink, a new 2D sandbox RPG published by Studio Eris. It lets you live out your fantasies of being a pirate: you make your own captain, hire a crew, and sail the seas in search of fortune and fame.
Pixels of the Carribean
One of the best things about Don't Sink is that it never gets bogged down in wordy tutorials or overbearing expository text. It simply gives you a bunch of tools and tells you to get on with it. You can work towards buying bigger ships (like I did), try to build up your colony, or sail the seas to rack up wins. How you pirate is up to you.
There are a few things you’ll have to balance to be a successful captain: keeping an eye on the condition of your ship, the wellbeing of your crew (depicted on the screen as status bars), and your supplies (wood, food, drink, cloth) are all important.
To keep those bars topped up, to prevent your crew from dying and stop your ship from sinking, you need to spend money. You’re constantly having to find ways to get coin and manage your spending. Some of the ways to do this include delivery jobs, sidequests, and of course winning battles at sea.
Where's your buccaneers?
While at sea, encounters with pirates occur randomly. Whenever you’re in combat, a wheel appears with four options to choose from: you can flee, fire, board, or repair. Each of these actions takes time to perform, so you have to make your mind up quickly to escape unscathed.
Even in Early Access, Don’t Sink is compelling. Building up your base and taking on new crew and responsibilities is tremendously satisfying, especially as you can see the time you put in pay off directly with new ships and gold. There’s also a neat metagaming aspect to it, letting you compare progress with other players over leaderboards based on how far you’ve traveled, the number of enemies you’ve defeated, and how much you’ve spent.
During my time with Don't Sink I went from having a small crew of just eight to becoming one of the higher-ranked players. I developed my base to its fullest potential, and even expanded my crew to over 100 souls. Getting there was a ton of fun too, full of high-sea hijinks, random encounters, and treasure.
It’s worth mentioning Don't Sink has a couple of limitations at the moment. There are only six islands to visit, and there’s also very little in terms of quest variety. Most missions involve transporting goods between the different islands, which can get repetitive because of the limited size of the map. What would be great is more questlines based around individual, characterful NPCs to give the towns more personality.
There are a few pirate games on Steam, of varying degrees of quality. Don’t Sink stands out for being simple, streamlined, and well-presented. It has a charming pixel-art aesthetic, with an eye-catching color palette of blues, greens, and yellows.
2018 promises not one, but two massive pirate games in Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones and Rare’s Sea of Thieves. But while these games have huge production values, Don’t Sink is a more lo-fi and uncomplicated pirate-'em-up. I can’t wait to see how it grows with the benefit of player feedback.