Before taking a look at the game, let's take a look at the name. The definition for Picaroon is: a pirate or pirate ship. To picaroon is to act like a pirate. That being said, pirates are in the game but are no friend of yours. Picaroon is an MMORTS set in a large swath of ocean peppered throughout with small islands. The player starts each game on one of these islands and, through naval and aerial bombardment, will seek to expand their empire by taking over uninhabited islands or conquering the islands of other players.
The game modes available are Classic, Skirmish, and coming soon a persistent game world that never ends. The classic mode is played out over a couple of weeks and is best for the beginner as it contains all the tutorials, quests, and time to breathe between attacks. Skirmish mode matches are only a couple hours long and can be created by the player for others to join, or you can join one already in progress. The persistent game world was not available during this review but it looks as though an "Invasion Special" must be played in order to gain access to it. These specials can be gotten from either playing the classic mode or by purchasing them in the store.
The best description of Picaroons graphics is functional. All the buildings are distinguishable from one another and the islands look decent, dotted with palm trees and native huts. The ships look alright too, although different factions with different ship models would add some much needed variety. During combat cannon balls and torpedoes are visible as they hurtle between fleets. When a ship or building takes enough damage it will catch on fire and eventually sink/ collapse which is a nice touch.
Waves and birds make up a very relaxing background soundtrack. Interface sound effects however felt a bit out of place, made up of a lot of sci-fi beeps and blips. I could be wrong but at one point I thought I heard an old Starcraft UI effect as well. Nothing major, but it doesn't help immerse you in a world populated with wooden ships and fishing huts.
Navigating through the user interface felt clunky at times and they could probably do away with the full page building tree. The world map is laid out as a massive grid displaying fleet and island locations. The grid format makes exploring a little simpler as a ship has to only just enter a box to reveal its entire contents. An automatic upgrade panel allows players to check off options like upgrade food buildings, production buildings, or upgrade everything. This comes in handy once you rack up a couple islands and are fighting off an enemy at the same time.
Gameplay in Picaroon consists of building, exploring, resource management, and combat. Not all islands have a lot of room so space management is key, placing a building requires you take the buildings footprint and need for water access into account. Exploring is a very important part of the game and the world map makes it a breeze to do. Combine that with cheap and quick to build scout ships and keeping an eye on other players is no problem.
Combat is fairly simple, bring your fleet in range of another fleet or island and watch the cannonballs and torpedoes fly. Sink enough ships and the fleet gains admiral points which can be used to increase that fleets armor, accuracy or damage. Taking over another player's island is accomplished by bombing the crap out of it until the local populace's loyalty bottoms out. At which point they revolt and the island is yours. This adds an interesting dynamic to the game because not only do you lose an island, but whatever buildings remain on that island become your enemies. I admit I skipped through a few tutorials my first play and the first time I was attacked unexpectedly I began building a ton of siege towers. The tide seemed to be turning a little more my way each time one finished. The other player was down to one fleet of nine ships and I had about ten siege towers done, it was then something popped up in the chat. "Thanks for building me all those defenses', they'll come in handy!" Right as I finished reading the message my people had revolted and I was left scratching my head. A quick jump to the tutorial and I realized my mistake, I had no morale boosting buildings other than the siege towers (which were built too late). A player has to not only defend from the obvious threat of another player's fleet but also his own people by keeping them happy and well fed.
Resource's you will be collecting are wood, ore, gold, stone, and people. Placing the appropriate building is all that is needed to start the inflow of resources, and as each building is upgraded the more resources it will produce. The problem I ran into most was having somewhere to put all of them. In the beginning you won't need large stock piles of goods to build the available ships and buildings. Later in the game however, large amounts of most of the resources are needed to build the more powerful ships and there simply wasn't enough space on my islands for anymore storage buildings.
What you really want to be gathering though is reputation points. The player with the most reputation at the end of the game is the winner. These points can be gotten a variety of ways, landmark events (i.e. First of a building type, conquering a new island, etc.), sending resources back to your "home country", and combat. Sending tribute and sinking enemy ships is by far the most effective way of gaining reputation so you'll want to get at it early. It's also important to note that these points can only increase, meaning even if your reduced to one island you can still win if you've been sending tribute and doing a lot of damage.
An interesting twist Picaroon has added is the "specials". There are two types of specials, ones that are used in the bulk of the game and do things like increase resource production or damage caused by ships. Quests are the main source of this particular special and there are a lot of them, ranging from build a farm to kill some pirates. The other is end game specials given to players in the top ten during the final third of the match. These powerful abilities give you super ships, or nuclear strikes. The only other way to get these end game specials is by dishing out one million gold for a roulette chip that when used, gives you a 50/50 chance of receiving one of the specials.
The combination of island building, quests, and RTS combat make for a fun time. It may not be anything entirely groundbreaking, but the way Picaroon puts it together is what makes it shine.
This being a beta of course you're still going to find some bugs and not everything has been combed over yet. During my time with the game I had a few zooming issues where the camera controls seemed unresponsive. Also the UI needs a major facelift and de-cluttering prior to release.
Picaroon has the capacity to keep players interested. A couple game varieties, a solid premise, and engaging gameplay are all going for it. It's the polish that it lacks and hopefully gets that will be the game changer. Plus, with the addition of the persistent world game mode, I see no reason for people to stop playing at all!
In game chat is provided as well as a notice board and the option to create or join alliances once your embassy is built. I didn't join an alliance during my time but I now see the err of my ways. Having someone online when your not is almost a must in Picaroon and logging on to a smoking heap where your island was is no fun.
Picaroon is a F2P game but has an online store where you exchange cash for "doubloons" and use them to buy in game bonuses (usually specials). Taking a look at some of the bonuses it's clear that those who choose to spend their hard earned doubloons on these specials will have a leg up on the competition. The game tries to counter this with a cap on how many specials you can use but, you guessed it, you can buy another special that either increases your cap or resets it to zero. While I'm sure that a player can be successful without them it certainly will make things at least a little more frustrating; especially in the shorter games if you get special blitzed.
Picaroon may not be the prettiest girl at school but she's got personality. Anyone with a penchant for RTS or MMO's should at least give it a try. Plus it runs very light; you can keep it in the background while you play something else... if you're a multi-tasker like me.