Tuesday, 01 May 2018 09:00

Maelstrom Early Access Review

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The battle royale genre — indeed, it’s become its own genre — has utterly exploded with newcomers as of late. One of the freshest arrivals to the battlegrounds is Gunpowder Game’s Maelstrom, a title that promises seafaring action aboard vessels destined to sink or swim. Maelstrom released as an Early Access title on Steam on April 11, and since then has claimed the interest of gamers searching to fill the oppressive void that recent titles, like Sea of Thieves, have left.


Maelstrom’s battle royale gameplay is easy to learn and be drawn to. Battles consist of 15 players going head-to-head on a single map. The map consists of islands, currents, and — of course — a maelstrom, all of which players must contend with while they furthermore ward off attacks from real-life foes. And the center-forcing mechanic? Yep, that would be an onslaught of savage sea monsters. If the sea “smells of death...” you better hightail it out of there, or risk being a sea monster’s brunch.

The goal, naturally, is to be the last man standing, but secondarily you’ll want to collect as much gold as you can. Tantalizing chests float on these waters, as well as enemy NPC ships which you can sink to plunder even more loot. Gold acts as your motivator and your progression key. Use gold to buy ships or to upgrade your current one by adding perks to become an even deadlier contender on the water. You also get to select a captain and mates for your ship, but these are unlockables that need much development yet.


Pick your poison: human, orc, or dwarf? The race you choose will determine which ships and captains you can select. In this sense, you have a hand in what your vessel looks like, but only barely, since all of these ships have different strengths and weaknesses which will more likely be your deciding factors than how they look. How you play, though, is entirely up to you. You can fire on, ram, and board enemy vessels — or hide most of the match, and take advantage of those with low health towards the end.

Aiming and navigating your warship is surprisingly satisfying. It feels slow and frustrating at first, but once you learn the rhythm of the water, of your ship, and of your cannon-fire, it’s like a whole new world opens before you. A world where you mercilessly chase and gun down your enemies for gold, glory, and honor. Okay, mostly gold.


Maelstrom unfortunately has a few issues right out of the gate. Aside from the normal Early Access sloppiness, the upgrading system could potentially pose a serious threat to the enjoyability of the finished product. As it is, Maelstrom is not a wholly skill-based title. Players with more game time have ships that are substantially better than new players, and having to war against people with automatically-better vessels is disheartening, to say the least.

On the other hand, the water graphics are stellar, the ship and character designs are laudable, and the single map that Maelstrom currently has is undoubtedly eye candy. Maelstrom is a lushly beautiful naval title that is bursting with promise and appeal. If Gunpowder Games plays their cards right, they might just have the seafaring battle royale title on their hands.

The Verdict

Maelstrom navigates seas of endless potential with its ship-based battle royale system. Gorgeous seafaring visuals and deeply satisfying gameplay make this title gloriously promising in its infancy. Maelstrom’s path to success, however, has the potential to be just as perilous as its namesake — either swallowing the title into its vortex or hurling it into stardom.

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Taryn Ziegler

Taryn is a digital content strategist with an avid appetite for literature and gaming. She graduated from the University of Washington Bothell with a degree in Culture, Literature, and the Arts, and since then has been engaged in copywriting for businesses from AutoNation to DirtFish Rally School. While she'll happily play most games set in front of her, Taryn heartily prefers a good ol' turn-based strategy RPG, such as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and Divinity: Original Sin.


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