I admittedly spend a lot of time on mobile games. As far as my standard playtime goes, I’d wager that more than 60% of my gaming time these days goes into the best new mobile games. Imagine my surprise when I took a break from my daily Gacha treadmills to try out a little mobile game called Pirates Outlaws and discovered that it consumed my entire being for the next 72 hours. At first, I was drawn in by the beautiful art style rendered in the Unity engine. But if the art was the bait, the gameplay was the hook, no pun intended.
Pirates Outlaws (developed by Fabled Games) is a spiritual sibling of Slay the Spire, a popular roguelike-deckbuilder game available on most platforms, in which you choose a pirate hero and traverse nodes on a map. The nodes themselves either contain a turn-based combat event, or a random event in which the player is forced to make a choice. Every hero starts with a standard deck, and the nodes net you the opportunity to add or subtract cards from that deck. The combat nodes present different fights against randomized enemies, often with interesting hidden mechanics. Every enemy broadcasts their next action, visible by an icon above their head while your turn progresses. Once you’ve depleted the cards in your hand, the enemy takes their action against you. Ideally, you play cards to mitigate whatever devious attack they have planned for your hero.
Swashbuckle Up, Ye Scurvy Dogs
The heroes vary in terms of strategy; you may prefer the nimble lifesteal mechanics of the sword master, or the steady balance of rage and clarity the carpenter requires. Each character in Pirates Outlaws comes with their own prebuilt deck that can be adjusted with play. Each hero has a different ammo count, which almost acts like mana or action points that dictate the amount of a certain type of card that can be used in a given turn. The random nature of rewards and run-specific shops provides both equal amounts of consistency and RNG (luck-based randomization) to your runs. Successful fights net you either new cards, or one of a vast array of relics that aid your on your quest to the final boss of that level. Rinse and repeat 3 times and you win the run! Each run grants you repute, which acts as a progression gate, and gold to be spent in Pirates Outlaws’ app shop to purchase more characters, more adventures, bundles etc.
Here Be Booty
Overall the gameplay is pretty tight. I love messing with different card combinations and experimenting with various builds in my successive runs. I don’t have all the characters unlocked, but I do admittedly find it hard to beat without my beloved sword master hero. Do not get me wrong, this game is difficult, but once you suss out a strategy on your character of choice, you can easily grind the currency to unlock further content. Oh, and on the topic of currency: this game is $1, but does have in-app purchases. This seems to have made it a target of criticism in online communities, but in my experience, this doesn’t affect the game’s quality overall. In fact, without purchasing the gold currency, you’re essentially extending the amount of time in which you’ll enjoy the game. In short, since gold is only used to unlock further content, purchasing it essentially removes the progression as incentive to continue playing.
Pirates Outlaws is a fantastic pocket version of an already tried and true formula. Combined with awesome pirate subject matter, and excellent visuals, I highly recommend it despite typically being averse to premium games with in-app purchases. Overall, the difficulty, the variety, and the constant challenge of roguelike runs keeps me coming back for more. Over time, I’ll be surprised if this buried treasure doesn’t become a much more widely known game.