Blackwake: Naval Warfare Early Access Review

Blackwake navy logo

ll is quiet aboard the galleon, all 13 crew members nervously waiting by their cannons. Torches in hands, ears pricked back, ears perked back in anticipation of the one word to make an otherwise beautiful day a horrific mess: “fire!” Unable to swivel the broadside cannons, you’ve got to wait until the time is perfect for execution. The ship comes into view alongside yours, the Captains issue their orders and an eruption of explosions and screams come from both parties.

Blackwake is full of moments just like this, in every game, sometimes multiple times per round. The anxiety of having to be patient for the enemy vessel to pop into view, while simultaneously being fired upon by and hearing your crew get splattered across the deck is surreal.

Set Sail

When taking to the Seven Seas you must choose between being a pirate or a British sailor. A comical difference between the two factions is the manner in which you’re able to heal yourself; drinking booze for the pirates, and sipping tea if you’re the British. From the offset, players get to choose what type of vessel they want to navigate and their loadout. There are several types of vessel. Each a different size meaning the amount of cannons aboard each varies. Naturally, the smaller vessels are faster but are considerably weaker. Think you can take on a galleon by yourself in a little hoy? I admire your ambition but no matey, you will not get very far.


Any shipmate worth their salt has to be well equipped for their naval adventures. There are a comfortable array of primary and secondary weapons an individual can have on their person alongside a few dashing examples of melee weapons. The guns have different strengths in different circumstances, while some are downright silly but come on that’s part of the charm, why wouldn’t I want a gun with several barrels? Sure it takes a lot longer to reload but the fact that if I can use some bizarre gun, if I so choose, is greatly appealing especially at this stage in development.

The assortment of Blackwake’s weapons doesn’t end with the crew member; it also applies to the vessels themselves. The broadside cannons are able to load three types of ammunition. The standard ball; for when you want to pound a sizeable hole into the enemy from great ranges too point-blank. The grapeshot; acting as a blunderbuss on a larger scale for those close quarter encounters. And the grapple shot for when you’re feeling kinky and sadistic and want to cling onto the opposing vessel. On the top deck there are the swivel guns which shoot a smaller size balls or, for the more adventurous sailor, the anti-sail shot designed drastically impede a vessel’s speed.

Community spirit

I think it’s fair to say that at some point in every child’s life they’ve fantasised about being a pirate and Blackwake’s community transcend this vision through the beautiful act of role-play. Every so often, you’ll join a server where a collective of people role-play. Referring to each other as scallywags and responding to orders with the traditional “yarr matey”. This was bloody refreshing. To my surprise, it wasn’t just this particular vessel that was adopting a virtual role with jest. With team communication and proximity chat, you often encounter an entire server cursing each other with scurvy and producing dramatic soliloquies upon their deaths like some poor rendition of Shakespeare. Magnificently on these types of servers players, in between skirmishes, and in true comradery crews perform a chantey.

Naturally, with an arsenal of weapons and a volatile mix of sailors comes the violence. Blackwake relishes itself with cartoonish graphics adding an innocent charm about it and showing that the vision isn’t to be some try-hard game which is meant to be taken seriously. This is particularly evident with the ragdoll effects. Countless times you’ll be running across deck to see your crew ascend to the heavens or spin overboard with flamboyancy.

Hold Steady

Amidst Blackwake’s anarchy of explosions and bodies the crew must find the courage to keep the ship sailing despite the comical horrors thrust onto them. This requires people to repair the hull, fix the sails and (what you’ll spend most of your time doing) loading the cannons. An experience that inevitably loses its charm quicker than you can reload a musket. Surprisingly, being able to cleave a sail or to use the correct ammo at the right time adds a more strategic element to the game that at first glance might have been missed.

When the ship gets damaged, and it will, the crew are required to patch up the holes and pump the water out. This seems simple enough, and it is, if you have a crew willing to follow orders or are worth their salt. If not, then it’s down to Davy Jones you go. This won’t be an issue if you have actual mates who can pull their weight but nine times out of ten you’ll be on a vessel with several idiots shouting cancer down the microphone.

Thar She Blows

Speaking of potential downfalls for a ship and her band of sailors, the Captain has a pinnacle role. This person can make or break a crew. The main mission for this person is to guide the ship towards and away from danger. There will always come a time when a captain will take the bold road and attempt a boarding. The chaos ensued by the ramming of one ship into another is glorious. Almost instantly you’ll see both crews adopt their respective personas over voice comms. This naturally leads to each team saying all sorts of absurdities while drawing their swords and guns.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but when giving any random number of players on the internet to elect their new leader they have a questionable habit of choosing a rather tyrannical, unbalanced figure. The game does have a mutiny option, if the captain acts poorly which is kind of neat, but given that currently players would rather kill one another than engage in politics; the more ruthless of captains usually stays in their position.

So to summarise, Blackwake has the potential to offer a lot and updates are being implemented regularly. Most recently there was a weather update which includes hellscape oceans and typhoons which definitely adds to the atmosphere. It may lack game mode variety and the dire requirement on relying on so many people for each vessel may put some people off. That being said, Blackwake is cheap and a laugh and could go in any number of directions. Just don’t take it seriously.


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