Sail Forth lets you take control of your own pirate fleet in a colourful, 3D survival adventure through the high seas, meeting strange beings, battling pirates, and monstrous creatures. All coming together in a fun whimsical journey.
Sail Forth begins by dropping you off in a small boat alone in the middle of the sea, after a brief tutorial you set off on your adventure meeting colourful and amusing characters, from strange fish bowl headed salesmen, submarine piloting frogs, to mysterious otherworldly lighthouse keepers. The arrival of the mysterious purple Deadrock; a rock with the ability to power machines, super-charge weapons and control sea creatures, sets you on a quest of discovery and survival. It’s an engaging enough story to send you on your adventure, but there are no deep character arcs or narrative beats, but this all feels intended, allowing a breezy adventure.
The moment to moment gameplay is all about sailing the sea by managing how your sails interact with the wind system. There is a hint of Wind Waker to the look and feel of the game, with you taking control of a single ship at a time, but with an added semi-realistic wind mechanic. Each section of the game has wind travelling in different directions, as the player you must learn to adjust your sails to make the best use of the wind. There are several elements that indicate to the player the nature of the wind, the wind direction indicated on your compass, through floating white lines in the air and arrows on the mini map. To adjust your sails you must move the indicator into the ever moving green bar on your HUD. With practice, this mechanic becomes second nature and brings a great feeling of success when you accurately use it to win a battle or manoeuvre a tight situation. The sailing system is this game’s greatest strength, and at every opportunity it implores you to use it. You are rewarded for exploring. Exploration is where this game is exceptionally good and the developers have done a great job of making it fun and rewarding, through your exploration you discover items of interest, characters, hidden areas and in some cases story progression. I found myself stealing moments between other games to have a calming sail.
Combat is mostly, but not exclusively, ship to ship. It’s a much simpler concept to grasp than the traversal in theory: aim your cannons and pull the trigger. But, in practice it is made up of different weapon choices and placements giving added complexity. There are multiple different types of weapons to outfit your ships with – from gatling guns to standard canons. They each inflict different damage, have a different fire rate, and different reload times. The good news is that the weapons all feel different, and there’s joy to be had in discovering which weapons in which combinations work best for you. For example, I found, that a front mounted long range ballista was very useful at whittling down enemy ships, who on my playthrough very rarely had the ability to fire from the rear, making you practically invulnerable, and allowing an easier takedown.
A major part of the game revolves around creating your own fleet of four. There come in multiple different sizes and types ,each with their own stats. You control one at a time but with a press of a button you can cycle between each of your boats to take control of them, which is very quick, easy, and allows you to jump to the ship best suited for your current challenge. My main issue here is that your AI ship captains are a few planks short of a deck; multiple times I had them crash into me, into rocks, into each other and on a few occasions the smaller ships sunk themselves through poor pathfinding, leaving me to replace or repair them with my hard-earned planks.
Looting and mini-games earn you the game currency of planks, as well as selling valuable items that you might come across. At first, I thought they would be hard to come by, but soon enough I had more planks than I knew what to do with. The mini-games, however, were regularly too easy. Not once did I lose a race against the amusing Zimothy and Dexter, regularly they would storm ahead of me before taking a bizarre turn at the last second allowing me to win the race. It was almost as if the game didn’t want me to lose. The shooting range mini-game offered more of a challenge due to their short time limits, but none of them took more than one or two attempts. Despite all this, I still found myself compelled to play the mini-games, for all their ease they still brought a lot of joy to my time with this game – the card game you unlock later in the game being a particular highlight and an enjoyable change of pace from the sailing.
The game is split into multiple regions, and within those regions it is split up into island clusters. Each region has its own distinct look and feel, from ancient ruins, sandy beaches and freezing icebergs. Each of the sprawling regions is home to a large amount of ecosystems: giant turtles, whales, seals and so much more, giving life to the sea. The game excels at this, each time I unlocked a new area I was compelled to see it, I needed to know what my new adventures would look and feel like.
At the end of each of the regions there is a boss fight, early in the game these are regular pirates in bigger more powerful ships but as you progress they become weirder and more bizarre with giant sea creatures and monsters. The design work on each of the bosses is great, they each feel and look distinct. The boss fights themselves however, often turn into sailing in circles around your target firing at their weak points. Often the game would try adding another step to the fight, like harpooning armour and pulling it free, but each time it would return to sailing in circles and shooting your cannon. I think the developers were aware of this, every now and then submarines with harpoons would try to keep you in place, halting you in your path and forcing you to deal with them before allowing you to move. They were always fun, if sometimes not the challenge I was hoping for.
There is a lot of optional customization in the game. Each of your boats can be renamed to your liking, which definitely adds a great deal of attachment to them – no one wants to see the boat they named after their dog sink to the bottom of the ocean. Sails can be changed too and if you complete fishing and photo tasks unlocking more colours and images for your sails, a fun reward for some equally fun side missions.
Sail Forth is a fun, light game, it’s one of those cosy games that you can sit down with on a quiet night and relax into. The sailing mechanics, the written dialogue and the world and creatures design keep a smile on your face through the whole adventure despite the minor issues and lack of challenge.