Abandon Ship screenshot of a Kraken attacking a ship with tentacles

Abandon ship is a procedurally generated blend of strategy and adventure that's most similar to FTL in spirit. What this means in gameplay terms is that you can individually control every part of your ship and its entire crew, wonder across a vast world solving quests and random events, and naturally, fight off cultists, pirates and giant sea monsters that would love nothing more than to transform your insides into outsides. It's a fairly simple concept, and one that has been proven to work many times before, so I am happy to say that Abandon Ship has managed to pull it off as well.

However, while games like FTL are fully finished and well polished, Abandon Ship has only just started its 9-12 month voyage across the turbulent seas of Steam Early Access. As such, there is a noticeable lack of variety in the random events, some of the combat elements are quite clearly unfinished or just unbalanced, and the exploration can often become downright tedious. That said, there is definitely enough potential within Abandon Ship to create something truly great, so it's going to be interesting to see what the developers do with it over the next few months.

For now, however, let's go over everything Abandon Ship does right and what still needs a bit more work before it can be fit to sail.

Abandon Ship screenshot of a burning ship

The idea is solid, but there are still some major flaws that need to be ironed out

The one area where Abandon Ship's FTL inspiration shines through the brightest is the combat. Instead of simply controlling the entire ship, you control up to six of its crewmembers and have to direct each of them to a certain station in order to make it function. So if you want your ship to move or perform maneuvers you'll need to have a navigator at the helm, and if you want your cannons to fire you will need at least one gunner on the deck. It's a relatively simple system, but it works wonders in the more challenging fights where you have to constantly reposition your crewmen and react to a wide assortment of problems that just keep popping up.

All of this is then further enhanced by a large variety of weapons and tools you can play around with. On some of the larger ships you have six weapon slots in total, only two of which are reserved for the broadside cannons, which means you can customize your playstyle in just about any way you want. If you're a fan of ranged firepower you can fit your ship with overwhelming amounts of cannons and mortars in order to try and sink the enemy from range. You can also forgo a bit of raw firepower and focus more on disrupting the enemy crew by either shooting at them directly or setting half of their ship on fire. Or, and this one is my favorite, you can outfit your ship with enough spikes to make an Orc from World of Warcraft jealous, and then use them to absolutely decimate the enemy in a full-speed ramming maneuver!

There are still some balance issues that will need to be addressed, but at its very core the combat in Abandon Ship is highly enjoyable. If the developers can add a bit more enemy variety into the mix, as well as new types of weapons, the combat could easily carry the experience on its own!

Abandon ship screenshot of an enemy ship blowing up

Blowing up ships is never not going to be fun!

The one aspect of combat I don't like directly relates to the crewmen. I still consider their inclusion a good idea, but right now they are far too generic to make me care about them. In FTL you had wildly different races with wildly different strengths which not only gave you more to think about while recruiting them, but it also made each playthrough much different. In Abandon Ship this is not the case since all of the crewmen are basically the same, regardless of their actual specialization.

A gunner can quickly learn to become just as good of a fighter as a melee-specialist, while the doctor you buy from a port can somehow have more navigator skill than the poor sap you carried from the very beginning of your playthrough. What I'd like to see moving forward is crewmen that are more specialized in one area at the detriment of another. For example, make some of the melee-specialists pirates that deal a ridiculous amount of damage, but 'secretly' take some of your hard-earned currency after each battle. That little example might not pan out, but the idea should be to make the crewmen feel like actual individuals with real strengths and weaknesses, rather than just walking piles of nearly identical stats.

Abandon Ship screenshot of the various crewmen you can hire

They're different now, but soon enough their stats will be exactly the same

Besides making your choices far too simple, the super-crewmen also have one additional problem: they often make Abandon Ship trivially easy! I've tried a couple of playthroughs so far, and in every single one of them I was quickly able to reach a point where no enemy, no matter how strong, could actually threaten me. All it takes is to build everyone's gunner skill by a couple of points and then fire upon the enemy ship before they are capable of retaliating. If you do it quick enough you'll get the enemy crewmen stuck in an endless loop of repairing their ship, getting hit in the face, healing themselves up, and then getting their ship wrecked by another salvo. Hilarious, but also incredibly boring after a while.

For those of you that feel particularly cheesy, you could also outfit your ship with primarily anti-crewmen weaponry and then rely on boarding actions for all of your battles. Since all of your crewmen heal between each battle, all you have to do is fire your anti-infantry weapons and then immediately board the enemy before they've had a chance to heal up. It doesn't matter how many crewmen they have or how well-trained they might be, you're going to win that battle 100% of the time because they're always going to start with barely any health.

In the grand scheme of things the low difficulty is not too big of a problem since Abandon Ship literally just launched in Early Access, but I would like to see the easily exploitable AI behavior fixed as soon as possible. Abandon Ship, and pretty much all games that fit into this genre, rely on random events messing with the player's plans in order to cause tension and interesting moments, so having the combat be so simple to solve makes any future playthroughs much less enticing.

Abandon Ship screenshot of stunned enemy crewmen

Winning fights is easy when your enemies are both stunned and poisoned at the same

Similarly, due to the low difficulty curve almost all of the new ships you can buy are relatively pointless, even though collecting enough gold to buy and upgrade them is often a gargantuan task. Why bother purchasing a ship with another row of cannons and twice the health when you can outfit even the worst ships in such a way that they leave each combat encounter with barely a scratch.

Even when that gets fixed the ship system will still needs some major improvements as getting a new vessel should be a major shift in playstyle instead of just an increase in numbers. FTL has done this amazingly well by offering different layouts and armaments, so I am hoping Abandon Ship will follow suit and implement something similar. Even simple things such as changing which weapons are equipable on each ship would go a long way towards making them feel more distinct and enjoyable to play around with. After all, who wouldn't want a ship that forgoes standard cannons in favor of a huge array of mortars!

Abandon Ship screenshot of the two ships you can buy

Much like real life, you're expected to pay far too much for far too little

In order to get yourself into combat you will need to explore Abandon Ship's procedurally generated world that is divided into numerous interconnected regions. Moving from one region to another is as simple as crossing over the threshold, though in order to unlock that ability you will first need to explore and complete a certain amount of events within your current region. This is where Abandon Ship's free-roaming aspect comes into play.

You are completely free to explore your current region and undertake events in whichever order you want, and this even includes skipping over combat encounters if you feel you're particularly vulnerable. In order to keep you from slacking off there is a visible 'timer' that will eventually spawn somewhat difficult enemies, but even that can be avoided by staying at friendly ports or thwarting cult activity. The end result is that Abandon Ship gives you a great degree of freedom and the ability to choose the type of gameplay you're specifically interested in given that the various event types are clearly marked.

The only problem with the whole free-roaming system is that it's fairly tedious since each region is relatively large yet populated by less then a dozen events. As such, you're going to spend a lot of time roaming aimlessly across the vast sea, just searching for the next random encounter to tackle. Abandon Ship has only just launched in Early Access so this is somewhat understandable, but I would still like to see this little conundrum resolved by adding more unique locations to visit, locations such as cities or ship graveyards, as well as even more random events for each region.

Abandon Ship screenshot of the enviroments

The environments are lovely, but often devoid of any substance

What surprised me the most about Abandon Ship, especially when you consider its genre, is that it not only has a lengthy story, but that it's actually quite good! The writing is solid, the narrative is littered with Lovecraftian elements that tantalize the imagination, and there are enough events going on to keep the whole thing interesting for hours on end. There might not be any animated cutscenes or voice acting, but the few hand-drawn images Abandon Ship shows off fit extremely well with the overall art style, so for now I must admit I'm rather pleased with what Abandon Ship has to offer on the story front.

The only thing I hope the developers will add moving forward is more interesting story events. Right now almost every story quest is resolved through a couple of lines of dialogue, and even though they are well written it's still a shame to have such potentially interesting events end up completely outside of the player's control. The reason I say this is because when Abandon Ship finally decides to involve you with the story the results can be downright impressive!

My favorite moment in the entire campaign is definitely the epic battle against the Kraken which required me to journey halfway across the world in order to find a weapon powerful enough to force it to surface. More importantly, due to the unique nature of this battle my usual and extremely cheesy strategy didn't function at all, so I actually suffered some major losses and had to do a fair bit of on-the-fly thinking. I can only hope that the developers will add more of these events in the coming months as there are very few things better than having to push your crew to the very limit in order to bring down an absolutely gigantic monster!

Abandon Ship screenshot of a giant Kraken attack

More of this, please!

Closing Thoughts

Much like the vast majority of games in Early Access, Abandon Ship has a lot of potential. What sets it apart from the rest, however, is that the core gameplay is already solid. It still needs a lot of work and a bit of rebalancing, but it is an extremely sturdy foundation upon which the developers have a chance to build something truly great.

As for whether I would recommend Abandon Ship in its current state, that depends on what exactly you're expecting to get out of it. If you're looking for a nearly finished game you can play for a few dozen hours and then move on to something else, I would say you should probably skip it for now and then return in some 7-8 months. On the other hand, if you want to participate in the development process and don't mind some of the major flaws I listed above, then you'll probably find quite a few hours of enjoyment with Abandon Ship.

Either way, it's going to be interesting to see how Abandon Ship evolves over its expected 9-12 months in Early Access.