When we think about mobile games, massive worlds and open-ended adventures aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind. Backflip Studios is looking to change that with their ambitious new title Seabeard, though, and it’s hard not to admire the seafaring world they’ve created, a surprisingly open-ended, choose-you-own-path story full of mystery, adventure, and character.
Whether you want to be a world-famous adventurer or just a really darn good cook, Seabeard has something for you. This is a role-playing game in the most classic sense; you can choose from any number of jobs and skills for your avatar, and embody all of them in a vivid, living world.
Freedom of choice is a term that’s thrown around with reckless abandon in the gaming industry. It’s a quick and easy way to let gamers know that your title offers an open world, multiple side missions, and maybe even numerous jobs for players to perform. However, in many games that boast freedom of choice, the player is still limited by the artificial limitations of the game world. You might have freedom to choose which side missions to pursue and when, or which road to go down, but in the end, there are only so many paths you can take.
Ultimately, it’s near-impossible for a game to escape from its own artificial boundaries, but Seabeard gets a lot closer than most. After a very linear opening section, it opens up a large world full of characters, quests, and discoveries, and allows players to take almost any path they desire in weaving their way through them.
Want to be an adventurer, a powerful warrior capable of tackling any enemy who gets in your way? Seabeard can accommodate you there - it boasts evil enemies and creepy dungeons just like many of your favorite iOS games. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You can also choose to be a chef, an archaeologist, a farmer, or any number of other professions. Go fishing, explore the world at sea, and find your calling in Seabeard’s large world - you’ll feel like you have carte blanche to choose your own path here, even if the basic laws of video game logic still apply to keep you from doing anything too crazy.
Too much freedom can lead to a game feeling empty and directionless, but Seabeard cleverly sidesteps this pitfall by forcing you into a roughly structured storyline, and doling out its many mechanics in short bursts. This has the double effect of introducing you to the game’s mechanics at a measured pace, and keeping you on the edge of your seat as you wait to discover the next little bit of gameplay. You can farm, explore, and even get pets, but first you have to learn the basics.
As the heir to the legendary Seabeard, it is your job to build up an island kingdom that will eventually house all the various races of the world and bring about world peace. After uniting all of the world, you will tackle the deadly Leviathan, the creature that managed to topple your ancestor and spill the world into chaos. The way you do that is, for the most part, entirely up to you.
Seabeard’s daunting freedom is presented in a cute, musical world that’s reminiscent of some of Nintendo’s best games. You’ll get a distinct Animal Crossing vibe as you meet the game’s many chibi characters, all of whom speak in text bubbles conveyed through cute mumbling sounds. And Zelda fans will likely get deja vu when they get out into the game’s world, which is composed of a series of islands connected by a massive, stylized sea.
As you build up your island, you’ll naturally master more and more gameplay mechanics. You’ll sail around in search of new allies, profitable trading routes and rare loot. Then, you’ll build up a party and return home to put them to work in running your shops, resorts, and farms. The bigger and better your island gets, the more visitors and residents it will attract. The more you explore, the bigger your adventures will get. The story of Seabeard, in essence, is one of constant growth. You’ll start off small, tossing aside bushes and fishing for cash. But you’ll grow to manage a massive island and battle monstrous sea creatures. It’s a game that’s all about natural growth, and its emphasis on player choice means that you can grow in any number of compelling directions.
And that’s not even getting into the game’s numerous customization options. You can dress up your crew, for example, or pick up a pet at the pet shop. All of these little changes combine to influence your game in subtle ways, so you have incentive to toy around with all of the game’s mechanics, big and small.
There’s a ton more to talk about in Seabeard, but at a certain point it’s best to discover for yourself. Because the game offers so much freedom, it’s entirely possible to have a completely different experience than your friends, and write your own fun story. The overarching goals may remain the same, but the paths you can take to get to those goals are many and varied. In the end, that makes Seabeard one of the most adept games when it comes to creating the illusion of player choice. Everyone is interacting with the same mechanics, but by customizing your job, your looks, and your island, you can make the game feel truly your own.
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