Blood & Gold: Caribbean! feels like a game out of time. It’s built on the Mount & Blade: Warband engine, which was released in 2010 and itself a moderate update of 2008’s original Mount & Blade, which in turn looked like a game from the decade before and played like a sandbox adventure even older. You might trace the lineage all the way back to Sid Meier’s Pirates! in 1987, a game which offered much the same promise that Blood & Gold does today - captain a ship in the era of buccaneers and freebooters and build your seafaring empire in any way you see fit.
Blood & Gold: Caribbean!
Consider me timbers shivered.
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Players familiar with Mount & Blade will know exactly what they’re in for, as Blood & Gold is essentially a total conversion mod with the addition of gunpowder and naval combat. It’s somehow even rougher around the edges than its predecessor, with awkward, silly animations, an almost nonsensical interface, and tons of little bugs and glitches. Despite all that, the deceptively entertaining sandbox that made Mount & Blade a cult hit is still present here, and sailing the Spanish Main is still a powerful enough fantasy that there are moments where the game overcomes its technical shortcomings.
Watch out for pirates!
Once you’ve created your captain, the Caribbean is basically open to you. You can sail to port to hire crew and soldiers, repair your ship, accept missions, and buy and trade goods. You might take to the seas to hunt down pirates, capture their ships, and sell the crew as slaves to island plantations. You might simply buy and sell goods from port to port. You might start raiding friendly traders for their cargo and become a pirate yourself.
As you make your way, your actions will raise or lower your reputations with the various factions controlling the seas, ingratiating you to some and making enemies of others. You’ll quickly have enough reputation to join a faction, which will lead into lucrative warmongering opportunities with their enemies, and eventually the chance at governing a city, property ownership, and the maintenance of a trade empire running independently of you.
Yes, Blood & Gold did, in fact, release in 2015
The problem with all this - aside from quibbles regarding the interface and an intense learning curve involving no tutorials and novella-length manual - is that your adventures are mostly directionless, and once you’ve done each type of thing the game offers, it’s tough to muster up much enthusiasm to keep building your story. The only NPCs with any personality are those that you can hire as captains, and that personality shows up only in random events that seem to have no effect on the game itself. Quests are almost entirely of the “kill five gangs of bandits” or “deliver 20 units of trade goods” variety, and those missions which actually tell a story are tough to find and almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the world.
I joined the French Navy during a war against the Spanish, with the Dutch soon joining the enemy. I’d gotten overpowered by a Dutch fleet and sent to labor at a Spanish plantation, the prisoners of which I led to an ultimately failed uprising that nevertheless led to my escape. I pulled money from a French bank account to muster an army with which I could return to and raze the plantation, but as I was doing so, I suddenly received news that the war was over. I checked my factions report screen, which said that the Spanish were indifferent to me, the Dutch hated me, the French liked me, and the British - with whom I’d had NO interaction - loved me. There’s not enough consistency to Blood & Gold’s systems to allow your interaction with them to feel like a real story, player-created with actions, reactions, and consequences. The sandbox really just feels like a series of random events.
You’ll manage your fleet between rounds of scallywagging
Up-close combat has some cool moments, but it’s mostly a matter of watching bad AI swarm each other until one side wins or loses. You can give general orders to units in land battles, but with almost all the combat maps taking place on open fields, there’s not much to be gained over a simple charge. While your troops meet the enemy, you’ll generally just circle the perimeter of the fight on horseback, picking off straggling enemy fighters. You can wield firearms in addition to melee weapons, but these are woefully inaccurate and agonizingly slow to reload - historically accurate, sure, but not much fun.
Naval combat offers even less strategy. You have different types of cannon shots which allow you to choose between destroying enemy vessels, disabling them, or hurting their crew, but in practice I always found it most beneficial to take down the crew, then board and capture the ship, which gives you a bunch of prisoners and a new vessel to sail or sell. The boarding battles being as close quarters as they are will lead to a lot of random flailing, and on even-numbered fights, a lot of random wins and losses. I’d often win and lose my flagship multiple times in a single engagement, which felt downright silly.
BLOOD & GOLD: CARIBBEAN! VERDICT
Blood and Gold is a mess of ideas that feels half-finished. Mount and Blade fans might be able to look past the rough edges, but with a $20 price tag, a tremendous lack of polish, and poor original mechanics, it can only be recommended to those who’ve completely exhausted Warband’s giant catalog of excellent, free mods. For everyone else, who might just be looking for high seas adventure, weigh anchor and sail far away from this one.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The first time you successfully board and capture a ship. Yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me!